How would you describe colour to a blind person? How many square feet of pizza is eaten in America per year? How lucky are you and why? If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why?
Questions like this sound absurd, and they are when taken at face value, but they are asked at many professional interviews and should not be taken lightly.
Employers know that wildcard questions like this are often a better way to test a candidates abilities, taking them outside the carefully crafted responses they are likely to have prepared to more common questions, to see how they react on the spot. This can often be quite revealing, showing what kind of mind and personality you really have.
Whilst it’s not possible to prepare for every question that may be hurled your way, it is possible to follow the chain of logic that binds such questions together, something we dissect in this article as we deal with some examples of wildcard questions.
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How do you make a ham and cheese sandwich?
The first thing to note about this question, like most of it’s brethren, is that it is open ended, meaning that technically there is no right or wrong answer. However that doesn’t mean what you say doesn’t matter.
Normally the question is aimed at revealing something, and in this case the question is assessing communication skills. For example, if you just dismissed this question with a sarcastic “normally with ham and cheese”, you would not demonstrate suitability for the role. Instead the employer is looking for a detailed explanation that would allow anyone who read or heard it to go and make one themselves.
The takeaway here is to always frame the question in the context of the role you are applying for to give yourself the best chance of understanding what the interviewer is really looking for.
What’s your favorite breakfast food and why?
These questions often reveal an aspect of your personality that could be instrumental in getting hired. So if you said, “I like granola because it’s the breakfast of champions”, and then steered your answer towards how you are a champion in the workplace, you have not only managed to engage the question professionally, but also treated it with the level of appropriate quirkiness that such an absurd question merits. This helps you stand out from the competition and helps an employer decide whether or not you are a good fit for the prospective company’s culture.
This is a good example of the thought process behind the answer often being more important than the answer itself, staying calm under pressure and thinking creatively but also critically leads to the best response.
How many pencils can you fit in this room?
Interviewers also ask close ended questions, but as with the open ended questions they are looking for detailed responses, so make sure you ‘show your working’. Employers are interested in seeing how you got to the root of the problem, especially under pressure.
So when answering this type of question, don’t rush and don’t let the pressure get to you. Instead, ask questions, think aloud and even request more time if necessary to give a complete answer. You could ask qualifying questions such as, ‘Are they standard sized pencils?’, ‘What’s the thickness of the pencil?’ ‘Can I grind them to powder?’ etc. Asking these questions also gives you space to think more creatively on the problem, which can help get the gears turning in your head.
If you were a new addition to the crayon box what colour would you be and why?
When it comes to strange, seemingly absurd interview questions, there really is very little you can do to predict them, but what you can practice is how you approach them.
So keep calm and carry on - consider how best to respond to this question in terms of the job you are applying for. It is far more important to keep your composure and be able to defend your answer than it is to arrive at the ‘right’ one.
So the answer to the above question really isn’t that important, you can be red, yellow, blue or even burnt sierra, it doesn’t matter. What matters is demonstrating the thought and purpose behind your choice so that your potential employer can see what kind of person you are and whether your way of thinking and your attitude might mesh with their company and ambitions.
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