Why Some Companies Ask Out of the Box Interview Questions

By Chelsea Babin

Have you ever been in an interview that seems to be going normally and then, out of left field, someone asks you how many fire hydrants there are in Dallas county? Or maybe they ask you who would win in a fight between Aquaman and Spiderman? These creative, out of the box questions aren’t entirely pointless. Here are a few reasons why a company might ask an out of the box interview question. Once you know why they ask, it’s easier to formulate your answer.

1. Problem Solving Skills: One interview tactic that’s common in the IT field is a question like this: “I see you don’t have this technology on your resume. Have you ever used it before? No? Great. Here’s a laptop with Internet access, please show us how you’d learn to do this specific thing using this technology.” This tests your problem solving skills, your ability to learn, and your ability to think on your feet all rolled up in one. A lot of off-the-wall IT interview questions are often aimed at testing your problem solving skills because they’re a clear asset and a desired skill for technical professionals to have mastered.

2. Admitting What You Don’t Know: Interviews are your chance to sell a company on your skills, talents, abilities, and potential. However, some people embellish on these during the interview process. To identify the people who may be prone to embellishment or the people who won’t ask a question when they’re unsure of what to do—which can often result in incorrect work and subpar results—you may be asked a question like, “how many cars are registered in Los Angeles county?” The point of this question is not to hire people who know random, fairly useless trivia. The point is to find people who can admit what they don’t know and who are willing to look it up and find an answer.

3. Personality and Company Culture Fit: If your interviewer is asking whether you prefer Doctor Who or Battlestar Galactica they my just want to know if you’ve got the right personality to fit in with their company culture. Because a lot of IT departments are close-knit and collaborative, they want to hire someone who not only has the skills to excel at their daily tasks but also has a personality that will mesh well with their existing technical employees. The best way to answer these questions is honestly! After all, do you really want to be stuck pretending to fit in on a team of Game of Thrones devotees when you’d really rather be talking about the baseball game last night?

4. How You Handle Surprises: Thinking on your feet, handling surprises with grace, and remaining flexible are often essential in a fast-paced technical work environment. That may be one of the reasons you’re asked “do you prefer eggs or bacon?” or “would you rather ice skate for 24 straight hours or climb the same mountain 7 days in a row?” These questions aren’t about your answers as much as they’re about seeing how you react to a surprise, particularly if you’re not warned that the interviewer is about to ask a few “bizarre” questions. If your response is to stammer, say I don’t know, or get flustered this indicates that you don’t handle change well. If you automatically pick one without thinking, this may indicate that you’re decisive or it may indicate that you’re rash, overconfident, and don’t think things through. The best way to answer a question that’s testing how you handle surprises is to take a few seconds to think it over, then give your answer and a brief explanation for why you chose it.

Not every company asks off the wall questions but, when they do, you’ll be prepared to answer thoughtfully and authentically without feeling like these questions or your answers are wasting everyone’s time. There’s a reason these creative questions are becoming more common in the IT interviewing process! Now that you understand why some companies ask out of the box interview questions, you’ll have a better idea of how to answer them if they come up in your next interview.

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