Navigating the Outlandish Job Interview Question

We’ve all been there; you are asked a question that completely stumps you in an interview. You are unsure how to answer it and you don’t completely understand how this question will help them make a hiring decision. So take a journey with me into the Twilight Zone of Hiring to give you a little insight into what companies want from those questions and how to avoid being a causality of that minefield.

tough interview

Let me give a little insight into why these outlandish questions are asked in an interview. Companies want to test your adaptability, your ability to think on your feet and then articulate your thoughts in a coherent manner even when under stress. These types of questions are a good baseline to see your ability to think fast and express your thoughts. So how do you survive these questions?

  1. First off, don’t panic! My first reaction when I first started interviewing out of college was to freak out. My response to panic was probably one of the worst things that I could do because it caused my nervous system to go into overdrive, producing stress hormones and making my face turned an unflattering shade of red. It also made it harder to concentrate and come up with an answer to their questions. I learned to counteract this panic response by taking a deep breath and realizing that they aren’t looking for a specific answer (they are just looking for an answer that makes a semblance of sense). When I would take those deep breaths it would make me relax and in turn it would make it easier to come up with answer. And my relaxed demeanor would speak volumes to the interviewer and let them know that I can handle the curveballs of the company.
  2. Secondly, and I can’t stress this enough, you have to read and read and read. Read books, read articles, read magazines…just read. It is so important to be informed. It not only gives you something to draw upon when asked outlandish questions but it keeps your mind sharp and agile. My favorite websites for professional development are TLNT, The Daily Muse, and Careerealism. These sites keep me up-to-date on trends that affect my industry and help me to keep my professional edge. So find a site that speaks into your industry and read everything that you can get your hands on. Become a go to person for knowledge. I can’t tell you how much reading has helped progress my career and to help my ability to network and hold intelligent conversations with executives and supervisors. Reading has saved me from many an awkward silence.
  3. My third tip is to answer the question. If they ask you, “How many cows are in Canada?’ (Google asks this question to their data quality candidates) then tell them that you think 10 million cows are in Canada. You won’t know the answer unless you look it up, but at least you answered their question. Here is an article (Crazy Interview Questions) devoted to various questions that organizations ask during their interviews. It is always best to come to an interview as prepared as you can; so search what questions are asked at each company you interview at and look for industry specific interview questions.

I think the weirdest question that I’ve ever been asked was, “If I could change the color of the sky, what color would I change it to and why?”

I think the weirdest question that I’ve ever been asked was, “If I could change the color of the sky, what color would I change it to and why?” I told them that I would change the color to be like a mood ring. The sky would change colors with the moods of the population. You could then see how society as a whole was feeling by looking up at the sky. I still don’t know if they liked my answer, but I still think it would be cool to have a mood ring the size of the sky.

Until next time,


Thoughts on My First Week at TriStarr

I recently started working fulltime at TriStarr Staffing. It was a whirlwind, I called in on a Tuesday when I was laid off from my previous position, interviewed on Wednesday, was offered the position on Thursday and began my new role as a Recruiter on Monday (this past Monday to be exact). I don’t know about you but when I start a new job, my nerves start wreaking havoc on me. The interview is one bundle of nerves but actually accepting a position and starting one brings all those nerves to a completely new playing field.

My mind starts to race and questions start to bombard me. Are they going to like me? Will I be good at my new role? Will I like it? What happens if they don’t like me? What if I make a huge mistake and I need to find a new job after my first day? What happens if I break my computer? What happens if it takes me a long time to learn the expectations and the tasks of my new role? What happens if my boss is difficult to please? All of these questions bang inside my head and sometimes it can be not only overwhelming but it can seem insurmountable, these questions corn popping in your brain. Wouldn’t it be easier to stay where I am and not take the rfirst week on the jobisk of a new position or collect unemployment and go back to school (I know I’m good at learning, maybe I should get my Master’s).

My resounding answer is NO. Don’t be complacent; don’t let these questions that flit through your mind sidetrack you from the amazing opportunities that this new position will bring.  When I start to feel myself getting overwhelmed after accepting a new position, I take a deep breath and start to psych myself up. I remind myself that these questions shouldn’t be allowed to rob me of the joy of starting a new position. I use these questions and possibly my apprehensions as a way to hit the ground running. I don’t dismiss them but I process through them and then let them go (I don’t continue to rehash them in my mind).

I tell myself that I am qualified for this position, that my colleagues will like, accept me, and see my value and that I will be an asset to the company. Sometimes if I am feeling especially overwhelmed, I will look in the mirror and tell myself I am a wonderful employee and that I will be completely valued in my new role. I feel that when you talk to yourself in the mirror, you can let go of all the fears and apprehensions and you start to believe that you are the best employee for them; you can believe in yourself and not let your negative self, thwart you from doing an amazing job at your new position.

Sometimes even after talking to myself in the mirror I still have this niggling doubt in my head and when that doubt just won’t subside it helps me to process through my worst case scenarios. My worst case scenarios include burning down the office because I microwaved my lunch too long, I destroyed the business in one day, I lost my cool and yelled at my new boss and then was justly fired for my egregious disrespect. I know that my worst imaginings will most likely not happen and my first day, first week, and first month will be better than I expect. Also I always have to remind myself that it will take time to learn all the nuances of my new role and that I need to be patient with myself (and my teacher) and don’t expect to know everything about the company or the role in the first week. Remember that everyone had a first day and your day is today.

Listed below are my top five tips for surviving your first week on the job:

  1. Ask questions (if you don’t understand something, speak up).
  2. Write everything down (don’t make someone have to tell you something more than once).
  3. Be confident (you may be nervous but remember that they saw the potential in you and out of all the candidates, this organization choose you).
  4. You will make mistakes…learn from them and don’t hide them.
  5. Remember that you can’t learn everything in one-day…remember that you will have a learning curve (so be patient with yourself).
Asher TriStarr Staffing Mascot


You may ask yourself whether I am still having doubts about my new role as Recruiter now that my first week is drawing to a close, I can honestly tell you that I love it here. I’ve been welcomed with open arms. My bosses are easy to get along with and they make their expectations known (for me this is one of my wants in every boss…tell me what you want and I will do my best to meet and exceed your expectations). My colleagues like to joke around and bring fun to a sometimes stressful field of employment. It is amazing to feel so welcomed when you have only been with them for a week. I can’t wait to learn everything I can about TriStarr Staffing and continue developing friendships with my colleagues and bonus, our office has its very own mascot, a dog named Asher. What job could be better than this one? Great bosses, amazing colleagues and a dog; I am in job nirvana.

Until next time,

Surge in Temp Jobs Expected to Continue – Some Local Observations

I saw a story this morning about the increasing use of temporary or contract workers since the bottom of the recession and that this trend is expected to continue.  Good news certainly, for my business!!  Woo Hoo!!   However, there were a couple of observations in the story and comments that I thought may make interesting reading.

First off – why the surge?  Here in Central Pa what we’re seeing first is that businesses are continuing to try and operate as efficiently as possible.  Staff to the core, and supplement with temporary employees when needed.  Secondly, the labor market continues to improve.  The fact of the matter is that there are fewer and fewer experienced, qualified employees to choose from.  When this happens to the labor market businesses call people like me more.

What we’re not seeing here in Central Pa are businesses asking us to take on their employees to get around the Affordable Care Act.  I have yet to have a serious conversation with a client looking at this as a strategy.  May that change as we get closer to the implementation of fines?  Maybe.  But at the moment it’s not an issue.

We also don’t see the temporary employees we place as lacking in long-term opportunity.  Well over half of the temporary placements we make end up in our client company hiring our temporary employee onto their team.  Over half.  We recently had a great story.  A December college graduate, business degree from a State school, contacted me asking for help.  She was having trouble getting interviews and getting frustrated.  I introduced her to my staff; she went through our testing and screening process and was on an interview with one of our clients within days.  Three weeks from her graduation date she was on a temp-to-hire assignment with a well-known company in town.  Last we heard she’s doing great and expects to transfer to the client’s payroll soon.

So, temps make crappy money you say?  Our average wage this quarter to date equates to an annual salary of $27,580.  Well above minimum wage.  Actually – over 31% higher than the minimum wage proposed by the Obama Administration.

Why did I write this blog?  Temporary and contract jobs are good for the economy.  Done right – they provide opportunity for people entering the workforce and flexibility for companies looking to improve efficiencies.  If you’re looking for temporary employees, or having trouble locating a professional employee let me know.

Work Life Balance at TriStarr Staffing

Well, that was my baby in the playpen way back when, and I can still remember the first time I brought her to TriStarr!   As I dropped my 4 month old baby off at the sitter’s house, the sitter coughed and said ‘my bronchitis isn’t contagious anymore.’   YIKES!   So…..Devon came to work with me — I had no idea if Joan would be upset, send me home for the day, or if she would welcome an infant in the office.  Luckily for me, Joan welcomed her with open arms and if I recall correctly, Devon spent most of the day in her office!

work life balance at TriStarr Staffing

Work life balance is a tricky thing to manage, and Joan showed that it was a core value of TriStarr.  Not a value that’s written in a mission statement and forgotten, but one that is embraced and encouraged.  As a human resources professional, I’m so fortunate to have had that experience, and I’m proud to embrace and encourage it as the Director of Human Resources at Franklin & Marshall College as well.

TriStarr Celebrates 25 Years

Written by Joan Paxton, President & CEO, TriStarr Staffing

Logo: TriStarr Staffing celebrates 25 years.

Oh my…25 years?

On March 3, 1989, I opened TriStarr.  On that day we had exactly one employee – me.  No other permanent staff, no temporary employees – just me.  That was the only day that there was “balance” at TriStarr – 1 day of balance (no job requests to fill) and 9,124 days of imbalance!  Although it is the imbalance that drives me every day.

I opened in about 900 square feet of space, in the newest office building in Lancaster County – 160 North Pointe Boulevard.  It was the only building on the site that now is home to 9 buildings with hundreds of employees.  Today we have about 5500 square feet of office space in one of the 5 oldest structures in Lancaster County.  That is definitely growth, and the building we’re in is somewhat a metaphor about TriStarr – solid Lancaster County values and built to last.

In 1989 we did our skill assessments with a paper and pen, or an electric typewriter.  A couple of years later, I got a PC – and I paid through the nose for it!  Our first “wiz-bang” business software was written in DOS (some of you may remember that).  We had a fax machine – that used rolls of thermal paper – when it was able to connect to another fax machine.  We mailed all of our invoices – that were in triplicate and printed by a dot matrix printer.  The temporary employees got paid by a paper check – no pay cards or direct deposit.

When my clients called – and I got 5 in the first 2 weeks! – it was generally to request a temp to fill in for an absent permanent employee – sick days, vacation days, medical leaves, unanticipated vacancies.

Well, things have certainly changed.  Today I have 4 devices on my desk that I can use to read my email – my iPhone, iPad, Mac Book, and yes, a PC.  And I have 8 different software programs open on my desktop at the same time.  We hardly ever use the fax machine anymore.

I used to judge how busy we were by how often the phone rang, and the noise level of everyone talking at the same time.  Now I go into the space where 4 or 5 people are working, and I have to sing out a cheery “HELLO!” to get people to take out the earphones and stop typing so I can talk to them.

Remember the internet before Google?  You had to know the website’s exact address, or you would probably never find it.  And before you had a personal email address?

I used to require my staff – all women – to wear skirts, pantyhose and heels for work!  Doesn’t that sound like the dark ages now?  When candidates came in for interviews they “dressed up” and brought paper resumes – now I’m just happy if I don’t have to look at their underwear all day.

In 1989 the Federal Minimum Wage was $3.35 per hour, there were 104,000 fewer people calling Lancaster County home (Lancaster County has grown 25% since I opened), several of my current employees weren’t even born, and if any of you remember the baby in the playpen who was often in the office back in the day – she’s now a Junior in College and one of our “go-to” temps!!

In 1989 we were the stereotypical “local” business.  I did business in Lancaster County, and the significant majority of our clients were based or owned in Lancaster County.  Today, while the majority of our clients are still here in Lancaster – we email invoices all over the United States, as well as Canada, and even Australia!

Thank you to all of our clients and employees. It’s because of you that we made it through our first 25 years, and it’s because of you that we’ll be writing something 25 years from now – although the format and technology we will be using are likely not even invented yet. 

We hope to have some thoughts from people we’ve worked with in the past over the next few weeks and months.  In the meantime, a very sincere thank you to everyone who’s helped TriStarr be TriStarr for 25 years.  Thank you!

Unemployment Rate – The “Sweet Spot”

The unemployment rate fell 0.4% in Lancaster County to 5.5% in December.  That’s the largest one month drop since August 1996.  It’s a full 1.3% better than the previous December.

But, what does it really mean to you?  To me we’re experiencing a “sweet spot” right now.  We have a sharply falling unemployment rate as the economy seems to be gaining upward momentum.  Why do I call it a “sweet spot”?   Because the market has changed.  The market has changed from an employer driven job market to a candidate driven job market.  We’re in the “sweet spot” because I don’t think everyone’s realized this yet.  The government is still focused on the unemployed and many employers still believe they’re in the driver’s seat.  Those that realize we’re in the sweet spot will attract the best talent.

As the unemployment rate falls the pool of qualified candidates falls with it.  When the unemployment rate was 8% there wasn’t a large pool of truly qualified attractive candidates.  Now that we’re at 5.5 % unemployment just think about it…  fewer still truly qualified, attractive candidates.  Those qualified candidates?  It’s their market and believe me they know it.  They’re demanding more money, and they’re being quite picky about where they decide to work.

Now – here’s the other edge of that double edged sword…  the “not so” qualified candidates.  They’re in that mix doing everything they can to fool you into thinking they’re what you need.   And some of them are going to fool some of us.

What can you do as your business is improving and you’re looking to add to your staff?  Do your due diligence.  Screen, check and double check, and don’t stall or try and low-ball offers.  The best, smartest, most attractive candidates know what they’re worth these days.  They’re in the driver’s seat so treat them that way.

We’ve added another perm / direct hire recruiter recently and are busy helping our clients identify and hire the best talent – perm or temporary.  If you would like to learn how we can help you click HERE and we’ll get you through the sweet spot.

Stay Home – Cold and Flu Season is Here. Sick? Stay Home!

As we move into the winter months, cold and flu season will affect many of our employees; however, most of these employees won’t stay home to recuperate.  Instead, they’ll drag themselves into the office when they are feeling sick and end up making several co-workers sick in the process.  The sick employee isn’t intentionally trying to spread their germs around, but they feel the need to come to work for reasons related to responsibility, perception, and financial burdens.  There’s now a new term to describe this trend “presenteeism”.

According to a new study by Staples, 90% of American workers go to work when they are knowingly contagious.  This percentage is up from 80% in 2012 and 60% in 2011.  In addition to showing up for work sick, approximately 50% of employees will not get a flu shot.  So why are people at work when they shouldn’t be?  The term “presenteeism” has been coined to describe this trend.  Presenteeism can be as costly to an employer as absenteeism.  For example, germs can be spread to healthy workers resulting in other employees not being able to come into work. Another example is even though the sick employee is present at work, they are most likely not functioning at 100%, which can result in lower quality of products or services, poor customer service and an increased chance of a work-related injury.  The cost of presenteeism for employers can be significant.  Various studies have reported th at the total cost of presenteeism to American employers falls anywhere between $150 billion to $250 billion each year.

Presenteeism tends to occur at a higher rate during times of economic strain, downsizing and budget cuts.  This type of business climate may cause employees to feel they are unable to take time off due to illness.

Below are several other reasons that may contribute to presenteeism:

  • Lack of Paid Sick Days:  People may not be able to afford to take an unpaid day off from work, or they don’t want to use their vacation time to stay home when they are sick.
  • Combined Paid Time Off (PTO) Benefits:  Most PTO policies include sick leave, but employees may perceive all paid time off as vacation and therefore won’t use it to stay home sick, but come into work and share their germs.
  • Workplace Culture and Policies:  Sometimes managers may discourage or even penalize employees for taking sick days, vacation or other types of days off, even if they are entitled to them.  Employees come to work sick as a form of job security.
  • No Work at Home Alternatives: Companies who don’t offer telecommuting or remote access options, may be discouraging sick employees from staying home.  Telecommuting would allow the employee to meet critical deadlines without spreading contagious germs to their co-workers.
  • Denial:  Some people who are sick convince themselves to go into work because they don’t think they are sick enough to stay home.

What can employers do to cut down on illness in the office? First, lead by example.  If you’re the boss, stay home when you’re sick. This way, employees won’t feel so pressured to come into work when they are truly sick. Second, review existing time off policies to ensure they are still relevant to the current work force. Third, encourage employees to stay home when they are sick.  Yes, we all know that sometimes people lie about being sick, but we need to strive to create a culture where it is OK to stay home when you are sick.  Employers may need to communicate what constitutes being sick enough to stay home and what doesn’t.  For example, a sore throat, mild cold or headache, would probably not be grounds to stay home sick.

Presenteeism is one end of the spectrum, so now let’s take a look at the other end:  Employees who use their sick days for everything but actual illness.  For example, you may have an employee who falls into the “seasonal absence syndrome”.   They’ll call in sick, but are really just taking the day off or using it as a mental health day.  These seasonal absence syndrome days usually occur in the summer months, around holidays or Mondays/Fridays throughout the year.  OK, we understand that everyone needs a break and if they have PTO or sick time to use, that’s fine.  However, what happens to the individual who uses all of their PTO, but still needs time off?  Managers should counsel this individual separately and make sure they fully understand the PTO or Sick Time policy. Disciplinary action may be needed if habitual or excessive absenteeism continues.   It is not unreasonable for an employer to expect regular attendance from its workforce.   Offering an unpaid leave of absence or requiring the employee to use vacation time to cover the days needed is another option.

For more information about managing a healthy workforce and developing an effective Paid Time Off Policy, click here to download our white paper titled, 10 PTO Policy Problems & Solutions.

Economic Outlook / Staffing Firms Optimistic

As our business is typically seen as a leading economic indicator, many of my clients regularly ask how we see the economic climate.  The Fed’s Beige Book released last week reports optimism in the Staffing Industry.

Staffing services providers are more optimistic than they were three months ago, expecting steady growth through the end of the year and into 2014, according to the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book report released this week. Reports from the 12 Federal Reserve districts indicate that the economy continued to expand at a modest to moderate pace from early October through mid-November, and hiring increased modestly or remained unchanged across districts.

Staffing firms in the Philadelphia District maintained a more modest pace of growth than some other regions. Staffing firms also reported steady growth in demand for temp placements, especially in manufacturing, distribution and health care.  Here at TriStarr, we are experiencing somewhat stronger demand than the overal District and more in line with other areas of the Country.