What flavor of ice cream do you see yourself as? How many pencils would fit in this room? These ‘fun’ questions can be stressful if you don’t have a plan.
BY JUDITH HUMPHREY
If you’ve done plenty of job interviews before, you know that they tend to go better when you prepare by writing down and answering all the familiar, expected questions you might be asked.
But inevitably some questions will take you by surprise. In some interviews, you’re going to be asked to respond to totally crazy questions that seem connected to nothing in particular. They’re designed to see how you perform under pressure—and sometimes how creatively you think.
Your success in the interview will depend on how you deal with these oddball queries. Do you panic or do you respond with poise and clarity of thought?
Here are four ways to shine when you’re hit with wacky questions:
1. EXPECT THEM
You can expect to have at least one far-fetched question in any job interview. Given the unpredictable world we live in, recruiters and hiring managers are increasingly asking these off-the-wall questions to find employees with agility.
So they’re likely to throw you questions that take you by surprise and force you to respond quickly with a savvy answer.
Apple poses some of the most inventive oddball questions. It once asked a prospective quality assurance software engineer: “If you have two eggs, and you want to figure out what’s the highest floor from which you can drop the egg without breaking it, how would you do it?” Amazon does the same, having challenged a candidate with this question: “How would you solve problems if you were on Mars?” It hit another prospect with: “Amazon is a peculiar company. What is peculiar about you?”
Microsoft has asked “How would you move Mt. Fuji?” And Nestle has posed this one to a job candidate: “If you were a brick in a wall, which brick would you be and why?” Other questions high on the quirky scale might include “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” Or “What flavor of ice cream do you see yourself as?”
2. STAY COMPOSED
When one of these questions comes your way, keep your composure. Recruiters ask these questions to see how candidates deal with stress. Show that you pass that test by keeping your cool!
Don’t screw up your face or respond with nervous body language. Nor should you comment on the question with “That’s a good question,” or “Wow, that’s a whopper of a question!” or “Where did that one come from?” If these are the first words out of your mouth, you’ll sound like you’ve been caught off guard.
Instead, take a deep breath and pause when one of those wild questions comes your way. You need time to collect your thoughts.
3. BE AUTHENTIC
In answering, remember that the question may be wild, but your answer gives you a genuine opportunity to show your authentic self. So in answering, make sure you are true to who you are and your values.
View the question about what kind of tree you’d like to be as a test of your personality. How do you see yourself? You might respond that you’d be a leader, like mighty oak. Or you might suggest that you’d be an apple tree that produces fruit and adds beauty to the world when it blossoms every spring.
Asked to solve problems while on Mars, your first response might be to show concern for the safety of your team, given that the red planet provides such an inhospitable environment. That response demonstrates your leadership qualities and emphasizes that you’re a team player.
The question about which brick in a wall you’d like to be can draw out how your see yourself in relation to others. An aspiring CEO might want to be one of the highest bricks, one that the others look up to. An entrepreneur might want to be the first brick laid—a brick upon which the others find their purpose and future.
There are no right or wrong answers. But remember, your imaginative response will reflect your authentic self and your ability to tap into your core beliefs.
So if an Amazon interviewer tells you that Amazon is a peculiar company and asks what is peculiar about you, you might respond that you don’t see yourself as peculiar, but you do look at the world differently from most people. You challenge thinking and explore alternatives. This, you believe, makes you an asset to any company.
Let your imagination run wild with these puzzlers and have fun, but keep in mind that these crazy questions are also serious ones for the interviewer.
4. DON’T ASK FOR FEEDBACK
When you’re through answering a quirky question, you may wonder if you were too off-base with the answer. You’ll probably feel a little weird. But don’t ask for feedback about how well you did. If you look for praise or positive reinforcement from the hiring manager or recruiter, it will suggest that you were unnerved by the question.
Instead, show that you’re comfortable with your quirky answer and the values you have expressed. This will demonstrate your comfort in dealing with even the most outrageous situations that might arise at work. And these days demonstrating that resilience is high on every employer’s list. After all, it has been an outrageous year.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She is a regular columnist for Fast Company and is the author of three books: Impromptu: Leading in the Moment (2018), Speaking as a Leader: How to Lead Every Time You Speak (2012), and Taking the Stage: How Women Can Speak Up, Stand Out, and Succeed (2014)