Most job seekers go into a job interview with answers in mind to such standard questions as: Tell me about your greatest strengths? Why do you want to work for us? Where do you see your career in 5 years?
But how would you answer interview questions like these?
- If you were a brick in a wall, which brick would you be and why?
- If I put you in a sealed room with a phone that had no dial tone, how would you fix it?
- How would you sell me eggnog in Florida in the summer?
- Can you name five uses for an empty stapler?
- If you were asked to unload a Boeing 747 full of jelly beans, what would you do first?
I’m not making this up.
These were actual questions posed to interviewees by companies that included Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Expedia. The more you look into this topic, the wilder and weirder the questions get. Are companies simply trying to humiliate interviewees, or to have fun watching them squirm under new levels of stress and discomfort?
Fortunately not. There are legitimate reasons why interviewers ask these sorts of odd-ball (we used to call them “trick”) questions, and how you respond can be critical in getting the job offer.
So, what’s the game they’re playing?
It comes down to two areas: problem solving and grace under pressure. Interviewers are interested in your problem-solving processes: how you analyze, break down, and formulate a solution strategy to even the strangest problem. Most people can learn to use a software app or master a technical process, but problem solving is hard to teach.
Problem solving is one of those attributes that come from within, something nurtured by intellectual curiosity, determination, and a plain old strong work ethic. It’s something that companies prize in their employees beyond almost
Determining if you can arrive at the right answer isn’t the objective here. Indeed, finding the answer to a question like “How many light bulbs are currently lit in Singapore?” might be essentially unknowable. What interviewers are looking for is how you would lay out a plan for solving such a problem, and how you would walk somebody through that plan logically and sensibly.
Creativity is highly valued in today’s business world, and your ability to think creatively in response to such challenges will make a powerful positive statement about your suitability as an employee. If you come across as a creative problem solver who’s not afraid to venture outside their comfort zone to find answers, you’ll be a very hot commodity with multiple offers.
How you respond in terms of demeanor is also important. Today’s workplace, especially in the midst of this awful pandemic, is a stressful place, filled with uncertainty and surprises. Your grace under pressure when confronted with an unusual problem-solving exercise says a lot about how you would respond in the workplace environment to a similar situation.
Interviewers like candidates who won’t go manic when the going gets tough. So, at all times during the interview, do your best to stay relaxed, focused, and in control of your emotions.
But projecting this sort of cool, calm persona in a trick question environment is easier said than done. However, there are strategies you can use to place yourself in control when the interview questions start getting strange. I’ll list them as do’s and don’ts.
- Take time to understand what they’re asking. Make sure that you grasp the problem accurately before embarking on a solution.
- Ask questions to see if more information is available or if you need clarification. Your thoughtful questions illuminate your problem-solving skills just as much as a quick answer. Show the interviewer that you want to intake as much information as possible.
- Think aloud. Walk the interviewer through your thought processes in a step-by-step order that they can hear and
understand. If you suddenly realize that maybe you’ve made a wrong step, admit it, back up in your plan of attack, and try a different angle. Show your creativity, willingness to abandon a wrong strategy, and then pick it up with a modified approach. Demonstrate that you know how to break down complex problems into simpler steps.
- Say you don't know. Unfortunately, this is the most common initial reaction to an unusual question, and it’s an interview killer if you shrug your shoulders and admit defeat. You probably don’t know the answer, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a way to figure it out, or at least come close to figuring it out. Make it a policy to never say that you’re stumped and that’s that.
- Overthink the question. Stay focused and on topic. Show that you can respond to a specific challenge without dragging in extraneous thinking.
- Go for the obvious answer or be cute, trite, or funny in your reply. Remember that there are some very good reasons why they’re asking you if you’d rather be Batman or Superman in a fight, so answer like it’s a legitimate problem.
Odd-ball trick interview questions push job candidates to use skills and thought processes that they wouldn’t normally demonstrate with standard interview questions. Asking these kinds of questions force candidates into a “discomfort zone” that brings out their true skills and abilities. So, expect the unexpected on your next interview, and relish the opportunity to show what you can do.
As always, we’re here to help you ace your next interview, regardless of the questions they ask.
Just get in touch and we can discuss your best strategies for job interview preparation and job search success.