For organizations, hiring is a risky game. Most of the time, they must determine if a candidate is going to make a good employee solely on the basis of a CV, a few interviews, and a reference check. Since there is so much that goes into employee performance and satisfaction, it’s impossible for hiring managers to know for sure if they are making the right choice when they onboard a new employee. That’s why, for them, the most important part of the hiring process is the interview. Interviewers know that candidates, especially senior-level ones, arrive optimally prepared for the standard interview questions like “Tell me about yourself,” or “What actions would you take in your first month on the job here?” So, they often turn to less traditional questions as a way of getting to know the person across the table a little better. While it is impossible to know what a hiring manager might ask, you can expect a few bizarre interview questions that will be tough to answer. But knowing what the interviewer is really trying to learn about you by asking these questions can help you shape your answer, even if you don’t get it exactly right.
Here are some to consider:
Tricky Technical Questions
For jobs that require strong analytical thinking, interviewers sometimes throw out an interview question that requires quick calculations or logical reasoning. For example:
- Why are manhole covers round?
- How many golf balls can you fit in an Airbus 380?
- There are 25 racehorses, no stopwatch and 5 racetracks. How would you figure out the top three fastest horses in the fewest number of races?
- How can you drop a raw egg on a very hard floor without breaking it?
By asking such things, hiring managers want to learn more about your thought process, how you identify and frame problems – in short, they want to know if you are “one of them.” Additionally, they want to see how you react to a question you can’t answer.
Your strategy should be to stay cool and take a minute to collect your thoughts. Then, unless you know the correct answer, discuss how you’d go about figuring it out if you had the resources and more time. Also, pay close attention to the words used in the questions – on occasion, the answer is already there. Hint: you can’t break a hard floor with a raw egg!
Posing questions about trending events or the lifestyle scene allows hiring managers to determine if you will match the corporate culture. It’s a way to find out if you have a sense of humor (and what kind), your interests outside work, and perhaps if you are more introverted or extroverted:
- What’s your favorite Bill Murray movie?
- What’s your take on this year’s spring fashion trends?
- Which 90’s song would you most like to hear performed live?
- Where do you spend most of your “online” time?
Again, you might not be able to answer these types of queries directly, but you can use them as a springboard to discuss broader interests. For instance, if you don’t have a clue about spring fashion, admit it, and then mention that you like the overall trend of business casual dress at work.
Hypothetical questions about your behavior in challenging scenarios shed light on your judgment, and your EQ (emotional quotient, or your level of self-awareness, empathy and social skills) and your cost-benefit analysis skills.
- If you were in a real hurry but stopping at a red light ahead would make you late, would you drive through the light?
- If you found out that your best friend’s husband was cheating on her, what would you do?
- If you had to choose between completing your work correctly and completing it on time which would you choose?
You may not wish to discuss your own experience in one of these situations –especially if it is uncomfortably personal — but you may instead segue into a discussion of how you would assess the situation, weigh the options, and make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time.
“Original Thought” Questions
Think about your responses to these:
- If you were a fruit, which one would you be?
- What title would you give your autobiography?
- Tell me a joke.
- What’s your favorite restaurant?
Such interview queries test how well you understand yourself and can convey it. They are designed to force you to go off-script and think originally.
Relax! There are usually no “right” or “wrong” answers here, but you still want to make sure to respond in a way that puts you in a positive light professionally. See these questions as an opportunity to describe your interests and personality in more detail. For example, if you want to highlight that you enjoy working in teams but value individualism too, tell the hiring manager you’d be a grape – a fruit that can stand alone but prefers hanging in bunches. Can’t think of a (clean) joke? Describe a sign or advertisement you’ve seen recently that really made you laugh.
If your prospective job requires creative thinking, you can expect bizarre interview questions that ask you to come up with innovative ideas on the spot. How about one of the following:
- Can you explain a database in three sentences to an eight-year-old?
- How would you describe the color “yellow” to a blind person?
- How would you design a simpler TV remote control?
Good innovation starts with customer empathy – that is, viewing the situation from the user’s perspective. So, the best way to approach a creativity question is to start with a context the user can understand. For instance, a blind person may have never seen the color yellow, but she will know the feeling of sunlight and warmth, two concepts you could use to describe it.
Bizarre interview questions are often meant to take you out of your comfort zone because that’s where a hiring manager can better see your strengths and weaknesses. You can prepare for some of these types of questions, but you‘ll likely face new ones with a different twist. Remember that you can ask questions for clarification before answering an interviewer. For example, for the question about designing a TV remote control, you might ask for details about the intended user. Or, for the traffic light question, you could inquire if the situation is a life-threatening emergency or something less serious, like a meeting with friends. In all cases, consider these interview questions a chance to show a more complete version of yourself than what a hiring manager sees on your CV.
Kate Rodriguez is a freelance marketing copywriter based in Munich. She has over 20 years of professional experience in public and private organizations. A former international trade analyst for the U.S. government, she also worked as a university career coach, specializing in international career search. Most recently, she was employed at Experteer as a customer service agent and online marketing manager.