Sometimes, Job Interviews Don’t Go As Expected

Sometimes, Job Interviews Don’t Go As Expected

by Kimberly Horton, on December 13, 2016
You’ve just been called for an interview for your “dream job”. You dress yourself impeccably, arrive early for the interview, bring additional copies of your resume, and finally are escorted to a conference room where three members of an interview panel await.  You shake hands and introduce yourself to everyone around the table.  You’re confident, prepared, and more than familiar with the job’s responsibilities.

As you prepare to sit down, you take a deep breath and brace yourself for the first interview question. "If you were a pizza delivery person, how would you benefit from scissors?"

Have you ever been asked one of those off-the-wall interview questions that you weren’t prepared for? How should you answer them?  And, why in the world would someone ask a question like that? compiled a list of the top 20 oddball interview questions job seekers reported from various interviews, and some of them are doozies. It’s the inability of a job seeker to prepare that has some companies intrigued with including this type of inquiry or brainteaser in their question list.  Take comfort in the fact that most interviews are not comprised solely of these types of questions.  In fact, only one or two generally make the cut for the interview, for companies that typically use them.

Why do they ask these crazy questions?
You might be surprised to learn that companies like Google, Ben and Jerry’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and Zappos have all thrown curveball interview questions from time to time. Most of the time, there are no right or wrong answers.  These companies employ these tactics so they can see how well a candidate meets a challenge head on and uses their creativity to construct a response. 

Though it may be difficult to brace yourself for “Who would win a fight between Superman or Batman?”, you should also know that an interviewer has an awareness that you have probably spent some time getting ready for the interview. In fact, they hope that you have. The reason they may throw in an unexpected question may be to find out how you respond to the unexpected.

First off, if you are asked a zany interview question, don’t let it shake you up. Take a few seconds and compose yourself before you respond. It’s always better to allow for a few moments of silence versus blurting out something that may come across even sillier than the question.  It’s also okay to buy some time and say, “That’s a great question! Let me think about that.” 

Your answer doesn’t have to be Poet Laureate material. 
Your answer should demonstrate how you tackle a challenging problem and communicate a well thought out answer.  If you aren’t a naturally funny person, now is probably not the time to become a comedian.  Simply walk the interviewer through your train of thought or rationalization in order to come to a conclusion.

Though it is practically impossible to formulate responses beforehand for those types of questions, there are still things a job seeker can do to get ready for the big day. The key to any successful interview is preparation. 

You should be prepared with various examples of scenarios during your career when you had to deal with a challenging situation, persuade someone to support an idea, or perform as part of a team. Difficult as it may be to relive, you should recall instances when you made a decision that failed and what you learned from the experience.  In addition, you should be prepared to talk about times when you have been in conflict with another person, how the conflict was resolved and what your relationship is like with that person now.  You may also want to remember a time when you challenged the status quo and came up with a better solution for a problem.

It’s important to have these examples handy, as many companies turn to behaviorally based interview questions to get specifics on past performance. These questions require a candidate to describe how they have handled certain situations in the past.  

For example:
“Describe a situation where you worked effectively as part of a team to accomplish a goal on time and within budget. What was your role?  What did you learn?”


“Tell me about a time others disagreed with your recommended course of action. How did you persuade them to your plans and what were the results?”

Companies ask behaviorally based interview questions because they feel they are a good predictor of future performance. When asking these questions, you should note that an interviewer will be looking for a response that completes a STAR.  Essentially, they want to know what the Situation or Task was, what Actions you took, and what the Results were.

If you apply for a manager position, then you should expect some questions about how you have lead and motivated others. If customer service will be a large part of the job, you should expect to provide examples of how you have defused tricky situations.  Roles where creativity or critical thinking is paramount will likely generate questions that hone in on innovation or thinking outside the box.

As an example, if you are asked about your ability to handle a conflict at work and you respond, “I’ve never had a conflict”, the interviewer may think you are trying to hide something. The thing is, most jobs require that you be able to work and get along with different types of people.  People, by nature, are different creatures with different ideas and perspectives.  Even though you may be an absolute delight to work with, the odds that you have never had a conflict at work is slim.  How you work to resolve those conflicts in a proactive, positive way is what your interviewer ultimately would like to know.

In conclusion...
So, if you get the question in your next interview, “You’re a new addition to the crayon box, what color would you be and why?”, you know now that there is no right or wrong answer and that you shouldn’t dwell on some hidden meaning behind the question. Smile, respond with finesse and enthusiasm, and move on to solidifying the positive impression you worked on for the rest of the interview.
Kimberly Horton

Kim Horton has nearly 20 years of Human Resources experience in corporate, financial, manufacturing, customer service and consulting environments, collectively. She currently serves as an HR Manager for LandrumHR. Her experience in the field has been acquired through focus on employee relations, training and development, team building, employment law compliance, strategic planning, high-level talent assessment and succession planning, employment law compliance, and employee compensation and benefits. Kim holds a Master of Arts degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. During her course of study, her primary research and thesis focused on procedural and distributive justice in both formal and informal mentoring relationships and perceptions of fairness. Her work was selected for presentation during a poster session at the national Society for Industrial/Organizational Psychology (SIOP) conference. She has also taught at the college level for both graduate and undergraduate courses in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Kim is a member of the national chapter of Society for Human Resources Management.

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