Answering Unusual Interview Questions

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Sometimes employers ask interview questions that are a challenge to answer. But, don't worry too much about them. It is impossible for candidates to prepare answers for all the possible questions which might be asked during a job interview, especially some of the less common and unusual questions.

For example, what happens if the interviewer raises a hypothetical question like "How much toilet paper will it take to span the state of New Jersey?" or unusual queries like "What animal best represents who you are?" or "If you could be any animal on a carousel what would you pick and why"?

You don't need to try to come up with answers. You won't know what you'll be asked, and these types of questions don't have a right or wrong answer. Rather, the employer is trying to get at how you respond to questions under stress and how your logical thinking processes work.

Take some time to consider how you will respond rather than thinking about what you'll say. Here are some tips for responding in the best possible way to unanticipated questions.

How to Respond to Unusual Interview Questions

Buy Some Time

First of all, buy some time before responding so you can formulate a thoughtful answer by saying something like "That's a really intriguing question, I've never gotten that one before."

Ask for Clarification 

It's fine to ask for clarification if it's hard to figure out just what the employer is looking for in a response. For example, with the question about how much toilet paper it would take to span New Jersey, you might say "Interesting question, were you thinking north/south or east/west, at the widest/longest points or an average?"

How You Think

It's important to recognize that many unusual questions are asked to see how your thought process works and not because the employer expects you to furnish any particular "right" answer. Be sure to articulate your reasoning when you respond to these types of questions. For example, if you said a cat was the animal that best represents you, you might mention that you are curious or quick. Of course, referencing qualities which are in line with job requirements is a good way to respond.

Match Your Skills to the Job

Most interview questions are designed to determine if you have the right skills or qualities to excel at the job in question. The best way to prepare for unusual questions is to prepare a list of 6 - 9 of your skills that will enable you to perform well in the job. Make sure you are ready to supply anecdotes or examples of how you have used those strengths to engineer successes in past projects, work or co-curricular roles. There's a good chance that this type of information will enable you to formulate viable answers to many unusual interview questions.

When You Don't Have an Answer 

If you are totally stumped by a strange question, be prepared to mention that you can't think of a viable answer to that question just now. It's acceptable to ask if you might return to it later. Otherwise, let it go. You don't want a tough question to stress you so much that you lose your focus.

Don't let your inability to respond disrupt your composure during the rest of the interview. You don't need to be perfect in order to succeed in an interview. If possible, share a response later in the interview or in your follow-up communications.