As every job-seeker knows, interviews are tough. The train’s delayed, your suit itches, from the look the receptionist just gave you you’re pretty sure you have coffee breath. Then, just when the interview seemed to be going swimmingly, the interviewer throws an unexpected curveball by asking you if you’d rather fight one hundred duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck.
Bizarre interview question can leave the candidate feeling confused, panicky, and even a little resentful (how were you supposed to prepare for that?). But there’s a good reason companies ask them. And with just a little bit of insider know-how, you can give even the weirdest question a stellar retort.
- THE RANDOM QUESTION
E.g. What colour crayon would you be?
These sorts of questions might seem infuriatingly vague, but they’re actually one of the easiest things you could possibly be asked. Why? Because there is no right answer. You can be a red crayon or a yellow crayon or a pink glittery crayon, all the interview is looking for is an insight into your personality.
Always back your answer up with some reasoning, no matter how glib it sounds (“I’d be yellow because I’m very sunny and positive”). Unless you have the misfortunate to be questioned by a budding Freud (“hmm, baby blue suggests an infantile depression complex”), all the interviewer is looking for is that you answer confidently and don’t freak out when caught off guard.
Oh, and just because there’s no right answer, doesn’t mean there aren’t wrong answers. Incorrect responses: “Errrrr….”, “I don’t know”, and “that’s a stupid question that has nothing to do with mechanical engineering.”
- THE MATHS QUESTION
E.g. How many Big Macs does McDonald’s sell in the US each year?
Bad news: unlike the crayon question, you’ll almost certainly be expected to use actual numerical/logical skills to get somewhere in the ballpark of the real answer. Good news: you remember how maths exams always gave you points for your working out even if your final figure was wrong? That’s exactly the same deal here.
Never be afraid to take some time to think about your answer. That’s true of any interview question, but is especially so when it’s something you couldn’t possibly have prepared for. Indeed, indicating that you’re thinking carefully about your response is likely to work in your favour.
Pool all the knowledge you have that could help you solve the problem, and explain every step of your thought process aloud. For this example you might talk about what you know regarding the popularity of the product, the number of stores and the company revenue, and use this information to hazard a guess at how frequently a Big Mac is sold before extrapolating that figure out to a year.
You almost certainly won’t get the answer right (it’s 550 million FYI). They almost certainly won’t expect you to. As long as you had a reasonable system, you should pass with flying colours.
- THE MORAL QUESTION
E.g. What would you do if you caught a member of staff kissing the boss?
More than any other question on this list, moral dilemmas are likely to make you squirm. Few things matter more to a person’s judgement of you than your ethics, but without knowing company policy or how the interviewer personally feels about the described situation it can be nigh-on impossible to figure out how they want you to answer.
The only solution is to answer honestly. When it comes to morality, it’s pretty important that you and your company are on the same page. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation months down the line where you feel pressured to act against your values.
- THE SALES QUESTION
E.g. Can you tell me 20 unique selling points about this BIC pen?
This might not be so unexpected if you’ve applied for a sales role, but don’t be surprised if a question like this pops up in a non-sales job interview too. The fact is, strong sales skills are important in every profession. No matter what you do, you’ll be required to promote the business – and yourself!
To stop you getting stuck with questions like this, think about why the object in question is designed the way it is. Why isn’t the pen ten foot long or shaped like a square? The answers may seem obvious, but if you try to only come up with unbelievably creative points you’re likely to freeze.
Remember that with sales patter the key element is confidence. Maintain eye contact, smile, and just commit to whatever point you’ve embarked on, even if it sounds silly to say!
- THE PRACTICAL QUESTION
E.g. Can you build a tower of paper cups in one minute that will not fall down when you put water in the top cup?
Imagine being a hiring manager. Candidate after candidate walks through your door telling you how creative their ideas are and how cleverly they can solve problems. You can’t just take their word for it, and they’ll have almost certainly have rehearsed a clever-sounding answer if asked for an example. Solution? Make them prove their skills in a way that will display their actual talents!
The trick with anything like this is not to panic. They will not be expecting perfection. Unless you’re applying to be an engineer, they will also not be expecting extreme technical skill. What they are looking for is originality and thinking outside the box. Whatever you do, remember that most of the impression you make will be from the attitude with which you go about it. Show a willingness to roll up your sleeves and give challenges a go, and you’ll be remembered positively even if your water tower collapses.
Beth Leslie writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching candidates to their dream internship. Check out their graduate jobs London listings for roles. Or; if you’re looking to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.