Ever go on an interview only to be asked who would play you in a movie or if you were an animal, which one you’d be? While these oddball job interview questions may have you scratching your head, there’s actually a method to the madness.
“Interviewers are trying to get behind the facade and learn who the person really is,” says Pamela Skillings, co-founder of New York-based job coaching firm Skillful Communications. “Can this person think on his or her feet?”
There is no right answer to outlandish job interview questions, but career experts say you make more of an impression if your answer is unique. “Everyone says ‘I would be a lion because I’m so fierce,’ but to be memorable, you’ve got to come up with something other people haven’t said,” Skillings says.
That doesn’t mean you should make something up. After all, you want the interviewer to see the real you. “If you’re not a good fit, you don’t want to get the position,” says Chuck Fried, president and chief executive of TxMQ Inc., a technology staffing company based in Buffalo, N.Y.
With that in mind, here’s a look at three categories oddball job interview questions fall into.
Personality questions gauge creativity
Asking what superhero powers you would want to possess seems strange, but that type of inquiry, known as the personality question, is a regular occurrence on job interviews. “Just as common as what are your strengths and weaknesses is ‘What do you think of garden gnomes?'” says Samantha Zupan, a spokeswoman at Sausalito, Calif.-based career community Glassdoor.
The personality questions achieve two things: They put you at ease and gauge your creativity, Zupan says. “They want to see the way you think,” she says. “If you say something completely off the wall, that is the reason for it.”
Take the garden gnome question, which Zupan says was asked of a person interviewing for a job at Monrovia, Calif.-based grocery store operator Trader Joe’s. It’s an example of the interviewer trying to determine if the person would fit in with a company that prides itself on its quirkiness.
So how should you handle the personality question? According to Zupan, you want to answer honestly, but give some thought to your answer. If you are looking to land a job on a children’s television show, it may not be the ideal time to say you’re an avid fan of slasher films.
Logic questions probe problem solving
Commonly used at financial companies, consulting firms, technology businesses and engineering practices, the logic job interview question is designed to test just that — your logic. Since many of those types of companies are looking for people who are analytical, problem-solving questions come in handy, Skillings says.
“They want to hear how you think and walk through a process,” Skillings says. One example of a logic question is, “How many gas stations are in the U.S.?” Chances are you won’t know the answer, but the way you try to come up with the answer is more telling.
“It’s more about the thinking process,” Skillings says.
Zupan at Glassdoor offers another example of a question asked of a person interviewing with financial giant Goldman Sachs — if you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?
With that one, the interviewer was interested in seeing how the prospect would handle the question, Zupan says. For instance, a good follow-up question would be, “Is the blender on?”
“With tech companies and business consulting companies, there’s a higher percentage of those how-to-solve-a-problem questions,” she says.
Are you resourceful?
If you’re asked on an interview how you would survive on a desert island for 30 days or what you would do if you inherited a pizzeria, chances are the potential employer is trying to gauge how you handle being thrown a curveball.
“Is this person resourceful? Can you think of a plan B if plan A is not available?” Skillings says. That’s what employers are looking for when asking hypothetical questions, she says.
Sometimes, these job interview questions will be more straightforward, related to the job for which you are interviewing. For instance, an interviewer may ask you how you would handle an increased workload if a co-worker left or what you would do to appease an irate client.
“Employers want to hire bright, sharp people, and one attribute in regard to sharp people is they are usually quick on their feet,” says Fried of TxMQ. “They will ask some slippery questions to see if it’s hard to knock them off balance.”
Handling oddball questions
These wacky job interview questions are a small portion of the overall interview process, but they do carry clout, especially in a tight job market. “The problem is, right now it’s so competitive that it often comes down to the very small things in terms of deciding who is the best candidate,” Skillings says.
Career experts say the best way to handle these questions is to relax and pause before answering. You don’t want to give the first answer that comes to mind, but one that is well thought out. Zupan at Glassdoor says it’s all right to ask for more information about the question. She says a tactful approach is to say, “That’s a really interesting question. Can you tell me a little bit as to why you are asking it?”
Remember, the interview is a two-way street. It’s as much to see if you want the job as it is to see if you’re the right fit for the company. “If you are getting put off by the oddball questions for whatever reason, that’s a good indicator” the job may not be for you, says Fried.