When I was asked this question in my first ever interview, I stuttered, told the interviewer that I was reading Fifty Shades of Grey (while interviewing for a corporate company) and then explained that, before Fifty Shades, I had read Simon Cowell’s autobiography. While I’m sure it was entertaining for the hiring manager, my answer definitely cost me the job.
So, after a dozen interviews later and plenty of experience under my belt, I’m here to help you save the day and avoid falling down the same embarrassing hole that I fell down.
No matter what job you’re applying for, whether it’s a customer service position or a leadership role, this question is likely to crop up. So, here’s how to talk about what books you’re currently reading during your next big interview.
Why interviewers ask this question
This curveball interview question is usually asked midway through your interview for two reasons.
The first one is to lighten the mood and to get to know a bit more about you as a person and how you spend your spare time. Generally speaking, people who tend to read in the evening instead of binging on a Netflix series tend to understand written material more quickly and work faster.
On the other hand, this question is also asked to see where your interests lie — you’ll typically read something that you’re interested in (like my obsession with Simon Cowell and reality TV). So, if you read things that relate to the company or industry that you’re applying for, then you’ll be more suited for the role and could even find a common interest with the hiring manager.
Tips for crafting a response
Although it’s impossible to prepare a single response for all interviews, there are certain ways that you can prepare for this question to ensure that you don’t get caught off guard.
To help you answer this question in a well-thought-out manner, we’ve listed a few helpful tips and tricks:
1. Talk about an educational book
The safest way to answer this question is to mention an educational book related to the field that you’re interviewing for. For example, if you’re applying for a role in marketing, you could reference The Tipping Point* by Malcolm Gladwell, which is a book that discusses how one small idea can have a huge effect and influence on the world.
2. Find out your hiring manager’s interests
If you want to take it a step further, you can do some online digging to get a sense of what your hiring manager is into. With most professionals sharing their reading lists and interests on LinkedIn and Twitter, this shouldn’t be a hard task. That said, if your hiring manager is more of a closed book, stick to something that is relatable to a professional working environment.
3. Research the company
If you’re not much of a reader, do some research and get an understanding of the company culture and the general interests of the staff. By doing so, you’ll be able to select a book that you’ve read that relates to the company or get some reading in before your big day.
4. Talk about a popular book
As with anything in today’s society, there’s bound to be a trending book at the time of your interview. As long as it isn’t erotic fiction like Fifty Shades of Grey*, then there’s no harm discussing it. If your interviewer is a bookworm too, they’ll likely have read it or at least heard about it, which will give you some common ground to spark a more personal discussion.
5. Discuss a book that you’ve actually read
When answering this question, be sure to talk about a book that you’ve read front to back — not just the synopsis. Your interviewer will likely ask you to elaborate, and you may end up discussing a particular section of the book, so you’ll need to be prepared!
6. Don’t follow a script
Although it’s essential that you prepare for your interview, you shouldn’t follow a script when answering this question, especially since it allows you to talk about something other than work. Show a bit of your personality by giving a natural and relatable answer.
7. Be honest
Instead of breaking eye contact and fumbling, be honest if you haven’t had the time to read lately! You can talk about a podcast or YouTube series that you follow that also relates to the field that you’re interviewing for. As long as you show that you’re an active learner, then it doesn’t necessarily need to come in the form of a book.
If you’ve never been asked this question, it can be hard to formulate an answer. Fear not, however! Below are some sample answers for inspiration.
If you’re reading a biography
I’m currently reading a book called Ida: A Sword among Lions*. It’s the story of Ida B Wells, a prominent journalist in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ida was a fighter of inequality, and I find her courage awe-inspiring. In general, I enjoy reading nonfictional stories about pioneers and reformers who pushed against all odds to achieve change. As a social worker, I can only hope to do the same.
If you’re reading a personal development book
At the moment, I am reading Ego Is the Enemy* by Ryan Holiday. The book talks about ambition, resilience and success. It’s a great read for anyone that aspires to develop and progress within their career, and I feel that most professionals should take some time to read it.
If you’re reading fiction
I’m listening to an audiobook: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five*. What I like about this book is that it touches upon topics like war and loss without losing its humor. The author himself was a prisoner of war who eventually became famous for his satirical novels. I appreciate the sentiment: it doesn’t matter what gets thrown at us, so long as we keep the good things close. I strive to apply this both professionally and in my personal life.
What not to say
It’s easy to get your answers wrong when you’re stressed and under pressure. However, the more you practice for this aspect of the job search (answering seemingly random questions, that is), the more likely you are to get it right.
So, try to memorize the following points as what not to say when asked this question:
“‘I don’t read”
The questions you get asked during the hiring process all serve a purpose, even if you can’t easily pinpoint it. Though it’s fine to say you don’t read, do mention a docuseries or audiobook you’ve enjoyed.
“I only read gossip magazines”
We all have guilty pleasures. However, it’s best to stick to books, podcasts or series that have taught you something! Then you can talk about how beneficial that information has been in your day to day.
“The last book I read was The Great Gatsby in 10th grade”
It’s best to mention something more recent, even if it’s not a book. Remember: you’re trying to sell yourself and show you’re a great fit for the job, so making a joke might not be wise.
The more you familiarize yourself with common job interview questions, the more confidently you can send off your résumé and cover letter to companies. Even hard-to-get-into ones can start to appear less intimidating when you’re confident! So, planning ahead is never a bad idea.
Here are some key points to remember from what we talked about today:
- The best approach when answering any question is to be honest. It’s a quality employers seek out in new team members.
- Don’t forget to connect your reading to the role you’re interviewing for.
- Practice your interview answers with a friend. You’re less likely to think back and cringe once the interview is complete!
- Consider committing to gaining new knowledge. Less social media and more educational content can help advance your career.
Though not directly relevant to the role, this is a popular interview question. That’s because it can reveal a lot about your character and general outlook!
So, do tell us: what books are you currently reading? Let us know in the comments section.
Originally published on June 11, 2014. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.