Posted September 18, 2013 by

Say What? Weird Job Interview Questions and How to Handle Them

The word WHAT in capital letters with a question mark, outlined in red

The word WHAT in capital letters with a question mark, outlined in red. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Just when you think you’re acing your job interview, your ears perk up and you mentally do a double take. “Did I just hear that?” you think, wondering why your job interviewer would ask you such an oddball question — and how on earth you’re supposed to respond to it.

Although a strange job interview question may throw you for a loop, there’s generally a method to the hiring manager’s madness when asking these types of questions. For one, job interviewers want to see how well candidates are able to think on their feet and handle out-of-the-ordinary situations. Since job seekers often practice for their interviews, hiring managers tend to hear a lot of canned responses to the basic interview questions. In order to really get to know a job candidate’s true personality, interviewees will often throw out a curveball question because it forces candidates to reveal their personality in a spontaneous and genuine way.

In addition, job interviewers may ask oddball questions in order to intentionally put the candidate under a little bit of stress, says Katharine Brooks, Executive Director of Wake Forest University‘s Office of Personal and Career Development.

“Sometimes interviewers really put somebody under the gun because the job itself is very stressful,” she said. “So, they try to create questions that will make people think to see how they handle an unusual situation, which is important to tie the questions to the skills needed on the job.”

Four Strange Job Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Although it’s impossible to prepare for every single kind of weird job interview question a hiring manager may throw at you — which is the point, of course — these questions will give you a taste of strange things you may be asked during an interview, and the best way to handle them.

Question: “Sell me the middle seat on an airplane.”

How to answer it: Brooks says this question is often asked by consulting firms because they want to determine whether or not a candidate’s personality is a good fit for their organization.

“They want somebody with an extroverted personality who is good in a social setting,” she said. “Obviously, the job is never going to require you to sell the middle seat on an airplane, but your response reveals your personality in a way that’s pretty hard to control.”

With that in mind, Brooks says a good answer to this question would be something like, “If I’m in the middle seat, I have two people I can meet and talk to.” This type of response reveals that a job candidate is extroverted and will not have a problem striking up a conversation in all kinds of places. On the other hand, a bad answer to this question would be anything that describes the generic benefits of being in the middle seat, such as proximity to the bathroom or not getting your feet kicked by people in the aisle.

Question: “What song best describes your work ethic?”

How to answer it: “For this one, you want to think of the lyrics to a song that describes the values you’re trying to show. So, if you’re trying to show hard work, dedication, and that you’re a fighter, maybe you’d want to go for ‘Eye of the Tiger,'” said Scott Dobroski, Corporate Communications Manager at Glassdoor.com. “It’s always about giving the best answer you can with explanation.”

Dobroski notes that although this is a funny question, you have to remember to put your best foot forward and avoid blurting out the first funny answer that pops into your head. Although you may secretly want to respond with “Working for the Weekend,” chances are, a hiring manager will not be amused. Similarly, “She Works Hard for the Money” may sound like a good answer to this question, you don’t want to come off as a workaholic who doesn’t have a good sense of work-life balance because that’s not necessarily an attractive quality to many organizations. No matter what song you choose, be sure to frame it in a way that highlights your assets.

Question: “What did the S&P 500 close at yesterday?”

How to answer it: Sometimes hiring managers will ask factual questions that illustrate the type of information they expect their employees to know. “It’s always good to read a newspaper before an interview so you know what the headlines are and what’s going on in the world,” said Brooks.

In addition, Brooks says that doing some research about a company can also help you with this type of question. For example, if you’re applying for a marketing position at a certain company, it’s a good idea to search for news about that organization so you can use it to either answer a specific curveball question posed by your interviewer, or to sprinkle facts into your answers to other questions when appropriate.

“It’s about proving to the company that you’ve done your research in a very positive way,” she explains.

Question: “How many quarters would you need to reach the height of the Empire State Building?”

How to answer it: Although questions like this may give you flashbacks of the SATs, they are actually not as difficult as you may think. First, you should keep in mind that the interviewer doesn’t necessarily expect you to give the correct answer to the question — just to work through how you would go about answering the question.

“First I would want to know, if a quarter’s lying on its side, what its height is. I would also want to know what the height of the Empire State Building is,” said Dobroski. “I would ask if I can use a calculator to start crunching the numbers, and also if I can use the Internet to double check my metrics.”

With questions like these, says Dobroski, the worst thing you can do is to say you don’t know the answer, because the point of the question is to measure your critical thinking skills. “They’re not necessarily always looking for the right answer, but how you come to a conclusion,” he said.

By Kenya McCullum

About the Author:

Kenya McCullum is a freelance writer based in California. She writes about education and careers and contributes to numerous websites, including OnlineColleges.com.

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