There’s an apocryphal story that has been bandied about for years, about an interview where the interviewer asked a candidate: “Do something to surprise me”. The interviewee got out his lighter and set fire to the interviewer’s newspaper. It’s not an action we would advise emulating, but very definitely comes under the heading of utterly incomprehensible interview questions.
Why do these questions get asked?
"Why do these questions get asked" is a tricky question to answer, but as it appears to have started in Silicon Valley during the tech boom its roots are likely to be found in the free-thinking, mould-breaking philosophy that many of the tech pioneers applied to their businesses. Ultimately for some interviewer it’s about unearthing someone who offers more than just “can you do the job”. Wall Street soon followed suit and the practice has become more commonplace. The question for most of us is not why are they asked but how do I answer them?
First and foremost you should remember there isn’t a right answer, depending on the nature of the question, which these questions are about your thought processes, your coolness under pressure, your personality and your approach to problem solving. What you don’t do is say, “I don’t know”, or “that’s a good question” and stare off into space. Let’s take the question: “How many cricket bats are there in the world?” You could either pluck an answer out of thin air: “Three million?”, or go about figuring out how to work it out. “Well, if the population of the sporting public in the UK is X, and a tenth of them play cricket, then that’s XX for the UK, plus another X for the cricketing population in India…” etc. This is the sort of approach the employer would be looking for.
Five types of questions you might encounter
Preparation, preparation, preparation
This is the key to a good interview. However, these questions are not something that you can easily prepare for. If your job is a technical one, brush up on your technical knowledge. If it’s a creative role, keep a clear head and try to analyse how you would approach some of these types of questions. Above all, expect the unexpected!