There are various sources in the internet in which different general questions one may encounter in screening interviews are reviewed. However, sometimes an applicant may face with some questions whose answers can be totally unexpected, and often opinion-based. In such cases, as the applicant (unfortunately!) can't read an asker's mind to know what perspective appeals them more, is there any strategy (for example, based on the clues captured during the interview) based on which an applicant's answer properly converges to what is expected to be heard?
A while ago, I was invited to an interview (for a tenure-track assistant professorship position) conducted by a search committee of an aerospace department (in an R1 U.S. university). A panel member asked me the following question:
We have a large body of undergraduate students who are potentially interested in your field of research. What sorts of plans would you have to successfully attract them to this stream of research?
I, initially unprepared to be asked such a question, thought for a couple of seconds and then (kind of spontaneously) responded like:
Nowadays, the surge of coding and programming among undergraduate engineering students is growing. They often, regardless of their majors, get attracted to computing by learning some programming languages. Since the background of the majority of them to do cutting-edge research in my field may not initially suffice, I would try to define some numerical projects for interested students through doing which they can gradually get familiar with the principal components of the theory in my field. Once they are equipped with some solid background, as well as the magnification of their interests in the field, I may hopefully plan deeper steps for the involvement of those students to the mainstream research in my field.
The asker then rolled his eyes staring at me for almost 10 seconds when he finally said:
Well... I don't know about that!
I don't claim that my answer was the best possible line of planning for what that question sought. What I am concerned with is some strategies to handle such not-that-much-standard questions so that the result would be less embarrassing that what happened in that experience.
* The quotes may not represent the exact word-by-word passage of conversation.