How to handle weird behavioral questions during an interview

Close-up of face of confused middle aged Caucasian businessman covering face with hand

Picture this. You’re at the final interview for the job of your dreams when the CEO comes in to check you out.

You share a smile and some polite conversation and then she drops this zinger of a question: “If one of your co-workers suffered from excessive flatulence, how would you handle it?” What if this much-admired CEO then offered a few questions that were so weird and personal that you actually wondered if this was a practical joke?

Believe it or not, this was an actual question asked of someone who shared his story on the strict condition of anonymity. Can you guess how he handled this gassy matter?

Well, he burst out laughing, then wondered if a future co-worker suffered from a windy disposition. Then our anonymous interviewee thought that this seemed to be a really awkward way to conduct an interview and worried that it was a sign that the workplace was going to be a bad fit for him. And so, he thanked the interviewer and the CEO and beat a hasty retreat.

Over the years I’ve heard horror stories from people who’ve been asked the most awkward, bizarre or outright hostile questions relating to their past or future behavior.

Amanda Augustine, career expert at TopInterview popped in to help us understand what motivates this type of question and how to react or respond- if at all.

Why ask wacky questions? Augustine said that “Interviewers often ask these types of questions to get a sense of how you might handle a specific — and often difficult — situation that could arise in the position they’re filling. The idea is that your previous behavior reflects how you are likely to react to or address a similar situation in the future.”

This type of question is an example of behavioral interview questions.

Don’t stress it: Believe it or not, while this line of questioning can be stressful, Augustine said “it offers you, the candidate, an opportunity to prove you have the qualifications you’ve listed on your resume. It’s also a chance to give your interviewers a greater glimpse into your personality so they can determine whether you’ll be a good match for their culture.”

Be a star: Augustine recommends something she calls the STAR method “as a framework for handling this type of interview question.”

  • Describe a Situation you faced or a Task you had to complete
  • Explain what Actions you took to resolve the issue or get the job done
  • Then, discuss the Results of your actions.
  • Now that you’ve done that, “Take a closer look at the job description and make a shortlist of the required skills to perform the job.  Then, brainstorm some stories using the STAR method that demonstrate how you’ve leveraged those skills or handled similar situations in the past.”

What if you screwed up? Like the person asked about a gaseous potential co-worker, some of us simply can’t handle being put on the spot and react less than professionally. “If you didn’t handle the situation well in the past,” Augustine advises ending your STAR story by explaining what you learned from the experience and “how you have changed or how you will change your approach in the future.”

How to prepare for weird interview questions:

If you’re concerned that you might be asked offbeat questions during your next interview, it’s best to prepare for a bit. “Pause for a moment and gather your thoughts before delivering your answer,” Augustine advises.

“If you need a few more seconds, you can also repeat the question back to the interviewer before you begin,” which you’ll notice is something Hollywood actors do frequently. If you’re still unsure if you’re giving the interviewer what they expected,

Augustine said that “you can always pause halfway through your story and ask if this is the level of detail they’re seeking or the type of situation they had in mind.” But don’t do that if you’re not great at professionally pivoting. Bear in mind that there’s the possibility that they’ll tell you you’re off-track and you’ll have to scramble to come up with something new. It’s okay to say you’re not comfortable discussing that topic under short notice and would like to revisit.

Meanwhile, If you haven’t handled a similar situation before, Augustine recommends being honest. “Then follow up with how you would approach this situation if you faced it today.

Wherever possible, draw on other experiences from your past that have helped you build the soft and hard skills you’d need to tackle this problem or complete this task.”