Seems like this common interview question is from left field, but here are a few reasons why hiring authorities may ask you this question.
Job seekers who are avid readers tend to be good communicators, both verbally and in writing. They are seen as intelligent, curious, and eager to learn. As much as 50% of the decision to hire you is based on the quality of your communication skills.
Reading is physical fitness for the mind. It takes more work and effort to read vs gaining knowledge by more passive methods.
The brightest people on the planet read constantly...often 1 or 2 books a week.
On the shelves of book stores and libraries is the wisdom of the world.
Great leaders, experts, and scholars have written books and articles about their thoughts, discoveries, and achievements for all to learn and benefit.
Yet many people would rather spend their time watching TV and running to the refrigerator.
So when you are asked a common interview question about your reading habits, think of the impact it will make when you rattle off 2-3 books you recently studied by industry movers and shakers; not to mention the knowledge and experience you will have borrowed from the greatest minds in your field.
I worked for a Fortune 500 company that required all the managers and staff to meet each Friday afternoon to read a couple of sections out of the company's policy and procedure manual.
Usually there were 20 people in attendance across all disciplines and management levels. The purpose of the meeting was to make sure everyone understood and practiced company policy and procedure.
It was a great idea.
Most companies issue you a P&P manual on your hire date which is promptly tossed in a lower desk drawer, never to be seen again until you resign, retire, or die.
When I first attended one of these 20 minute meetings, I was appalled at how poorly some people read...including a couple of managers.
These poor readers also used improper grammar in casual conversation.
I shared my observations with one of my colleagues and he quickly replied...that's because they don't read enough.
What do you mean they don't read enough, I asked?
Yeah, he continued, they rarely pick up a book or magazine and read. They get all of their information by word of mouth or TV.
My colleague then challenged me by saying...if you don't believe me, just ask a couple of them what they've been reading lately.
So I did.
To my amazement, he was right.