Handle unexpected and unusual interview questions with help from our career expert.

What do you do if you encounter an unusual interview question that you couldn't possibly be prepared for? Yes, quirky questions can send even the most well-prepared candidate into a tailspin. From questions like “What's the number of breakfast tacos sold daily in Austin, TX?” and “If you were given an elephant and couldn't sell it or give it away, what would you do with it?” to the classic “How do you feel about garden gnomes?”, these types of questions are used to get to know the candidate beyond their resume and credentials. But how do you make sure you impress? 

Our resident career expert, Amanda Augustine, was recently featured in a piece by CNBC that focused on a specific question asked by Warby Parker's Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa: “What was a recent costume you wore?” In the article, Augustine gives her advice for handling and answering unusual interview questions like this, plus field-tested response strategies that will help you take on any interview question — no matter how bizarre! Read the full article here

Don't try to prepare

In-depth preparation is a solid strategy for making the best impression in an interview. However, that approach won't work for quirky, unexpected questions. Augustine's advice?

“You can't — and shouldn't — rehearse a response to such a question.”

For one, you couldn't possibly anticipate every quirky question out there. These questions are engineered to catch you off guard. And while you might be tempted to Google the list of unusual interview questions the company you are interviewing at has asked in the past, all it will accomplish is wasting your time. The hiring manager is trying to assess your ability to think on your feet — not your internet research skills!

Remember that most quirky questions don't have one right answer ...

“You don't necessarily have to love dressing up in costumes in order to get a job at the company,” said Augustine to CNBC. And if you are off by 15 tacos or hate garden gnomes, you aren't automatically doomed to fail the interview, either.

The point of this question is to give the hiring manager insight into your thinking. Your reaction can demonstrate how well you handle stress, for example. It can also showcase your personality, sense of humor, and willingness to solve problems that have no obvious solution. 

So, begin by taking the question at face value. Next, do what you would normally do when faced with an unusual assignment at work: Ask clarifying questions: Would you like the breakfast taco count on a weekday or weekend? Is the elephant hungry when it arrives?

A good clarifying question demonstrates your willingness to play. It also buys you time to think! Remember that you won't be judged on your ability to come up with the right answer, so let that pressure go.

… but there is a wrong answer!

One way to mess up an unusual question is by offering a canned response. 

“An interviewer who asks something like this is interested in seeing how you respond to a question that appears to come out of left field,” says Augustine in the CNBC article. “They want to observe your knee-jerk reaction. A rehearsed response will come off as disingenuous and off-putting.”

Another way to get it wrong is by lashing out against the question. Sure, you can brush off the question or give a bit of attitude when answering it, but that won't help you demonstrate your creativity, readiness to tackle unusual problems, or grace under fire. It also will probably get you passed up for the job.

Your best strategy for tackling unusual interview questions

Step one: Ask a clarifying question. 

Step two: Think about the hiring manager's goals. They will be driven in part by the kind of job you are interviewing for. The other motivation is, most likely, testing your fit with the company culture. For example, why might someone ask what you would do with an elephant that you can't sell or give away?

Well, if you are interviewing for a job in marketing, the hiring manager might be trying to gauge your creativity and willingness to seize an opportunity and turn it into viral content. Even without the marketing angle, the response is your chance to demonstrate your reasoning skills. Finally, if playfulness and adaptability are key elements of the company culture, your ability to handle this curveball with ease shows that you will fit right in with the team. 

Step three: Be honest. For example, if dressing up in costume isn't your thing, you don't have to pretend to love it. Stay in the conversation by talking about a costume you helped create for someone else, your favorite costume as a child, or perhaps a cool costume you saw online. “This will give your interviewer a sense of what it's like working and interacting with you on a regular basis,” shares Augustine. 

Step four: Finally, keep your composure. Remember that the hiring manager knows you couldn't possibly have a prepared answer to the quirky, unusual interview question. So, stay in the conversation. Look for a link between the job and the question being asked — but don't get frustrated if you can't see one. As long as you can demonstrate your thinking, creativity, and willingness to solve an unexpected puzzle, you will come through with flying colors!

Looking for that extra edge to prepare for interview questions, quirky or not? Our TopInterview coaches can help you make the most out of your next job interview.

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