By Anjie Cai, contributor
“What’s the most difficult question you were asked in an interview?”
We put this question to delegates at the Naturejobs Career Expo in London last month, and judging by the pained looks on their faces, it was clear that there had been some clangers. Here is a selection of the most hated questions, and what people thought of them.
1. What’s a weakness of yours that has been mentioned by your colleagues?
Dreaded because: Having practiced the answer to ‘why are you the perfect candidate?’ you caught me by surprise with this negative twist. How am I supposed to navigate the fine line between being honest and planting a landmine?
2. Tell me something unusual about yourself?
Dreaded because: How unusual should I go? I have a pet spider? I could balance a chair on my chin? And compared to whom? How can I use this question to show the employer that I am capable, rather than weird?
3. What other jobs have you applied for?
Dreaded because: This question is awkward and uncomfortable. It’s like being asked how many people you’ve dated. If I tell them all the jobs I have applied for, I might sound desperate and unappealing. If I say this job is my first choice, will you think I am committed? Or lacking in options?
4. Why does a PhD want an admin based job?
Dreaded because: You’re making me feel like I’m degrading myself, but the job market is tough; a PhD is not as rare as 20 years ago. You know it’s not my first intention to apply for an admin based job. You know I want to get an Ivy League teaching position. But the reality is harsh. I know I’m over-qualified for this job and I really need it. But how can I put a positive spin on this?
5. What was the most interesting article you read this morning in The New York Times?
Dreaded because: To be honest, I don’t read the New York Times. I’m overwhelmed by conference papers and peer-reviewed journals. I don’t know what the target audience for the New York Times is but it’s definitely not scientists. Besides, it took me two hours to get here for the interview. I didn’t exactly have time to read the newspaper in the morning.
Let us know your most horrendous interview experience and questions in the comments section below, or tweet us @naturejobs. And stay tuned as, over the coming weeks, we will sharing top advice on the best way to answer some of these sticky questions.