How to Answer the Strangest Interview Questions
Roll with the punches and you'll be fine
It's not bad enough that the job application was 10 pages long, and you waited three weeks to hear back from the employer. Now, you need to prepare for crazy brainteaser interview questions, too? Not necessarily. Typically, employers focus on the run-of-the-mill questions you'd expect to be asked; the kinds of questions you can slam dunk. However, in case you ever do face an off-the-wall inquiry like one of the questions on Glassdoor.com's "Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions for 2014," how should you plan to reply?
It might help to consider why employers may include these brainteasers in the first place.
They want to know how easy is it to throw you off your game
It's possible the point of the inquiry is to test how you respond in an unexpected situation or stressful situation, which is very revealing. It actually makes a lot of sense for an employer to want to test your response to the unexpected, and an otherwise "crazy" interview question may be the best way they know how to do it without creating an actual trial situation. Your response: don't stress out; take things one step at a time.
So, when Xerox asked, "Why is a tennis ball fuzzy?" they were probably anticipating you'd be surprised by the question and hoped to see how you reacted. Your actual reply is not likely to be as important as your ability to take things in stride.
Determining if you a creative problem solver is a top priority
In theory, everyone wants to hire creative problem solvers, but it's not always easy to determine exactly how creative you are in a pinch. Some of the questions on Glassdoor's list likely fall in this category. Your response: think about how you can be resourceful, creative and detail oriented in an effort to solve the problem presented.
If asked a questions such as Bed, Bath & Beyond's inquiry, "If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why?" take into account the type of job and try to come up with a response that fits. If the position involves style, design and color, answer by incorporating your interest in and passion for those topics as they relate to cereal.
Are you comfortable asking questions?
An employee who doesn't know how to ask questions at the right time will inevitably make bad choices. Perhaps the goal of some of these questions is to determine how likely you are to clarify the question or request additional information you will need to answer it. Don't invite the interviewer to make a negative snap judgement about you. Your response: at the very least, come up with a few details or items that you would need to know in order to tackle the question and ask some clarifying questions of your own.
When Factual asked a software engineer, "How would you use Yelp to find the number of businesses in the U.S.?" the engineer could approach the question by asking some clarifying information about the type of data he or she would need to use to answer the question.
Are you a trouble-maker?
If you question the value of the inquiry itself by responding, "What does this have to do with the job?" you might as well get up and walk out of the interview. (Unless they are looking for a contrary or difficult candidate, which is unlikely.) You'd be surprised, but some people will show these unattractive traits in an interview when pressed. Your response: just roll with the punches and do the best you can.
If an employer asks, "If you could sing one song on American Idol, what would it be?" don't reply, "Take the job and shove it" if you want the position!
Keep in mind a few key things if you need to reply to a brain teaser:
- It's okay to stop and think before you answer, and even to ask for clarification if there are any details you don't understand.
- The interviewer is trying to learn how you would act as an employee. Try to answer the question in a way that showcases the skills you have for the job. If the position is mathematical, use math skills, if demonstrating your creative side is more important, go that route.
- Don't get rattled or give up or you won't get the job. Do the best you can and keep a smile on your face. If the point of the question was to see how you handle a challenge, the employer may overlook the fact that you couldn't come up with a best-case answer if you can smooth over your reply despite not knowing what to say.
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Business Success, Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success. Get her free white paper: 5 Mistakes Job Seekers Make and How to Avoid Them.