Traditional, straightforward interview questions have dominated the interviewing conversations for generations. And as you prepare for your session, you can expect these questions (such as "Have you done this kind of work before?" and "Describe your greatest strengths") to be part of the script.
But some interviewers are now pushing these old standards aside in favor of questions that are not so clichéd and predictable. Your next session may involve questions that are unexpected, and thus harder to answer. These curveballs may sound like this:
"Can you tell me how to build a bicycle?"
"How many jelly beans can fit inside the Empire State Building?"
"If you had to transport a blue whale from the Pacific coast to Portland Maine, how would you do it?"
These questions (probably) have nothing to do with your potential responsibilities on the job, but they can certainly provide your employers with insight into your critical thinking skills, flexibility, and approach to problem solving. There's just one big catch: You can't plan your answers ahead of time. So if these questions come your way, you'll have to stay cool and think on your feet. Here are a few tips that can help.
Don't freeze up
Too often, nervous candidates with rigid approaches to problem solving simply freeze when presented with these questions. Worse yet, many reach instinctively for their phones. Don't do these things. Of course your interviewers know that you've never tried to pack the Empire State building with jelly beans, so you have no direct experience with this process. (You've also probably never built a bicycle.) Just walk your listeners through the steps you would take if confronted with this task. If you don't currently have the information you need, explain what you might do to get it.
Whatever the brain teaser question requires, you have it
Your first thought may be panic, followed by "Oh no, that sounds like math! I'm terrible at math! Game over!" or "I didn't understand ANY of those jargony words and acronyms! I don't belong here!" But if these thought rise up, don't let them shut you down. You DO have math skills, and you CAN understand your interviewer's nonsense words if you calm down and search for context clues. You're just as prepared as the next candidate, so make use of what you have.
Ask for paper if you need it
Drawing, sketching, listing, or calculating something on paper may move you toward an answer. If you'd like to do this, just ask. But never use your phone to look up the answer or call for help. The standard rule remains in effect: From the beginning of the interview to the end, your phone should neither be seen nor heard.
As you try to answer the question, think out loud. Your interviewer wants to see your thought process. Even if you don't get the answer right, you may make a strong case for yourself by showing how your results are logical or innovative.
Work is hard. Days on the job can be long, and mistakes can come with huge consequences. But if you can find a way to face these facts and still enjoy the tough realities of your working life, you'll thrive in any job you step into. So start now. Enjoy the question and embrace the challenge at hand. Engage fully with the problem on the table, regardless of the outcome.
For more on how to shine during even the toughest interview sessions, explore the job search tips and guidelines available at MyPerfectResume.