You’ve done it! It may have taken days, but with an immaculately tailored CV and an intricately designed cover letter, you’ve earned that first interview. Your browser tabs bulge with googled titbits of the company’s history and ethos, and you’ve scoured the forums for tips and tricks to prove your dynamism and individuality in your newfound favourite workplace.
But there’s one part of the interview you can’t prepare for: the bizarre question.
We’ve all heard of this wild, untameable beast. It’s the question designed to evade rehearsal: the one to throw you off your stride and prove that you can improvise like the Miles Davis of obscure employability. Interviewers love it. Interviewees dread it. But how can you handle it?
“So, if you were a kitchen appliance, what would you be?”
“I suppose I would be a cheese grater.
Because I’m cheesy… And I’m great”.
And just like that, I’ve failed my interview.
Although these questions are designed with ‘no right answers’, I’ve still managed to find a wrong one. My potential employer looks dismayed at my inability to identify more appropriate skill sets by means of kitchen appliance. The interview ends on a frosty note: I am not Miles Davis. I am the jobseeker equivalent of a Lil Wayne guitar solo.
So how can you master the bizarre interview question? How can you prepare for the perils of being attacked by a hundred duck-sized horses, or approach the problem of filling an airplane with basketballs, or take your exquisitely crafted personal identity and apply it to your favourite character from Friends? It’s a bit of a conundrum.
But there are a couple of work-arounds that can help you tackle the wayward interviewer and express your problem-solving, personality and practicality. Here are three different ways you can prepare for the unpreparable, and face the unusual questions that might arise in your first steps onto the career ladder.
Even though it’s unfeasible to prepare for every potential question, you can still prepare a few routine answers. Pick out some qualities that you want to highlight and have a go at applying them to different scenarios. Want to express your team-building and networking skills? Start there and work backwards until you find your kitchen appliance, farm animal, or whatever else a whimsical employer may throw at you. It’ll give you a something to base a response on, rather than scrabbling for an answer and trying to back it up afterwards.
Thinking Out Loud
Many of the most bizarre questions are used to assess your practical problem-solving skills. In these situations, employers will be less concerned with the answer you give, and more interested in your thought process in getting there. So if you’re suddenly faced with deciphering how many piano tuners are living in London, the logistics of packing serrano ham into the Houses of Parliament, or which way to bet on a fight between Batman and Superman, make sure to show your working and emphasise the logical and pragmatic ways you reached your answer. Don’t be afraid to slow the interview down to give a calm, considered and professional view, even towards the strangest requests.
Of course, the dreaded word. Practice, practice, practice. Grab a friend and try not to fall into the old habits of day drinking and halcyon dreams of University. Get them to drill you on the questions that you expect, and the ones you don’t. The aim here isn’t to memorise all of your responses, but to build confidence in facing fast-and-loose interview situations; to get into the habit of thinking on your feet and approaching problems proactively.
So don’t fear the obscure interview question. More often than not, it can provide a platform to demonstrate your logic, creativity and humour. In the worst cases, you may be left floundering for a few seconds (or dropping cringeworthy puns), but in the best you’ll prove yourself as a valuable contender in the dynamic world of work.