Oddball Interview Questions: Do Off-the-Wall Inquiries Help?

By Robert Half on April 29, 2015 at 1:00pm

Tired of receiving canned answers from job interviewees? Get creative and consider tossing some curveball interview questions into the mix.

The trend of hiring managers asking off-the-wall interview questions is generating quite a buzz in hiring networks. The purpose, of course, is to elicit answers that will give employers better insight into a candidate's skills and workplace fit. Some of the most famous questions include, “If you were asked to unload a 747 full of jelly beans, what would you do?” (asked at Bose), along with, “Who would win in a fight between Spider-Man and Batman?” (asked at Stanford University). Asked at Whole Foods Market: “Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?”

While they are amusing, is it truly worthwhile to include off-the-wall interview questions in a job interview? The answer is yes, it can be if your query helps you uncover specific insights that more standard questions may not reveal.

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Asking curveball interview questions helps go beyond the surface

Asking atypical interview questions helps hiring managers dig deeper and see how a job candidate’s mind works.

After all, savvy job candidates are often prepared with scripted answers to common interview questions. And when interviewees are too rehearsed, it makes it difficult to learn about them and how they think.

You want to find out what makes people tick and understand how they might deal with tricky workplace challenges when the pressure is on. Asking unexpected questions allows you to prompt an applicant to divulge details about his or her leadership and problem-solving skills. It’s a way to see how interviewees arrive at solutions on the spot, and it can help you differentiate between candidates and better understand their respective critical thinking skills.

In contrast, here are four types of common job interview questions, which candidates may be expecting and prepared to answer.

Get creative in writing your interview questions

Managers, as you prepare for interviews, jot down a few potential oddball interview questions. Design them to elicit a response that will help you get to know candidates better, build rapport, and put them in a setting in which they’re not typically comfortable. Then narrow the list down to one or two questions that make the most sense for the position for which you are hiring.

Pay close attention to the responses. Does the candidate smile and run with it or tense up and get flustered? What’s the person’s thought process like? Does he or she have a sharp sense of humor? Off-the-wall interview questions can help reveal applicants’ interpersonal abilities and serve as launching points into different topics you may not have thought to cover. In addition, offbeat queries can help you gauge the individual’s potential fit with your team.

Don’t throw caution to the wind, however. If you get too wrapped up in tossing curveballs, you risk neglecting critical interview questions about the skills and experience needed to do the job successfully.

A note to job candidates: leave the oddball questions to the interviewer

The takeaway for job seekers is to recognize that you can’t prepare for every single question you’ll be asked. And that’s OK. But expect the unexpected and be aware that the hiring manager at your next job interview just might sprinkle in a couple of these unusual questions. Aim to provide responses that show that you are poised, at ease with yourself and capable of thinking on your feet.

As our expert career professionals suggest, recruiters value honesty at every stage. Hiring managers take life experience into account as well as one’s ability to speak his or her truth and be creative in coming up with solutions to problems.

Even if you don’t think you know the right answer, your willingness to formulate a response speaks volumes about your ability to roll with the punches.

Just make sure you don’t pose any peculiar questions yourself.

Learn how to get the most out of an interview, including what questions to ask when staffing various roles and how to structure this meeting for success by reading the Robert Half blog.

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