Job candidates need to be ready for just about anything in an interview these days. Sometimes it is just crazy what interviewers feel compelled to ask. You used to be able to expect traditional questions like, “Tell me your greatest challenge at your last job.” You would arrive well-rehearsed, reasonably confident that you would fare well.
But now interviewers are throwing out questions like, “Why are manhole covers round?” or “Which superhero would you want to be?” You no longer know what to expect, and certainly do not know how to prepare.
Meanwhile, you are wondering whether employers are deliberately trying to trip you up. That is not very nice, is it?
As silly as these questions seem, there is a serious reason behind them.
Employers are more cautious, now taking almost twice as long as they did back in 2010 to reach hiring decisions. That is because hiring mistakes are costly. A tough interview process — with questions designed to elicit thoughtful, honest answers — gives them one more tool to narrow the candidate field.
A creative line of questioning can yield richer evidence than the standard “tell me about yourself” kind of query. They hope to learn how you get along with others, how you resolve conflict and approach tough problems, whether you will fit in with the culture — and how you handle the unexpected.
So now that you know there is a method to this apparent madness, here are some weird types of questions you might encounter, what the interviewer hopes to learn, and how to think about your response.
Imagine you are at sea and your captain falls overboard. How would you work with the crew to get him back on the boat?
A question like this may be jarring at first, because you must first put yourself in this odd hypothetical situation (and hopefully you do not have a fear of water.) Your answer will point to whether you prefer working on your own or feel comfortable working with others in a high-stress situation, as well as your willingness to take on a leadership role.
Would you rather win at Jeopardy or Survivor?
These types of questions seek to discover what makes you tick. Would you choose the game that requires advance preparation and study, or the one that requires adventure and venturing into the unknown? With any either/or type of question, be ready to answer the “why?” that will invariably come next.
How many basketballs can you fit in this room?
Your first thought may be that the interviewer must really like basketball — a lot. But, they really want to see how well you think on your feet, analyze the situation, and attack problems. If numbers are not your strong suit, do not panic — the interviewer will expect you to take a bit more time to formulate your best estimate. But it never hurts to brush up on your estimating skills, just in case a problem like this comes your way.
What would you do if you just inherited a pizzeria from your uncle?
You may be shocked to find out you even have an uncle, let alone your very own pizzeria. The interviewer wants to know how you approach an opportunity, how eagerly you adapt to new situations, and your appetite for risk. They want to see an orderly thought process and evidence of decisiveness. No matter your role or expertise, it would be wise to discuss the need to deeply understand the state of the business before taking any action.
What is your spirit animal?
A question like this certainly can throw you off guard. At the simplest level, the interviewer may look for a spark of creativity and willingness to play along (if your first instinct is to scoff at the question, that can point to a culture mismatch). They want to discover how you view yourself, and your answer can symbolize where you see yourself in the food chain. They could also be looking for evidence of how others think about you.
Remember — there are often no right or wrong answers to many of these questions, so just answer honestly and to the best of your ability.
Even if you are temporarily stumped, do not allow the question to rattle you too much — because the worst thing you can do is refuse to play along and answer the question. You can always say, “Okay, let me think about that.” Then use that pause to buy some time while formulating your best answer.
If you can accept each question as a challenge and an opportunity to discover something new about yourself, you might even enjoy the conversation that results.
What is the strangest interview question you have ever heard?