bad-interview.jpgI know there are nearly five people for every job right now, but that doesn’t mean you hiring managers out there have to act like pompous jerks.

A good friend of mine told me yesterday that her son was recently interviewing for a finance job and got a question that stumped him. The hiring manager asked her kid to:

“Teach me something.”

Ugh, was my first thought. What an arrogant interview question. To be honest, I wasn’t totally surprised at the audacity of the question because employers are getting the stupid notion lately that they are all-knowing, and omnipotent, given how many people are begging them for jobs.

Roy Cohen, a New York-based career counselor and executive coach, said, “It’s a tough market and it will continue to be for the indefinite future.” With 9 percent unemployment, he added, “employers have plenty of candidates to choose from, or not to. That’s what I’m really seeing: a beauty contest. We’ll hire you only if you fit the following very challenging criteria.”

Damn I hate beauty contests. But Cohen may be onto something. Where do you find the dumbest questions of all? Here’s a sample of a beauty pageant question:

If there is one thing you could do to change the world what would it be?

I love to hate that one. And everyone says, “stop war” or “save the starving babies,” no?

As for the “Teach Me Something” question, Dr. Gaby Cora, a leadership and well-being expert, said: “This is a charged question. It reminds me about being put on the spot in so many ways: ‘Teach me something.’ ‘Illuminate me.’ or ‘Entertain me.’”

I told my friend her son should have shown the hiring person how to do the decapitating thumb trick that makes it look like your thumb is being cut in half. You know, the one you do to toddlers and it excites them. My 11-year-old daughter just told me it doesn’t work on her anymore, so it’s probably perfect for this idiot interviewer.thumb.jpg

My buddy didn’t think my suggestion was very funny since she wants her son to land the gig. So, I asked some experts how they’d answer this dumb query.

To my surprise, some career experts think this is not the dumbest question ever.

Cohen actually said the query was “not a bad question, especially if you want to see how, and if, a candidate can think under pressure.” And he thinks “it’s an easy question to answer.”

Here are his two suggestions:

- let me share with you an experience where I learned an important lesson.

- it’s presumptuous for me to think that I can teach you something but I was amazed when I discovered (fill in the blanks here). You might find it interesting, too.

Dr. Cora, author of “Leading Under Pressure,” offered her take:

“The initial response of the recipient is to first be in shock: this is a question you can’t answer. Next step depends on the person’s personality.

If you are fast and witty, you may tend to give a short and sharp answer which may give you – or take the job away from you. Otherwise, you are better off rephrasing or reframing the request by answering:

Let me share an experience that reflects what I have done in the past that may be applicable in this job.

By redirecting the question, you are back in control and you have a better chance of sharing an occasion or experience that will be connected to the job.

If your interviewer then asks you directly about wanting to be taught something and you told a story instead, calmly say the only thing you thought you could teach them was something about your own experience that they wouldn’t know.

This answer makes sense, keeps the interview going, and avoids reacting emotionally rather than losing focus in the interview.”

My friend, who’s actually a high-powered executive from Boston, also had suggestions on what she might say:

“You have to get past the gimmicks and quick attention grabbers to the substance of things,” she said about my thumb trick. “It would have amused them but not solid enough.”

“I would have walked the interviewer through my thought process: ‘OK, so you are asking me this question because you want to gauge my thinking on my feet, as well as how I communicate. I will walk you through my thought process and teach you how I make decisions.’”

I’m thinking a good decision may be to keep sending out resumes.

And speaking about beauty pageants, I really feel I should be fair. Here’s an example of a great contest question. “Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think that is?” Alas, the contestant had a bit of trouble answering it.

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