Here's How to Handle Curveball Questions Like a Pro
5 tips to ensure you're ready for anything
Landing an interview at your dream company is only the first step towards landing a job offer. Whether it’s working in a corporate organization, a trendy startup, or the public sector, you can be sure that the interview process is bound to be rigorous and you will most likely encounter a few curveball questions along the way.
Questions such as, "If you had a choice between two superpowers — being invisible or flying — which would you choose?" may seem to have nothing to do with the job to which you just applied. However, these tricky questions are meant to test your creativity, your ability to think on your feet, your problem-solving/critical reasoning skills, and your personality. Don’t fret. Curveball questions can really throw you off in a job interview, but often there are no right or wrong answers. Here are 5 tips on how to provide good answers to unexpected questions.
Tip #1: Prepare, prepare, prepare: Did you know that a quick Google or Glassdoor search can help you get a feel for the type of curveball questions out there? You might even find some hints about the questions used at specific companies. For example, "How many ridges are there around a quarter?" asked at Deloitte, or "How many basketballs can you fit in this room?" asked at Google. Remember, the interviewer is looking for what separates you from other candidates. Preparation is key, and by practicing a few curveball questions ahead of time, you will really build your confidence.
Tip #2: Give it your best shot: Getting it right is not the point. Instead, focus on demonstrating your ability to think the question through logically, and talk the interviewer through the steps you would take to find the solution. Answer the question while providing the situation, task, action, and result to your solution. Whatever you say, as always, justify your answer thoroughly. Show them how you cope with the unexpected and how you remain rational and calm under pressure.
Tip #3: Know your main messages: Make sure you have identified the main messages you want to emphasize throughout your interview. Reflect on your strengths in terms of your skills, competencies, and personality, as they relate to your career goals. Use these themes and weave them into your responses. For example, let's say your main messages are around your logical thinking, calm approach, integrity, and fairness. Suddenly you are asked “what's your favourite colour and why?” You could choose blue, which is known for trust, respect, and calmness, reflecting your personality.
Tip #4: Be yourself, and don't second guess your answer: It can be tempting to try to figure out what personality traits they are looking for in order to answer a curveball question "correctly,” but STOP! Before you do this, think carefully. You might be able to fake it in the interview, but faking it consistently on the job is stressful and unrealistic. Better not to land the position than find yourself in the wrong fit.
Tip #5: Take your time to answer: Don't rush your answer to a curveball question. The interviewer knows you probably didn't expect it, so take some thinking time. You can say "That's an intriguing question. Let me just take a moment to think that one through.” This will buy you a few seconds of thinking time before you answer in a way that emphasizes the key messages you identified in your preparation.
Yes, interview questions like these can be more than a little intimidating, but they can also give you a chance to show an employer who you are, how you think, and if your work style is a match for the position. It's unlikely you'll know in advance the exact questions you'll be asked, but that doesn't mean you can't practice answering a few curveball questions ahead of time. Have a go before your next interview, because you never know where the next curveball is coming from.
For more tips on curveball questions and how to ensure perfect preparation for your next interview, see our full course, “Interview to Land,” at eLoft Careers and follow us on social.