How to answer oddball interview questions

Have you ever been invited to an interview and found it’s taken a rather ‘interesting’ turn? Suddenly you’re being asked to compare yourself to a biscuit or film star. Although most employers tend to stick to a more conventional interviewing approach, you should always expect the unexpected. Just in case.

Hello oddball questions.

Views are mixed, with some commentators questioning the value of oddball questions, but I think they can be something of a gift. Competency questions are pretty hard on both the candidate and the interviewer, as there’s limited scope for creativity or ingenuity. And while I’m certainly a fan of the STAR approach to competency questions,  it can seem a little formulaic. Candidates are so keen to get the information across with the right balance of narrative and fact that they often lose themselves in the process. It might surprise you to know that employers are also keen to see a bit of personality. Cue the curveball.

Some of these questions are now becoming legendary, so it’s safe to assume that employers will conjure ever more bizarre and challenging questions to keep you guessing. But to help set the scene for the uninitiated here goes: superhero_figure

  1. What superhero would you be?
  2. What would the world look like if the teleporter had been invented?
  3. Is life a comedy or a tragedy?

The purpose behind these questions is two-fold: to gauge your ability to think on your feet and to see what makes you tick.There’s no right or wrong answer but if you try to fudge it, you could end up sounding fake and contrived. Don’t jump in to answer, take a moment or two to consider what’s behind the question.

Take question number 4: “Is life a comedy or a tragedy?” How you respond to this can provide all sorts of clues as to your outlook, resilience, humour, philosophy or moral compass.Culture vultures might be tempted to make a Shakespearian reference, activists to highlight global injustice while the comedians might just decide to have some fun!

The possibilities are endless. And with possibility comes opportunity. This is a chance to really project your personality and – if you’re smart – align yourself with the values, ethos and culture of the company in hand. 

And now for the brainteasers….

Should you decide to venture into the world of corporate finance, engineering or IT, the interviewer might decide to throw you a brainteaser or two.  These questions are designed to test your logic and in the case of highly quant roles, mathematical reasoning. Don’t rush to answer:  take your time, digest the question and talk through your thought processes. Even if you consider the question to be faintly ridiculous – and plenty are! – this is not the time to show contempt or bemusement.

So, what kind of questions can you expect in this scenario. Well try these for starters:

  1. If you were shrunk to the size of a tomato and found yourself in a blender, what would you do?
  2. A box of chocolates can be divided equally (without cutting pieces) among 2, 3 or 7 people.  What is the fewest number of chocolates the box can contain?

With question one, there’s no ‘right’ answer – the interviewer wants to see how you grapple with the question, and is expecting you to apply logical thinking to arrive at a conclusion….whatever that is. Starting points might be: Is the blender plugged in? Is it switched on? Can you break the motor?

Conversely, there’s just one correct answer for number two – 42. The lowest number divisible by two, three and seven. Now if you’re applying for investment banking roles, or similar quant jobs, you should feel pretty confident in your ability to answer numerical questions. If you don’t, then start practising. And remember, it’s unlikely you’ll be given pen and paper so mental agility is  key. 

If you’re looking for other examples of oddball or brainteaser questions, it’s worth taking a look at Forbes which seems to collate an annual audit of oddball questions. And all those aspirational Google applicants, would do well to check out Wired’s post, Want to work at Google: Answer these questions. Of course, if you take one look and freeze it’s probably not the job for you!

You can’t predict but you can prepare

  1. Don’t panic – it’s ok to stop and think
  2. Say something – the worst reponse is ‘I don’t know’
  3. Don’t be contentious or controversial – this will raise alarm bells
  4. Focus on the job spec –  use this to guide your answer
  5. Have the courage of your convictions  – don’t fold under pressure or probing

The key to success at any interview is preparation, but you won’t have a crystal ball. You’ll be able to anticipate some questions but don’t be surprised if the interviewer decides to mix things up a little. Keep cool, calm and composed, add a light dusting of humour and you won’t go far wrong.

4 thoughts on “How to answer oddball interview questions

  1. Pingback: How to answer oddball interview questions | Bournemouth University Placements & Careers Service Employability Blog

  2. Great articles, in a word spot on, there are so many candidates out there that do not do their home work around interview questions and once in the interview start to squirm when it get a little tough…

    The company wants the right experience, the right fit, the right personality and EXTRA chocolate on top! That’s how much prep you have to do if you want to secure the right job for future progression.

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