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by Vault Education Editors | July 02, 2010


This week marked the beginning of Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings, basically a protracted interview with occasionally hostile senators. She has already fielded questions about her judicial views and experience--scenarios for which she had been extensively prepared by White House officials--and will likely have to handle many more. I genuinely doubt, however, she expected this question from Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar: "I keep wanting to ask you about the famous case of (Twilight characters) Edward versus Jacob or the vampire versus the werewolf." Kagan responded, curtly, "I wish you wouldn't."

Twilight New Moon: Team Jacob vs. Team EdwardNow, let me first say that I wish Klobuchar hadn't either. But that's not the point. The point is, Kagan got a question for which she was entirely unprepared, and she didn't answer quite as gracefully as she could have. The incident brings up a valid concern, and one that almost all of us have come up against at least once in a job or admissions interview. If you're in an interview, and you get a question of the totally-random/why-on-earth-are-you-asking-me-this nature, what do you do?

How to answer awkward questions in your job or admissions interview

Take a breath. No interviewer ever expects you to be able to answer every single question off the cuff. So, take your time. If it's a question that's meant to be funny--whether or not it actually is--oblige your interviewer with a laugh to stall. The point is, if you don't know how to answer, don't answer right away.

If it's not a high-pressure question, there's no need for a high-pressure answer. "I haven't seen it yet, sadly," is good enough. Move on.

If it is a high-pressure question, first decide whether or not you even want to answer. For instance, if your interview asks you if you're married or have children, which is, first of all, incredibly inappropriate, you really don't have to answer. Say something like, "I think my record of achievement speaks for itself," and move on.

Steer the conversation elsewhere. In the instance above, don't just say, "I think my record of achievement speaks for itself," and let an uncomfortable silence, the grim reaper of all interviews, take over. Keep going, and keep it positive. Give a "For instance," ideally something related either to a topic you've spoken about before or to something you wanted your interviewer to know about you.

Finally, relax. If an interviewer asks you an awkward question, he may be less interested in your answer than how you answer. If you've minimized the awkward, then you've probably come out the other end a viable candidate still. Now all you have to do is deal with those tough questions for which you actually are prepared.

--Written by Madison Priest


Filed Under: Education

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