How to Handle Curveball Questions in an Interview

By Chelsea Babin

If you were a flower, what kind of flower would you be? Would you rather walk ten miles or run for two? How many elephants are there in all of the zoos in the continental United States? If you’ve ever been asked one of these curveball questions in an interview, it may have thrown you for a loop! The best way to answer these brainteasers is to follow the five steps below.

1. Puzzle Through It: A lot of these curveball questions are intended to assess your problem solving skills. Never just say, “I don’t know” in response to one of these brainteasers in an interview. Instead, do your best to puzzle through it and make an educated guess. That’s what hiring managers want to see!

2. Let Your Personality Shine: Some of these curveball questions are used to assess your personality. After all, when you’re thrown for a loop you’ll often answer more authentically than you might when you’re asked a standard, run-of-the-mill interview question. Don’t try to be someone else or answer the way you think they’d want. Instead, let your personality shine! If you end up being the right personality fit for them, you’ll enjoy the company culture in the long run and you won’t end up at an organization that isn’t a great fit for you.

3. Reference Experience: Remember that this is still a professional interview so, whenever possible, try to reference your experience in an answer. Whether you mention another time you had to problem solve like this or you explain why you chose something based on previous, work-related experience you’ll add in an extra anecdote that will help them understand what you’re capable of.

4. Relate the Answer to Your Strengths: Similarly to referencing your experience, you could also relate the answer to your strengths or skills. For example, if you’re a talented C# developer and you’re asked what tree you would be you could say Cedar because you’re passionate about C#.

5. Pause, But Answer Quickly: Blurting out the first thing that comes to your head might make you appear less thoughtful. While you may need to pause for a moment to contemplate your answer, you shouldn’t wait for too long. Finding the right balance of coming up with an effective, engaging answer and not waiting too long before responding is incredibly important when answering these curveball questions. If you need to buy yourself some time and elongate your pause, say something along the lines of “that’s a great question” or “let me think for a moment” while you contemplate your response.

Don’t let curveball questions throw you off your game in your next interview! If you’re asked an unconventional question or a brainteaser, follow the aforementioned five steps and you’ll be answering in a way that makes you look good, fulfills what the hiring manager is looking for, and keeps the interview moving in a positive direction.

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