Many professionals talk about the best ways to answer traditional interview questions (“What is your biggest weakness?”) and behavioral questions designed to understand how you’ve handled past situations (“Tell me about a time when you had to address an angry customer”). But how do you prepare for an interviewer who wants to know how many trees there are in New York’s Central Park, or what type of car best represents your personality? Below is a run down of three different types of unusual interview questions, and how to answer them.
The Oddball Question
Interviewers may throw an oddball question at you, which is typically a question that, on the surface, doesn’t appear to have any relationship to the job itself. The most common example of this is designed to get a better sense of an applicant’s personality. Questions such as, “If you could be any animal – or color, or food – which would you choose to be and why?” are going to generate highly subjective answers, and this is an opportunity for you to provide more insight into your personality beyond your resume or more traditional interview questions. For example, as an animal you might describe yourself as a tiger because of your ability to hit the ground running on the job. Maybe you identify with the color yellow because you try to remain bright and positive at all times. Avocados are a versatile food and can be used in a variety of recipes; describing yourself as one could show flexibility.
If you could be any animal, which would you choose to be and why?
Employers recognize that these questions are goofy, so it’s okay to have a little fun with your responses. Do try to avoid examples that have negative connotations – like describing yourself as a snake, or mold green, or fast food – unless you can put some kind of positive spin on it. Remember, your response is a reflection of your personality, so it helps to think of potential answers in advance. The website CareerOverview has some good ones to consider, such as, “If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you come with?”
The Brain Teaser Question
Some interviewers will throw a brainteaser your way in an attempt to better understand your problem-solving abilities. Your responses to questions like, “How many gas stations are there in the city of Chicago?” or “How many ping pong balls could fit in a Boeing 747?” will provide employers with some insight into how well you think on your feet as well as how you approach complex problems. Here are two important things to remember when answering brainteaser questions:
- Employers aren’t looking for one exact answer
- It’s crucial to explain your thought process while answering these questions to give employers an understanding of how you think
For example, a colleague of mine loves to ask the question, “How many quarters would it take to stack from the floor to the ceiling,” because there are a number of different ways to answer it. During a single interview cycle, we had three very unique responses. One applicant pulled out a calculator, a pen, and some paper to analytically solve the problem, and show us her work once she was finished. Another applicant used her surroundings to generate an answer; she noticed that the cinder block walls in the interview room were roughly the size of a roll of quarters worth $10, and calculated an approximate answer from there. The final applicant refused to answer the question because he didn’t see how it was relevant. Which answer do you think was the least effective?
How many quarters would it take to stack from the floor to the ceiling?
Again, employers understand that these are unusual questions, and the worst thing you can do is refuse to play along. But practice makes perfect. This Muse article breaks down seven different types of brainteaser interview questions and the best ways to tackle them.
The Case Study Question
For more advanced interviewers, or applicants seeking work in specific industries like consulting, you may be presented with a lengthy, work-related case study question that requires you to spend some time generating a detailed, well-thought out response. These questions may be presented in advance of an interview so that you can research and plan your response prior to the interview. Sometimes, you may be presented with a case study on the spot; in these cases, you are typically given some time – generally between 15-60 minutes – to come up with and present a response. A sample case study might read, “Our client, XYZ Manufacturing, is losing money. Why?” From there, you may be presented with additional information about XYZ Manufacturing to help your thought process along.
Case studies, similar to brainteasers, are designed to see how well applicants think on their feet. Case studies also allow employers to get a sense of an applicant’s attention to detail and analytical and presentation skills. The most effective way to prepare for these types of questions is to practice at home. Boston Consulting Group has one of the best databases of sample case studies you can dive into, designed in a “choose your own adventure” style where you can select different responses and discover whether or not your approach will provide employers with the types of answers they are seeking.
Take advantage of mock interviews through DePaul’s Career Center to gain additional insight about your responses to these more unusual types of questions. Our career advisors are available for 60-minute practice interviews, and many mentors in our Alumni Sharing Knowledge database provide mock interview prep. If you can’t get in front of someone, try out InterviewStream, which allows you to practice from home using a webcam so that you can record and view yourself answering questions. Each of these methods can help you to feel more prepared as you enter the interview stage, no matter what type of question is thrown your way.