Oddball interview questions seem like traps but are great opportunities for you to show how well you think on your feet.
If you were a breakfast cereal, what kind would you be? What would you do if I gave you an elephant? Which character on “Seinfeld” do you most resemble?
Some potential employers believe that these and similar questions help applicants relax. Others frankly admit to trying to throw you off guard. Others say they want to get past the practiced responses to see the “real” you, or to see if you have a sense of humor.
Most of all, however, crazy interview questions are simply meant to reveal how well you think on your feet.
Here are a few tips for coping.
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Try to determine the motive behind the question. The breakfast cereal example is probably an attempt to judge your character. Are you sensible like shredded wheat? This is where you say something substantive about your levelheadedness.
You don’t have to answer the question exactly as it’s worded. All of the actors on “Seinfeld” are a little crazy, and you really don’t want to be identified with any of them. So don’t feel you have to pick one; instead, pick out some favorable qualities of the different characters and talk about how they apply to you.
Play along. Think of these types of questions as interesting exercises in problem solving, wherein you choose the relevant data and work your way toward the most logical solution. Try to have fun with it. If your first impulse is to be humorous, and you are truly a funny person, go for it. Just be sure that your witticisms make you look intelligent and mature.
Press pause. Keep in mind that you’re always allowed to take a moment to ponder before responding. If you need to stall for more time, repeat the question back to the interviewer.
Keep your cool. Remember that questions like these have no right answer, but are an opportunity for you to present yourself in a confident, comfortable, and truthful way.
Sell your skills. Throughout your interview, use strong, concrete examples from your work experience and qualifications. Always bring it back to what you specifically have to offer to this employer.
Finally, the key to coping with crazy interview questions is to remember that how you answer matters much more than what you answer. Good luck!
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.