You’ve done it. You’ve made it through an hour discussing your resume, previous positions, hopes, and dreams and you’ve nailed every question. Then HR hits you with something weird: Why is a tennis ball fuzzy? Huh? You panic and flip through your notes. Tennis balls? Does this company even sell tennis balls?
Your previous internship experience and even an Ivy League education can’t prepare you for off-the-wall interview questions. The only thing you can do to ace these questions is to be aware of them and prep your mind to answer them.
To get started, let’s look at four kinds of crazy interview questions:
#1: The Thought Process Questions
My favorite: “Why is a manhole cover round?”
- “Why is a tennis ball fuzzy?” (Xerox)
- “If you were a pizza deliveryman how would you benefit from scissors?” (Apple)
Why they ask: This is a critical thinking test. How do you work your way through a problem and can you think on your feet?
How to handle it: Don’t panic. I was interviewing for a marketing position and was shocked to be asked about manholes. I had to pause for air before answering. Honestly, I had no idea why manhole covers are round. I guessed that the smooth edges cause less damage to the road and passing cars, use less material to create, and are basically the same shape as the man going down it.
Was I right? Of course not. Thankfully, it didn’t matter. The interviewer didn’t care if I knew the real reason or not — I mentioned that they didn’t make manholes, right? – they just wanted to know my thought process. Turns out, the real reason is that any other shape would fall back down through the hole, but a circle — no matter how it’s turned — won’t.
#2: The Personal Questions
My favorite: If you could describe yourself in a Facebook post, what would it say?
- “What was the last gift you gave someone?” (Gallup)
- “How lucky are you and why?” (Airbnb)
Why they ask: You may have made it to the end of the interview, answering every question correctly, but the interviewer may not have a firm grasp of your personality. If that’s the case, they’ll often try to mix things up on you and ask you a more personal question. Odds are, they don’t even care what the answer is — they just want to know more about you and see how you’ll handle it. Will you impulsively blurt out the first thing that comes to mind? Or will you act calmly and give an honest answer?
How to handle it: Ask for a moment to consider it if you need to, and be sure to put a positive spin on your answer. Don’t answer in slang, either; this isn’t the time to shout “YOLO.” People use Facebook to share important updates about their lives. What’s important to you? Demonstrate your values by describing yourself in a positive light, and you’ll be sure to impress!
#3: The Cultural Questions
My favorite: “Tell me about a time it was necessary to admit a mistake and how you handled that.”
- “If you could throw a parade of any caliber through the Zappos office what type of parade would it be?” (Zappos)
- “Do you believe in Big Foot? (Norwegian Cruise Line)
Why they ask: They want to see if you’re a good fit for the organization and if you embody their values. In my case, the interviewer was looking to see if I was humble or if I had a sense of entitlement. If your answer is full of excuses or hostility, the interviewer will know your personality doesn’t match the company culture.
How to handle it: There is a right and wrong initial reaction to this, even if there might not be a solid correct answer. Outright mockery or a cliché answer will probably cause a few doubts in the interviewer. Whether you believe in Big Foot or not — this is a judgment free zone — how you relay your opinion makes a huge difference in the reception. Say something like “Sure (or say “No, but), it’s fun to think that there might be things we still don’t know about. It puts a bit of magic and mystery into the world.”
You should know the company culture and values ahead of time, and try to incorporate them into your answer, without going overboard or being insincere or untruthful.
#4: The Priorities Questions
My favorite: “Let’s say you’re offered the job and accepted but, 6 months later, you’re no longer with the company. What would be the reason for the break up?”
- “It’s Thursday, we’re staffing you on a telecommunications project in Calgary, Canada on Monday. Your flight and hotel are booked; your visa is ready. What are the top five things you do before you leave?” (ThoughtWorks)
- “What do you wish to change about the position?” (Farr Healthcare)
Why they ask: Where does your drive come from? Will you ditch the company as soon as another opportunity comes along? Also, what about your current employer? If you answer too quickly, especially if you have a resume that shows frequent job changes, they might think you’re likely to swap them out for the next shiny company to come along.
How to handle it: This is finally the right time for the “it’s not you it’s me” line. I responded with “If I’m offered the job, I would happily accept and never look back. If I’m not here in 6 months, it means that company values aren’t being integrated as you claim, and the behavior doesn’t match. The core values are the heart of the company, and why I’m interested in working with such an amazing company.” I made sure that they knew that I wanted to work for them because of who they were and how much I wanted to be involved. Make it clear that it isn’t just a job and a paycheck that you’re after.
Sarah Landrum graduated from Penn State with a degrees in Marketing and PR before moving to Harrisburg to become a writer. She is the founder of Punched Clocks, a site dedicated to helping young professionals navigate the job search and find happiness and success in their careers. Follow her for more great tips @SarahLandrum