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How to ace oddball interview questions

When preparing for an interview, it’s likely you already know to your answers to questions about your biggest successes and failures, questions that test your knowledge regarding the industry you’re in, questions about the type of worker and person you are. But what you probably don’t prepare for are questions like this: “If you were a type of cereal, what would you be and why?”

Interviewers are starting to include startling, unexpected questions like this one, and are using them specifically to throw off the interviewee and see how they think on their feet. Even though you may not encounter these types of questions, it’s still good to be prepared for what you might say if they are lobbed at you.

  1. The Quirky Question

    “If you could have a superpower, what would it be and why?” “What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose it?”

    For these types of questions, the specific superpower or viewing material isn’t what’s important – the reasoning behind the choice does. The interviewer wants to see how your mind works and to know more about your personality. So don’t overthink your answer – just say the first thing that comes to mind and explain why. Remember that your explanation doesn’t need to be deep, but that it does need to be honest. Lying in an interview is a big mistake.

  2. The Off-Center Background Question

    “What work or volunteer experience didn’t you put on your CV?” “At what age did you get your first paying job?”

    Questions like these are meant to get a read on who you are and to help the interviewer find out more about your work ethic and working background. Since a CV is more of a snapshot of your experience that’s relevant to the job you’re interviewing for, it’s likely that there are things you did not include – elaborating on those working situations or, if you’re early in career, any volunteer work or leadership training you’ve done, helps the interviewer get to know a little bit more about you.

    Regarding the age question, you can point to how old you were when you took on your first part-time job during high school or university breaks. These types of answers will paint a more personal picture of who you are and give the interviewer a good idea of your work ethic.

  3. The Realistic Question

    “What do you think about when you’re alone?” “What’s your plan if you don’t get this job?”

    If an interviewer throws something like this at you, they’re trying to discern what you care about. The things you think about in your free time tell a lot about who you are and how you see the world – and it’s okay if your answer isn’t “curing cancer” or “solving world hunger”. They want to know what you care about, what occupies your thoughts, and who you are as a person. Asking questions about how you would react to disappointing news gives them an idea of how you handle the idea of disappointment, as well as your resilience, and, potentially, your sense of humor.

  4. The Confounding Question

    “How many ten-cent coins would fit into this room?” “Estimate how many windows there are in Manilla.”

    Being on the receiving end of these sorts of questions likely means you’ll be furrowing your brow and wondering how in the world you’re supposed to come up with an answer – but that’s the point. Like The Quirky Question above, these types of questions are designed to test how you think about complex, seemingly impossible problems. Again, the answer isn’t necessarily what matters – it’s explaining how you got to the answer. If you’re extremely analytical and think you can actually solve the question, go for it. But if your brain doesn’t work that way, just try your best – you may even surprise yourself with what you come up with.

Now that you have an understanding of what interviewers are looking for when they ask oddball questions, you’ll know exactly how to prepare and will be able to ace answering these

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