Many of the same common questions are frequently asked in interviews. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the more unusual, oddball questions that you might see come your way.
Some interview questions are designed to rattle you to see how you deal with stress. The intent is to see how well you think on your feet and how well you’re able to field seemingly illogical questions.
An important thing to note is that many of these questions don’t have a right or wrong answer. What I suggest is that you give an answer that sounds like you arrived at it logically. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s the right answer. The point is to think out loud about how you would logically approach answering the question.
As you’re doing this, toss in a bit of humor if that’s in your wheelhouse. It shows you know the question is pretty much a no-win situation, without insulting the person who asked. Believe it or not, I always appreciate a bit of humor from a candidate. I so seldom get it and I believe it shows they have a good sense of what is going on with these types of questions.
Here are five examples of these types of questions and how I recommend they be approached. Although I don’t ask these types of questions myself (I don’t feel they tell me anything about the applicant’s ability to do the job) I’ve heard all of these at one time or another in interview panels I’ve been in.
There are virtually dozens, if not more, of these types of questions. My intent with these particular ones is to give you some ideas as to the approaches you can take.
Five Oddball Question Examples
Question: If you had to be an animal, which animal would you choose?
Possible Answer: (Yes, I know, it’s a pretty dumb question but unfortunately it’s still asked). For most jobs, I might try this as a logical answer: “I’d choose an elephant. They’re large and powerful with few natural enemies, they’re high on the intelligence scale, and their life span is pretty long.”. This is a general answer that fits most situations.
I’d answer differently for positions where aggressiveness is considered a positive trait. Most sales positions fall into this category. This is how I would answer the question if I was looking for a sales job: “I’d choose one of the big cats, such as a lion, a panther, or a tiger. This way, I’m at the top of the food chain instead of the bottom.”
Question: Step by step, explain how to tie a shoelace.
Possible Answer: The purpose of this question is to reveal your ability to think linearly and describe accurately. It can be about almost anything.
The way to handle this one is to slowly go over the process in your mind, start to finish, and describe each step as you think about it. The main mistake I’ve seen when answering a question like this is not being specific enough. You have to start at the very beginning and describe every motion to take, no matter how small.
Question: If you were a tree, which tree would you want to be??
Possible Answer: I know what you’re thinking – this one is just as dumb as the animal question. And you’re right, but it’s still asked by some old-timers.
First of all, do not use the cliché answer that you’d choose an oak tree “because they are strong.” This is immediately recognized as something you got off of some outdated interview advice site. Here’s one possible answer to this silly question that at least shows you have some originality. Try this:
“I’d choose a Joshua tree. They’re attractive, hardy, and can survive even in the harsh desert, where few other things can live. That’s how I like to be, durable and tough. A survivor.”
This question is mostly about your outlook on life. This answer shows that you’re realistic and original in your thinking. I’ve never asked this question myself, but if I did this is the answer I’d like to hear.
Question: How would you estimate the number of gas stations in the United States.
Possible Answer: Don’t worry about whether or not your answer is accurate because that isn’t the point. The point of this type of question is to see if you can approach it logically. It doesn’t matter what your answer is, so long as you arrived at it in a manner that makes sense.
It can be about anything: how many ping pong balls would it take to fill a ten-foot square room, how many basketballs would fit in Yankee stadium, how many stoplights are there in San Francisco, and so on. The list of possibilities is endless.
The way I’ve seen the best candidates approach this is to just start thinking out loud about how to solve the problem, almost in a stream-of-consciousness manner. Again, the important thing is to demonstrate you can come up with logical aspects of how to solve the problem.
Let’s use the gas station question as an example of how to do this. Here’s how I would reason it out.
“Well, let’s look at this logically. I live in a town with a population of somewhere around 25,000 people. I estimate there are about 25 gas stations, which works out to one for every 1,000 people. Since there are approximately 300 million people in the United States, there should be somewhere in the neighborhood of three hundred thousand gas stations.”
It doesn’t matter that this answer is probably wildly inaccurate. What’s important is that I arrived at it logically in a way that (seemingly at least) makes sense. This is what the Hiring Manager wants to see.
Question: Tell me something you don’t want me to know about yourself.
Possible Answer: As I’m sure you recognize, this is really a disguise for the “What is your greatest weakness” question. The intent is for you to admit to a weakness that negatively reflects on your ability to do the job, so you’ll need to carefully avoid stepping on this land mine.
How you should answer this question is by admitting to some small bad habit that you used to have but have since corrected. For example, that you used to be overweight until you lost 70 pounds, or perhaps that you used to smoke until you quit cold turkey many years ago, or that you quit college after one year but then went back and got your degree, etc.
The key thing here is to admit to a personal bad habit, not a business one. And be sure to use one that you’ve since corrected, which demonstrates personal character.
I could continue indefinitely describing these oddball questions, there are so many different and, frankly, weird ones. Don’t even try to guess what they’ll be and memorize answers. You may never get one and if you do there’s no way to predict what it will be.
Whatever your answers are, remember these two things:
Make sure you demonstrate logic in your approach.
Use minor or innocuous examples for anything negative that applies to you.