Whilst many people may not be fans of classic interview questions such as, ‘tell me about yourself’ or ‘what are your strengths/weaknesses?’ there is an almost comforting predictability to them. Questions to assess skills and experience can, to a certain extent, be predicted too, by analysing the job description.
Tough questions can also be anticipated, for example if there is a CV /resume gap. Curveball questions, however, frequently throw even the most seasoned interviewee.
So, why are these questions asked?
Curveball questions are designed to assess creative & critical thinking skills and indicate how an individual responds to something unexpected. Resilience, adaptability and initiative are universally sought after candidate qualities: these types of challenging questions provide an insight into these important personal attributes.
Key to answering the curveball question is to not panic; simply remember that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. It is, however, beneficial to understand what the question is really asking and remember that the interviewer will be particularly interested in your approach and rationale.
If you need a few moments to think when answering this style of question, say ‘that’s an interesting, thought provoking question,’ or a similar conversational comment that will give you time to answer. Here are some examples of these types of questions, as well as some tips from InterviewFit on how to answer them:
1. If you were an animal, which one would it be?
This is a classic curveball question. The subject may change, for example, to superhero, colour, fruit or object, they are, however just versions of the same question. This question is designed to reveal your strengths and your personality, it also provides the interviewer with an insight into your self-perception.
Use the key skills and qualities mentioned in the job description to help you choose a strong, relevant example. Avoid a clichéd answer such as tiger, even for a sales role; pick carefully, a sheep, is never a good prospect.
Here are some example answers and what they will convey to the interviewer:
- ‘A swan, because I’m calm on the surface, but busy underneath.’
- ‘An eagle, as I aim high and make sure I have clear sight of all objectives.’
- ‘A husky, I’m ambitious, a team player and work hard.’
- ‘Red, I work well in a fast paced, action orientated environment.’
- ‘Yellow as I’m cheerfulness, enthusiastic and energetic.’
- ‘Blue, I’m calm, logical and committed.’
- ‘Green, I’m conscientious and helpful.’
Pick colours that reflect the role or industry, for example, red complements the image of sales and green would be a good colour for a role in education.
2. Which well known figures alive or dead would you invite to a dinner party?
This question allows you to demonstrate both your industry knowledge and personality. Name renowned pioneers and leaders from within the sector you are targeting. Don’t worry about having to be too original with all of your choices; Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are still good options if you are applying for a technology role.
Appearing too specialist could prove counterproductive. Sporting heroes are always good choices, as are scientists and inventors; it would be advisable though to steer clear of choosing any potentially controversial political or religious leader.
Picking a diverse range of guests is beneficial, it sends out a message that you don’t shy away from difficult situations and are you are happy to address potential conflict. Explain succinctly why you would select them.
Additional curveball example questions:
3. Which three items would you save from a house fire?
This question is designed to reveal your priorities and what is personally important to you
4. What would you do if you won a million dollars?
Highlight positive traits in your answer, such as supporting charities, as well as learning and pursuing rewarding interests. Planning an expedition, for example, will be more impressive than buying fast cars and diamonds!
5. What would the title of your autobiography be?
Quote a favourite, appropriate personal mantra, something that reflects the attributes and skills sought after for this role.
Finally, these are examples of questions that require critical thinking, analytical skills and problem solving:
How many windows are there in London?
How many traffic lights are there in New York?
How many tennis balls fit into centre court at Wimbledon?
No-one will have a ‘right’ answer for these brainteaser questions; the interviewer simply wants to be presented with a logical thoughtful process to reaching an answer. Talking them through your answer step by step, using rough population estimates or number of traffic light in a square mile, will demonstrate an ability to think clearly under pressure.
Brainteasing curveball questions are impossible to predict, so focus your interview preparation on the more predictable questions designed to assess skills and experience.
However, if you are asked ‘How would you move Mount Everest?’ or ‘How would you fit a giraffe into a mini?’
Just remember, it’s not the answer, but the approach that counts.