Description: You can practice for an interview, but there are some questions that no one sees coming. Here are four curveball interview questions and smart strategies to help you approach the answers.
“Tell me about yourself.”
“What are your greatest strengths or weaknesses?”
“Can you tell me about a challenge or conflict you’ve faced at work? How did you overcome it?”
If you’ve been through more than three or four job interviews in your life, you’ve probably encountered each of these questions or prompts. Many hiring managers use standard questions when interviewing candidates. Going into your next job interview armed with rehearsed answers to the most common 15 or 20 interview questions will probably serve you well.
With that said, you will from time to time find yourself facing a true zinger of a question. Some hiring managers like to pepper their interviews with off-the-wall questions to keep their candidates on their toes. Others like to ignore the playbook and throw one curveball after another. The fact is that you never know what you are going to get when you step into an interview, so preparing for a few unusual questions is a smart strategy. Here are four examples of curveball questions you might see in your next interview and how you should answer them.
- The Question: “What do you want your life to look like in five years?”
The Challenge: Let’s start with a medium-level teaser. This question—recommended by Huffington Post founder Ariana Huffington—isn’t so far outside the realm of standard job interview fodder. However, it is more open-ended and thought-provoking than what you’ll usually deal with in the interview room. It’s also a tough question to answer on the spot, which is why some interviewers love it. A lot can happen in five years. Picturing where you might be at the end of such a significant period requires some serious self-reflection and a willingness to open yourself up completely.
The Answer: Everyone’s answer to this question is going to be different, as it should be. Your best strategy in the interview room is to be honest—both with yourself and your interviewer. Don’t try to say what you think the interviewer wants to hear. Instead, think about your professional goals, your hopes for your family, and other factors that might figure into your preferred future. Hiring managers ask this question because they want to know what drives you, so you must be willing to let your guard down and show that off.
- The Question: “Someone gives you X amount of money to start a business. What do you do?”
The Challenge: Plenty of companies use some variation of this question, from Amazon to HubSpot. It’s meant to test your ambitions, your dreams, and your ability to identify what you are best at. In a way, it’s another way of asking “What are your greatest strengths?” since your chosen business venture will likely be related to something you know well and do well.
The Answer: The worst thing you can do here is say “I don’t know.” If you’ve ever thought about starting a business, tell your interview about it and why you think it would be successful. This path gives your interviewer a chance to get to know you, what you are passionate about, and where your strengths and drive might fit into their business. If you’d prefer a different path, ask the interviewer why you’re receiving money and what will be expected from you in return. This kind of response shows a shrewd business sense and displays that you are willing to work instead of expecting something for nothing.
- The Question: “It’s the zombie apocalypse; what do you do?”
The Challenge: Job interviews are notoriously serious engagements, so what better way to inject some unexpected fun into the proceedings than to ask an outlandish question straight out of a science fiction film? The challenge is to answer in a way that acknowledges the not-so-serious nature of the question, but explains your perspective seriously enough that your interviewer gains some true insight.
The Answer: You get points for creativity here. Try to make your answer entertaining and maybe even a little bit pulpy. Take a few cues from your favorite episode of The Walking Dead to color in your vision of a post-apocalyptic world and make it feel real. An imaginative, fully-realized, and funny answer will stick out to your interviewer and help them remember you. At the same time, make sure your answer is honest. How you answer this question can show what you value, where your morals lie, and whether you are more of a self-sufficient leader or a team player. Perhaps more than any others, this question relates back to company culture and how you’ll fit in.
- The Question: “Where does your boss think you are right now?”
The Challenge: Usually, if you are interviewing for a new job while still holding down your old one, you’ll have to take time away from your existing employment to go to the interview. Most people make excuses to their bosses because they don’t want to reveal that they’re seeking other options. The problem is, no hiring manager wants to hear that you are willing to lie to your boss. Honesty is one of the few qualities that are important to every employer. It’s part of the reason that more and more businesses are running criminal background checks, verification checks, and reference checks. If you are willing to lie to your current employer, why would you act differently in a new job?
The Answer: The best way to respond relies less on having the right rehearsed answer and more about changing how you plan your interview schedule. If you are serious about finding a new job, take a week off and schedule your interviews throughout that week. Then, you can honestly tell your interviewer that you booked that day as a vacation day. Feel free to add something about how you weren’t comfortable skipping out on work or lying to your boss to do the interview.
These questions represent just a fraction of the curveball questions you might see in a job interview. They’re all designed to test your values and priorities and break your string of rehearsed answers. By being ready not just for these four questions, but for any similarly out-there questions, you should be able to stay on your toes, think fast, and provide quality soundbites no matter what.
Michael Klazema has been developing products for criminal background check and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.