While most recruiters ask straightforward questions to establish your expertise, career history and if you’re a good fit for the team, some ask curve-ball questions tough enough to fluster even the most prepared job seekers.
How can you tackle these bizarre interview questions without showing how they intimidate you?
And, if a recruiter asks a peculiar question, is that a sign of an astute employer or the mark of a sadistic tyrant you should walk away from?
Quackers! Can you get your ducks in a row when it comes to tough interview questions – or do you crack under pressure?
James Innes, founder of the James Innes Group and author of several best-selling career books says: ‘An identifying feature of tough interview questions is that they will either address a negative issue or they will be phrased in such a manner as to lead you into giving what seems to be a negative response.
‘The key to all answers is to identify how you can turn this potentially negative situation into a positive one – which really isn’t too difficult when you know how.’
These include ones like: ‘Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?’
Below, we offer six solutions and tips to deal with wacky and more complex questions that can strike fear into the heart of most interview candidates.
14 Tough interview questions
How would you answer these 14 genuine interview questions?
None of them really have ‘correct’ responses, but employers use them to flummox you and see how you cope with the pressure.
Answer them, read our seven tips underneath and come back to see if you would respond differently.
1. Why is water tasteless?
2. If you were an elephant, what would you do with your trunk?
3. Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?
4. Do you like to sing in the bath?
5. How many ways can you get a needle out of a haystack?
6. What do you do when there is no answer?
7. What would you do if the sun died out?
8. If there was a monkey hanging from a chandelier, how would you get it down?
9. It’s your first day on the job and you have a few hours to kill before orientation. What do you do with your time?
10. How many tube stations are there in London?
11. Can you sell me this pen right now?
12. How many watch repair shops are there in London?
13. A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?
14. If you could have dinner with five people of your choice – dead or alive – who would you choose?
Source: James Innes, Hays Recruitment, Tiger Recruitment and Michael Page , TopCV
1. Ask about their reasoning
Experts are divided about the reasons for these types of questions. Innes says that some interviewers like to ask questions which can only be defined as tough, mean or downright nasty.
But Nick Kirk, UK managing director of Michael Page, believes that in most cases employers use these kinds of questions to challenge the interviewer’s ability to respond on the spot.
Kirk says: ‘Candidates who are able to seamlessly think on their feet, or come up with creative responses, often make for successful employees.’
A few awkward questions Innes has come across in his career include: Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses? and what would you do when there is no answer?
Innes says young candidates in particular should expect to be asked such silly questions.
‘Some of the big tech or big investment banking and consulting companies or even just some of the biggest companies in the world where they know that young graduates will be falling over themselves to get their foot in the door.
‘These are the kinds of organisation who have ‘pioneered’ such questions.’
While some of these questions may seem rather ridiculous or bordering on the inappropriate, Innes doesn’t recommend walking out of the interview.
He suggests turning the tables instead: ‘You could respond by questioning the validity of the question and seeing how they respond to that!’
2. Don’t panic!
Preparation is key. Innes explains: ‘If you’re aware that you might get asked a particular question or type of question and you’ve taken the time to think it through beforehand then you’ve won more than half the battle.
He adds: ‘Another identifying feature of many tough interview questions is how direct they are.
‘Often they lack subtlety, coming straight to the point in order to instantly put you on the spot.
‘Rather than seeing this as a threat, you should try to see it as something positive; at least you’re unlikely to misunderstand the question.’
James Innes (pictured) says interview candidates shouldn’t see peculiar questions as a threat but as something positive because there’s less room for misunderstanding
3. Set a scene and show examples
While questions like ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ or ‘tell me about a time you’ve failed’ aren’t quite as bizarre as being asked to choose between ducks and horses, they can throw most candidates off because they’re perceived as negative and make people feel like they need to defend themselves.
But Karen Young, a direct or at recruitment and human resources company Hays says the best way to tackle these questions is to find common ground between your career ambitions and the job.
‘A good example would be to say in five years’ time I’d like to be a valued employee who has deep expertise in XYZ and have developed the skills to progress to a people management position. I believe I’d have the opportunity to develop such expertise over time in this role.’
Young adds: ‘When faced with the question ‘tell be about a time you failed’, many candidates feel uneasy as the word ‘fail’ typically spurs people to become defensive.
‘The worst thing you can say in this situation is that you have never failed. The interviewer isn’t trying to catch you out, instead they want to know how you overcame failure and what you learnt.
‘When you answer the question make sure to set the scene, paint a clear picture of where you went wrong, what you learnt and what you would do differently next time.’
Just like actors have to practice before entertaining an audience, so too should you practice before the big day of the interview.
Kirstie Mackay, head of LifeSkills, created by Barclays: ‘We know that young people find interviews daunting, but preparing properly can make a huge difference to the outcome.
‘Make sure you rehearse some potential curve ball questions ahead of the day with a friend so that you can be as prepared as possible for being put on the spot during an interview.’
5. Use a bridging question
Don’t panic and spurt out the first thing that comes to your mind.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a minute to think. Delay tactics could also work.
Mackay adds: ‘In the interview, try and stay calm, and if you’re struggling to think of an answer, you could use a bridging technique like “that’s a really interesting question” to buy some time to think before responding.
Remember that the interview is a two way process, so be confident in your ability and the worth you’re bringing to that company.’
6. Think about the company’s objectives and answer accordingly
Kirk says you should consider the companies objectives and what your role would entail if you successfully pass this interview.
He adds: ‘If the company is very creative in nature, your response should match this creativity and demonstrate some ‘out of the box’ thinking.
‘If your future role involves a customer service element to it, then a calm and collected delivery of a response is more important than a creative solution.’
7. Be yourself
It may be tempting to offer an answer that you think the recruiter wants to hear but this could backfire.
A recent survey conducted by TopCV and CV-Library found that after skills and experience 77 per cent of UK organisations cared most about personality.
Amanda Augustine, careers expert at TopCV says: ‘You can possess the right qualifications on paper, but if you don’t demonstrate during the interview that you’re a good cultural fit for the team, you won’t land the job.
‘Don’t just stick to the script – let your prospective employer see who you are. Let your personality shine – and don’t be afraid to be yourself.’
Article by Angelique Ruzicka.
Small Business Essentials
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