Job Interview Curveball Questions: How Prepared Are You?
We’ve all been there. You’ve proofread your CV a thousand times. You’ve rehearsed speaking eloquently on your successes, your failures, and your workplace conflicts. But then, it happens: you get thrown a curveball question.
Here at Gleeson, we’re seeing this happen to candidates increasingly frequently, as employers try to weed out superior candidates by asking questions they know interviewees won’t have prepared for. No need to panic, though; in this guide, we’re going to talk you through some common curveball interview questions, how best to answer them, and of course – how to stay calm under pressure!
1.Where does your boss think you are now?
You know what the real question is here: have you openly lied to your boss about your whereabouts? It might seem like a cruel question to ask, but from the employer’s perspective, knowing that the candidate in front of them can be honest even under tricky circumstances is important. So, how should you answer?
Suggested answer: ‘I’ve taken a day’s holiday. Although I’m not comfortable being open about my intentions to find a new position, it’s not something I’d lie about’.
Not-so-great answer: ‘Erm, he thinks I’m in a meeting…’
2. If you could have one superpower, what would you choose?
On the face of it, this question seems like an easy one. Maybe you’ll pick invisibility, maybe you’ll plump for the ability to soar high above the clouds like Superman himself. However, instead of day-dreaming, you should use this question as an opportunity to highlight your skillset. Single out a quality you already have, and point out an area in which it has already enabled you to succeed. Lastly, link your superpower to a quality you think will be important in the role you’re applying for.
Suggested answer: “As an accountant, I’d have to go for X-ray vision. As a detail-orientated person, I’m often complemented on my attention to detail, and I’m able to quickly notice things that other people miss. This year alone, this has saved my company £2000. X-ray vision would be a fun extension of my natural abilities, and it would be really useful when I lose my keys down the back of the sofa, too!”
Not-so-great answer: ‘I’d go for invisibility and sneak into Krispy Kreme after closing time.’
3. If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be and why?
It might seem like a question more suited to a first date, but here, the interviewer is simply trying to gauge a little more about your interests, personality, and again – that all-important ability to think on your feet. Although there’s not really any right or wrong answer, if you can somehow relate your response back to your profession and your strengths, you’ll definitely get bonus points. Additionally, this is a light-hearted question, so it’s a good opportunity to throw in a joke or two and demonstrate that you have a good sense of humour - after all, we all want to work alongside someone who’s fun to be around.
Suggested answer: ‘As a woman in tech, I’d pick Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer. For one, she had a fabulous sense of personal style, and could teach me a thing or two about accessorising. But mainly, I’d love to talk to her about how she was a real trailblazer for women in STEM, even when she faced huge opposition and wasn’t taken seriously. I believe I could learn a thing or two from Ada about tenacity and perseverance, which are qualities I intend to further cultivate moving forward in my career.’
Not-so-great answer: ‘Ryan Reynolds. I loved him in Deadpool!’
4. What do you dread about work?
Your co-worker’s excruciatingly detailed rundown of their Sunday lawn maintenance first thing on a Monday morning. Those end-of-quarter presentations. All of us have something we dislike about work, so to answer ‘nothing at all’ to this question would come across as disingenuous. What’s your potential employer looking for here? Well, they want to be sure you won’t hate the exact same thing in your new profession, and they also want to check you aren’t hung up on an issue you ought to have been able to solve yourself. So, what could you say?
Suggested answer: “Don’t get me wrong, I hate waking up at 6.15 as much as the next person. However, I wouldn’t say I actually dread much about my job, I just simply see my career moving in a different direction. The company I work for create programming solutions for video game development, whereas I see myself heading into artificial intelligence, which your company specialises in.”
Not-so-great answer: “Probably all the spreadsheets. Oh, and talking to my boss.”
5. How would you fire someone?
If you’re applying for a senior position, you may well be asked this question. Firing someone is never pleasant, however, hiring managers will be interested to see if you’re able to handle the pressure should this scenario ever arise. Before you answer the question, however, it’s vital you outline the measures you’d take not to get into such a situation in the first place; you could detail your knowledge of disciplinary procedures, emphasise the need for adequate workplace training, and talk a little about your ability to empathise with employees undergoing difficult circumstances. You’ll also want to emphasise your ability to deal with the situation in a cool, calm, and firm manner.
Suggested answer: “I pride myself on my ability to lead a team, and I make sure they know they can come to me if they’re experiencing any difficulties that are preventing them from performing at their best. I also realise it’s much more cost-effective to retrain staff rather than re-hiring, so I’d be sure to explore all possible options before making my decision. However, if it came down to it, I’d make sure I delivered the news in a calm but firm manner, whilst double checking all legal guidelines are being followed.”
Not-so-ideal answer: “I’d ask them to collect their things and leave the building without making a fuss.”
6. Sell me this laptop
Another classic question, especially if you’re going for a position in sales or marketing. What does your interviewer want to see here? Well, aside from your sales technique, they’ll be judging your ability to think on your feet, as well as your communication skills. Should your interviewer decide to take inspiration from Wolf of Wall Street and ask you this question, the key is to be positive and enthusiastic - and don’t be afraid to employ a little creativity. How you answer the question is just as important as what you say, as your potential new employees will want to see confidence and assertiveness.
Suggested answer: ‘In today’s business climate, everyone needs a top-quality computer that will enable them to work on-the-go. You might be thinking this is just your average laptop, but you’d be mistaken…’
Not-so-great answer: ‘I can see you already have a laptop, but everyone needs a backup…’
Staying calm under pressure in a job interview
Naturally, if you’re thrown any of these questions in an interview, your first instinct might well be to panic. This is simply one of the evolutionary quirks of human existence; our brains can’t differentiate between a situation like a job interview, where it would help to be calm and collected, verses something like a tiger attack, where we need to be poised and ready for fight or flight. Frustrating perhaps, but there are some things you can do to help:
- Take a deep breath and pause before answering. This will help to trick your brain into thinking you’re more relaxed than you are, as it will help to slow your heart rate and reduce your blood pressure. It can also help to have a glass of water on hand, so that if you do get asked a tricky interview question, you get a few extra seconds thinking time while you take a sip.
- Remember, your interviewer wants you to succeed. They’re not trying to embarrass you or send you into a panic – they desperately want you to be their ideal candidate, just as desperately as you want to impress. Remind yourself that your potential new employees are on your side, they understand that people get nervous, they’re not focusing on your every mistake or slip-up.
- Prepare. Research the kinds of questions you think your interviewer is likely to ask you, plot out your ideal answers in bullet points, and rehearse answering them ahead of the day. As with anything, the more you practise, the more skilled you will become. If your interview is over Zoom, you can place your notes at strategic points around the room that will be easy for you to view (without making it too obvious!)
In summary, you can see that with just a little forethought and preparation, even curveball interview questions aren’t so intimidating after all. Focus on bringing every question back to your strengths, what you can bring to the position, and you’re sure to make an excellent impression.
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