Last week’s blog was about the top 5 interview questions that employers always ask. In this post, we’ll tackle the abstract, out-of-left field stumpers that leave you wondering: Why are they asking that? Did I answer right? Questions like “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” or “What’s on your playlist right now?”
You can have fun with these questions and come out of your interview alive. Let’s start with…
Why Are They Asking That?
Maybe you have a masochistic interviewer, or they’re just trying to have fun/build a rapport with you… but the most probable reason for off-the-wall interview questions is TO TEST HOW YOU THINK ON YOUR FEET. As such, the delivery and support points are equally or more important than the answer itself.
For example, let’s say you’re asked the tree question.
WRONG: You look at your feet and mumble, “Uh, wow. I never really thought about that. I don’t know.”
RIGHT: You smile and laugh: “Are you really asking me the tree question?” (Recover. A short pause to contemplate your answer is perfectly acceptable.) “OK, the first tree that comes to mind is an evergreen, because they are consistent, practical and enduring. I’m generally unflappable and even-tempered so evergreens represent me well.”
In the first reply you stumbled and neglected to address the question. That doesn’t give me confidence that you’ll be able to stand up to clients or handle high-pressure situations with finesse. The first answer conveys insecurity, shyness, lack of humor and inability to think creatively. Fail.
The second reply establishes rapport. It answers the question, provides rationale and gives the interviewer insight into how you perceive yourself, relevant job skills and whether you can tap dance. A+.
Did I Answer Right?
The worst answer is no answer at all. The second worst answer is a long silence following by incongruent rambling and the sad flourish of “Did I answer your question?”
My very best advice is to relax and try to view this as an opportunity to connect with your audience. Many of these questions are an attempt to see what happens when you’re forced to go off script. Or to find out more about you as a person, not just a professional.
To get more comfortable with your ability to improvise answers, it helps to practice. Here are a few more examples of unusual interview questions. You might want to craft responses with these goals in mind:
- Demonstrate creativity, sense of humor and problem-solving ability
- Deliver a concise, well-organized response with supporting rationale
- Relate your response to skills that will be required on the job; avoid getting overly personal
- If you’re asked to solve a problem or react to a scenario, describe how you would approach it and what data you’d consider when making a decision
Unusual Interview Questions*
1. If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?
2. Describe yourself in five words or less.
3. Why do you think only a small portion of the population earns over $150K?
4. If you could be a super hero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
5. Why are manhole covers round?
6. Who do you admire most and why?
7. If you had only six months left to live, what would you do with the time?
8. How many traffic lights are there in Manhattan?
9. If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?
10. What’s the last book you read?
11. What is the most stressful situation you have handled and what was the outcome?
12. Describe a database in three sentences to your 8-year old nephew.
This last interview question reminds me that I answer inane questions from my kids all the time. And they demand a certain level of fantasy, creativity and cold hard facts.
So whether you practice with your kids or free write responses, put on your creative hat, figure out how to demonstrate the skills your employer is looking for, trade shyness for humor and let ‘er rip. Be a cherry blossom tree in April.