When I was asked this question on my first ever interview, I stuttered, told the interviewer that I was reading 50 Shades of Grey while interviewing for a corporate company and then explained that, before 50 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 embarrassing hole that I went through.
No matter what role you’re applying for, this question is likely to crop up, so here is how to talk about what book 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 know a bit more about you as a person, what your interests are 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.
How to prepare 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 form the perfect answer, 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 will likely have read it or at least heard about it, which will give you a 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
If you haven’t had the time to read lately, just be honest! 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’re still unsure of how to answer this question, here are a few examples of what you could say, along with one that you should totally avoid.
‘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.’
This answer ticks all the right boxes, the candidate acknowledges the interviewer’s question, discusses a book that’s suitable to most roles and explains what it’s about and how it can benefit anyone in the workplace.
‘Erm, I haven’t really read anything that you’d approve of lately’.
Even if you haven’t read anything suitable in the last year, you shouldn’t make it obvious. Choose an old classic that you love and discuss the book, the meaning and the impact that it’s had on your life. There is no right or wrong answer. It’s important to just be open and show a bit of personality during the small amount of time that you have to sell yourself and show that you’re the right fit for the job.
‘So, I don’t read much. In fact, the last book I probably read was Jane Austin during my English Literature GCSE, and that was a bore. I’m much more into video games - I could stay up all night playing Call of Duty without even realising it!’
If you happen to say anything remotely similar, you might as well get up off your seat and walk out of the door as you would have killed any chance of getting the job. This question is intended to see if you continue to grow and develop in your own time - and don’t get me wrong - playing video games won’t give you valuable transferable skills.
Like any other common interview question, it’s best to plan ahead and prepare answers that are suitable for the role that you’re applying for. In the meantime, read industry-related books that will help you succeed, no matter the outcome of your interview.
How have you answered this question during an interview? Let us know by leaving your comment in the section below.
This article is an update version of an earlier article originally published on 11 June 2014.