What does Bratislava have to do with a systems analyst job in Seattle? Well, nothing, really. But the question is there for a reason: To make sure you’re paying attention.
After a few weeks of filling out employment applications, job seekers will notice a lot of similar wording in help-wanted posts. For instance, candidates must “have an eye for detail,” “demonstrate impeccable communication skills,” “keep calm in a fast-paced environment,” and so forth.
When it comes to instructions, the terms are usually the same: Send a copy of your cover letter and resume; include samples of relevant work; name the capital of Slovakia; provide at least three references; no phone calls, please.
Wait … what? What does Bratislava have to do with a systems analyst job in Seattle?
Well, nothing, really. But the question is there for a reason: To make sure you’re paying attention. With thousands of applications floating around touting nearly identical qualifications, some hiring managers will act like mischievous school teachers and toss in a simple, unrelated question (“How many feet are in a mile?”) or perhaps ask you to write a short sequence of numbers in the reply email. Those who don’t follow the rules are culled from the herd.
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Fortunately, these little “gotcha” items aren’t nearly as difficult to answer as the dreaded “greatest weakness” question that often gets asked during job interviews. But this doesn’t mean you should just provide the bare-minimum answer. Without going too far into left field, see if you can create some kind of clever answer that ties the question into your abilities to handle the job requirements.
This is all part of a trend in HR circles that is slowly turning the job application process into a self-administered job interview process. Some job listings will ask for the usual cover letter/resume/references triad, but will then send applicants to another page to answer open-ended questions that reveal more about their personality or work style. Others will include forms that repeatedly ask the same questions, but with slightly different wording. This is designed to catch people entering fraudulent information, so be sure your answers are consistent throughout.
The good news is that these more complicated job-application questions are not being posed on the spot in a face-to-face interview. With the luxury of being online, applicants can take their time with their answers. This is your chance to let the hiring manager know how you think and why you’re a perfect fit, so let the creative juices flow.
As they say, when in Slovakia, do as the Slovaks do.