How do you handle an impossible question in an interview? Keep these two points in mind to survive and thrive!
I sincerely hope you never a get an interview question like the one I was handed a couple of years ago.
It was an appearance on radio in which I was being interviewed about my second book, Fearless Speaking. The program was a business radio show. Per the usual procedure, I was informed about the starting time, the length of the show, and the name of the host. I was to call in ten minutes before we were scheduled to go on the air and check in with the producer.
That’s when the producer said, “Thanks so much, Dr. Genard, for agreeing to talk to our panel.”
“Did you say panel?”
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“Yes, this is our business roundtable, and you’ll be talking to four local business owners.”
Handling an Impossible Interview Question
Well, that was fine, I thought. The topic—how to overcome fear of public speaking—was appropriate for employees or business owners themselves who have to make pitches and presentations. Ten minutes later, we went on the air. And this is what the host said to me after he’d introduced me to the panelists:
“Dr. Genard, we ask the same question of all our guests on this show: If you died and went to heaven, what song would you sing to be allowed inside?”
I did say this was being broadcast on radio, didn't I?
Now, it didn’t matter that this question had absolutely nothing to do with the topic of my book. Nor could I complain that no one gave me a heads-up that this from-the-planet-Pluto question would be asked. The only thing that did matter, was that I was just asked it, and I had better come up with a reply fast.
So I said, “God Bless America?”
Oh, no, the panel snorted: that was too easy! “Come up with something else, please.” And I did:
“How about the old Hoagy Carmichael song, Stardust?” I said. “The music has a mysterious heavenly quality to it, and I’ve always loved that song.”
“Dr. Genard says Stardust!” the host proclaimed.
The panel thought that was just fine. But the host wasn’t finished.
“You’re an actor and a singer, right?” he said to me. “Can you sing some of the song for us?”
Well, believe it or not, I knew I was on solid ground now. Singing on the air didn’t bother me at all. So I did, the panel and host applauded, and we got on with the interview.
How to Prepare for Important Q & A
The point I want to make to you isn’t start memorizing a heavenly song because you never know when you’ll be asked for one in a radio interview. It’s that the Q & A in an interview is totally unpredictable, and you truly never know what may be headed your way. To arm yourself, learn how to survive the 7 danger zones of Q & A. Equally important is to remind yourself: you can’t prepare for what you don’t know is coming.
In other words, don't turn yourself into a pretzel trying to anticipate every question you might be asked. The better approach is twofold: (a) knowing your content cold, and (b) having faith in yourself that you’ll come up with something appropriate and professional. That day on the radio, I had a truly bad couple of seconds when I thought, “I can’t possibly answer that question. I’m supposed to be good at this and here I am dying right here on the air!” But that’s all it was: a couple of seconds; then my brain did the necessary processing when I needed it to happen.
The same process will more than likely happen for you too when you need it. And if you’re asked a question so far out of left field that you can’t possibly answer it—and shouldn’t be expected to—you can always say, “Well, what I’m really here to talk about is [your topic].” Here's more on how to handle yourself during tough Q & A.
Why You May Be More Successful than You Think
Incidentally, at the end of the 45-minute show, the host said, “Dr. Genard, we have a surprise for you. Our engineer has found Nat King Cole’s recording of Stardust. We’d like to play it for you.”
And they did. As we all listened to Nat Cole’s famous rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's best loved song, one of the panelists said:
“Nat King Cole sounds just like Dr. Genard!”
Bless her heart.
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