It happens to everyone. You are mid-way through an interview, and you feel it’s going well. You’re in control. You answer every question with ease. Then suddenly, out of left-field, you’re asked, “What animal would you like to be?” or “What’s your favourite quote that most defines you as a person?”
You’ve been hit with an oddball question. It can happen to anyone, in any interview, according to a new book by William Poundstone, entitled Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? The author shares some of the stranger queries Google has tossed out at candidates. These include, “How would you weigh your head?” and, “You’re in a car with a helium balloon tied to the floor. When you accelerate, what happens to the balloon?”
In the US, a candidate reported that Amazon.com asked, “How would you cure world hunger?” and another job-seeker reported that the company EvaluServe asked, “Name five uses of a stapler without staple pins.”
Recruiters at The Bagg Group confirm that their clients, the best companies in the GTA, could put you on the spot with a question you may never have imagined, or prepared for.
But here’s one bizarre but important query that The Bagg Group recruiters want to prepare you for: “What do you do when you don’t have a clue how to answer a strange question?”
We’ll give you some hints:
Accept that there is no such thing as a stupid question: Interviewers don’t care about the right answer. They use the oddball question to understand how you think, what you care about, and how you handle yourself under pressure. The question may seem bizarre, but there’s purpose to it.
Welcome the unexpected: The worst thing you can do is blurt out something like, “That’s a ridiculous question.” Similarly, you can hurt your chances by rolling your eyes, smirking, or challenging the interviewer with, “What’s your point?” Instead, show that you have a natural curiousity by greeting the oddball question with interest and openess. Buy yourself some thinking time by saying, “That’s an interesting question,” or “That’s a unique question, it’s an intriguing one to tackle.”
Think outloud: Let the interviewer know how you tackle a puzzle by saying something such as, “There are several ways I could approach this question. Here’s one way I might try …”
Relate to the job: Where you can, make a link between the question and the job you are applying for. For example, if asked as one candidate reportedly was, “If you were a superhero, what special power would you want?” you might answer something such as, “For the purposes of this job, I’d like to see through walls so I could observe how customers handle the product.” Or in answer to the question, “How would you cure world hunger?” you might respond from the point-of-view of the position for which you are interviewing. For example, “As a supply chain expert, I would look first at … .” or, “As a marketer, I would… .”
When hit with a brain cramp, forget specifics and talk big picture: Recruiters at The Bagg Group know that whether you are interviewing for a full-time position, contract work, or temporary placement, you may be asked an unusual question that you should be able to answer in a snap. These include, “What’s your favourite movie or book?” Or, “What famous person is your hero?” You may well have a hero and a favourite movie, but for some reason you go blank — nothing comes to mind.
If that happens, don’t panic. Instead, give up on madly searching for a specific response, and instead take a bird’s eye view. You might say something like, “There are so many people I admire, I have been inspired by entrepreneurs, athletes, … .” In this way, you can talk about qualities that you admire, rather than specific names.
That said, it’s a good idea to think about someone you admire, a movie that speaks to you, and an inspirational quote that motivates you. Even if you’re never asked about these, it can still be useful to have a little inspiration in our pocket to help us through life’s unexpected moments.