Ask James Caan – Issue 114
You have landed the interview. You have all the required experience and are prepared; practicing the responses to all the tough questions you expect to be asked.
But what do you do when faced with a curveball question? Let’s look at Jason’s experience to discuss further.
Jason contacted me to discuss an odd question he was asked recently in an interview. He was asked: ‘who are your three favourite personalities, past or present, and why?’
Confused why this question related to the job in hand, he gave his answer but was unsure why it was even asked in the first place.
Jason, I increasingly hear of candidates faced with oddball (also known as curveball) questions. Today’s war for talent means employers can afford to be picky when it comes to identifying the best person for their team, and one way to do that is by throwing in an unexpected or challenging question.
So, what are curveball questions? And what is the interviewer really trying to ascertain from your skills?
Some argue that a curveball question is unfair on candidates who might be well-researched, hardworking and attentive, but unable to answer such question. Others believe it is a proven way to interpret an applicant’s suitability quickly with minimal effort. It can demonstrate a willingness to step outside of their ‘comfort zone’ and offers a human touch.
Most curveball questions don’t have a right or wrong answer, Jason, but you did the right thing in giving an answer rather than shying away. The interviewee is looking to test your poise, critical thinking skills and ability to think on your feet. So how should you handle unexpected situations like these?
Unfortunately there is no way you can predict what these questions will be, after all, the purpose of them is to catch you off-guard. There are, however, several things you can do to prepare should a question of this nature arise.
Consider what kind of challenging questions you would ask if you were interviewing for this position. Practice answering those questions with friends and ask them to throw some of their own curveballs your way.
As you mentioned in your email, Jason, curveball questions are typically behavioural or situational, which means the interviewer wants to know how you behave in certain circumstances. As such, think of various situations you have handled in the past, such as resolving a conflict or anticipating a problem and developing a solution.
In situations where you are asked unexpected or unrelated questions, smile and take your time to compose a thoughtful answer. Listen closely and try to identify what the employer is really asking. All businesses face problems and challenges; you want to be seen as part of the solution.
Avoid a rushed response and don’t take the question too seriously either – a witty light response can often work best. If you’re still stumped, offer to provide an answer at a later time. While you may not have demonstrated your ability to think on your feet, it’s a better alternative to not answering at all.
Overall, Jason, whilst employers don’t like to admit to selecting on personality, it can be a major factor. By throwing an oddball question your way, they hope to work out whether you’ll be a good fit for the team and if they’ll work well with you.
Although you can’t control the questions the interviewer asks, you can control how you conduct yourself. Answer in a professional manner and most importantly, learn as much as you can from each interview experience.