I was interviewing recently with a potential new client when one of the senior staff in the room asked me, “What would you do if you’re dog starting talking to you?” The serious look on my inquisitor’s face told me she expected a real response, so I answered, “Ask her why she keeps chewing on my sandals.”
My answer must have been satisfactory, because I got the assignment, but I left that interview wondering what the point was of that off-the-wall question. I asked a few of my friends if they’d ever been asked something like that, and they all looked at me as if I’d been hidden away in a cave for 20 years. One buddy, who’s been in senior management at a biotech firm for almost a decade, explained the logic to me. “It’s one way we assess how well a candidate can think on their feet.”
With the proliferation of Web resources available to help job seekers prepare themselves for interviews, employers need to work harder to sort the wheat from the chaff among job candidates. Tricky questions are one approach to getting beyond canned answers in order to gain some insights into a job candidate’s creativity and ability to handle stress.
Given that odd-ball questions can be about virtually anything, the best advice for dealing with them is to relax, and to take a moment to think about the question. Remember, there’s no right answer to “What would I find in your refrigerator?” or “If you couldn’t be a chemist, what other profession would you like to pursue?” These questions are supposed to test your ability to think, so take a few moments before responding.
And don’t panic. Look thoughtful. Smile. Nod in that, “Hmmm, that’s a good question” way.
Years ago, in high school, I was a candidate for a job on our school radio station. One of the seniors asked me, “How do you deal with pressure?” I couldn’t for the life of me think of a good answer, so in an attempt to stall for a little time, I calmly asked, “You mean, like this situation?” That, it turns out, was the best answer I could have come up with – I was given the position right then.
In fact, many veteran interviewers say that a good strategy for answering odd questions is to let your mind go and reply with an odd or silly answer, one that preferably demonstrates your ability to think out of the box. And remember that employers are not looking for pat answers, but responses that demonstrate you can communicate your thoughts, that you are intelligent, that you have self-confidence, and that you can adapt when thrown a curve.
This article was written by Joe Alper, a freelance science writer and technology analyst in Louisville, CO.