If you’ve done your due diligence when it comes to interview prep, you have probably spent a lot of time writing a killer resume and cover letter, crafting answers to common interview questions, and doing your research on the company. You've rehearsed, you've gathered your materials, and you have a great outfit picked out. At this point, you probably think you're all set and ready to go.
Are you prepared for a curveball?
A curveball? In an interview? Yes. A curveball interview question, much like the type of pitch in baseball, is meant to throw the recipient off-guard. It is designed to shine a light on a candidate’s critical thinking ability, as well as their personality. These questions are used to get a handle on you as a person (not just as a candidate) and decide if you’re a good fit for the team and/or company.
If you have an interview (in person or on Zoom) soon, it's important to learn about these questions and the best way to answer them. In this article, we’ll discuss all that you need to know about common job interview curveball questions:
What are curveball interview questions?
How to answer curveball questions.
Example answers to common questions.
Curveball questions may seem like they come out of left field, but they serve a purpose. According to Heather Kernahan, general manager and EVP at tech communications firm Eastwick, "It's a mini simulation of how they'll respond during an unexpected work situation.”
What are curveball interview questions, anyway?
A curveball interview question may not seem like it's relevant to the job you're interviewing for. On the surface, these off-the-wall questions don't have anything to do with your technical or interpersonal skills, although you can show off your personality and other positive attributes when answering. The important thing to remember is there is usually no "right answer." The interviewer is more interested in your logic and thought process, not necessarily a specific answer.
How do you deal with a curveball interview question?
These curveball questions are more than just “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”. But they’re not designed to intimidate you. Challenges can arise in any job situation, and potential employers want to see if you display grace under pressure to come up with a solution to an issue.
Remain calm and don’t blurt out an answer
Don’t let yourself be flustered. However, you don’t want to shout out the first thing that pops into your mind. The interviewer knows this question will catch you off guard, and they’re not expecting perfection. You’re only human! There is nothing wrong with taking a moment to consider the question. Say, “Wow, what a great question! Let me take a moment to ponder that.” And consider using the STAR method to help you provide a concise and professional answer.
Since the actual curveball answer is less important than how you got there, explain your reasoning. If the curveball question is, “What kind of bird would you be?” you could answer, “Well, I think I’d be a stork. I’m patient, but I don’t wait for opportunities to come to me. I’m calm, and I don’t rush around, but when I do make a move, I’m a sight to behold, and I can surprise others with my resourcefulness and skills.”
Read the room
Curveball questions are, by design, unique and often tricky to deal with. Try “mirroring” the interviewer to set the right tone. For example, if the interviewer asks the question with a laugh or a smile, you can safely use some humor in your answer. If he or she seems serious, be more conservative when you respond.
How do I answer common curveball questions?
Curveball questions can range from the common to the absurd. Often, interviewers will want to get a sense of your organizational skills, or how you might work in a team. Even the most off-the-wall question can give the hiring manager an insight into how you operate. Some common questions might be:
Would you prefer to be liked or feared?
If you could have a dinner party with any three guests, living or dead, who would you choose?
What is your greatest failure?
What’s your favorite movie?
How would you define success?
Try to find a connection between the job you’re interviewing for and your honest answer. If you’re asked how you might stay alive during nuclear fallout, you could mention your teamwork skills and how you can be a leader when necessary to ensure your collective success. It might seem silly, but even with these curveball questions you always want to put yourself in the best light and demonstrate that you understand the assignment.
What are some curveball interview questions and what are some example answers?
While it’s not possible to come up with an answer to all the possible curveball questions out there, here are a few examples of questions you could be asked, and an appropriate response. Make sure to tailor your answers to your specific background, personality, and skill sets.
1. “Would you rather be perfect but late, or okay but on time?”
This question is asking about your time management abilities and your attention to detail. Most people understand that perfection isn’t always possible, and can sometimes delay the work process. You can tie your answer to your experience with meeting deadlines.
“I think being on time and meeting deadlines are very important, so the first choice is not an option for me. You can’t aim for perfection if you’re running late. Also, “perfection” is a vague goal. I might feel that an assignment is perfect, but my teammates might still have ideas on how to make it even better. Since the definition of perfection can vary, there's no advantage to putting in extra time on a project if I'm holding up others and preventing them from meeting their deadlines."
2. "If you could have any superpower, what would it be?"
"If I could have any superpower, I think I'd choose the power of flight. It would be very interesting to see the world from literally a new perspective, which I think is very important. For example, in my current position as a sales manager, some clients complained about a lack of transparency in our pricing. I suggested to my boss that we create a survey and send it to any dissatisfied clients to find out exactly what their issues were. We wound up getting a lot of valuable feedback and used this feedback to update our pricing models. As a result, customer issues were reduced by almost eighty percent. It’s important to see something from another’s perspective to make things better for everyone involved.”
It’s a good idea to customize your answer to this question by deciding what qualities you want to highlight. Are you going to answer with “wealth, power, and world domination” or focus more on helping others, solving complex issues, or the ability to analyze a situation to solve a problem?
3. “What’s your favorite website?”
Hiring managers might use this question to get an idea of how you spend your off hours. Remember, employers don’t care about what dating websites you favor or your fascination with ducksarethebest.com. If you can demonstrate that you read industry-related sites, you will show that you are interested in business trends and expanding your professional knowledge.
“I admit that I enjoy fun sites from time to time, but I spend quite a bit of time reading sites such as the Wall Street Journal or Forbes. I like to stay on top of current events in the business and financial worlds.”
“I really like TED talks. I learn a lot, and I’m exposed to a variety of new ideas. This helps me in my career because I can see issues and problems from different perspectives and come up with more inventive and collaborative solutions.”
As Mary Grace Gardner of The Young Profesionista told Glassdoor.com, "Social media websites can point to your ability to connect with others, news websites can show your knowledge on the latest trends, and niche websites can show your unique characteristics.”
Curveball interview questions can indeed be tough to deal with. But with a little preparation, a little preparation, and a little grace under pressure, these questions can be a perfect opportunity to show a prospective employer who you are and if your work approach is a good match for them. Give it some thought, and be creative.
Curveball questions are designed to throw you off guard, giving the interviewer an idea of how you might respond to stressful situations in the workplace.
When answering a curveball question, remain calm, take a moment to think, and relate your answer to the position you're interviewing for.
Practice answers to some of the common questions, and show off your personality. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. Just answers that show you in the best light.