How to Handle “Curve Ball” Job Interview Questions

You finally found a job or internship you really want, and you’re perfect for it!

You meet all the requirements and you’ve got the experience listed in the description. You’ve done your research on the company, industry and competitors. You’ve also prepared for the interview, nailing down your responses to all the tough questions you expect to be asked.

You’re ready! Bring on the interview!

Then the interview begins – and the questions asked seem to come out of the blue. Instead of nailing the interview, you’re left wondering what happened.

Maybe these scenarios sound familiar to you:

  • The interviewer places all the emphasis on one minor aspect of the job – one that was not mentioned in the job description
  • The hiring manager calls you in for an interview, asks you a few basic questions, and then asks you to take a timed test to assess your psychological profile or to assess your literacy skills
  • The interviewer throws completely off the wall questions at you, seemingly unrelated to the job at hand – or even reality – just to see how you think (Google is notorious for this. “Without using any of your five senses, how would you calculate the interior volume of a Japanese bullet train while submerged 3,000 feet below the Pacific Ocean, in a refrigerator?” Really?)

How should you handle unexpected situations like these?

Don’t Let Them See You Sweat!

Yes… stay calm. In situations where you’re asked unexpected or seemingly unrelated questions to the opportunity under consideration, listen closely to try and figure out the employer’s “pain point” behind the question.

All employers face problems and challenges. You want to be seen as part of the solution!

So think of ways to alleviate the problems by envisioning how someone would be a problem in the given situation and then convince the interviewer you are the exact opposite.

Remember: This is a Two-Way Conversation

During the interview, you are evaluating the company as much as they are evaluating you! Their performance is a clear indicator of how they might conduct themselves as employers and managers – a window into the corporate culture of the organization.  You likely know what you need based on your personality, the stage of your career and your goals for the opportunity you seek. So ask yourself: based on the interview… are you interested… in them?

You Are Not Responsible for the Quality of the Interview (or Interviewer)

If the interviewer is apparently incapable of asking relevant questions about how your background fits the opportunity – or if they have no interest in engaging in a meaningful conversation about the company and your potential role… then just go with the flow. Do your best to answer the questions at hand in a professional manner, even though it may be glaringly obvious the company and the position are not the right fit for you.

Why? Because even though the overall quality of the interview is not your responsibility, recruiters talk… and you don’t want to give them a reason to talk bad about you.

You can’t control how the interviewer conducts the interview or what type of questions get thrown at you. You can, however, control how you conduct yourself during the interview. Stay calm. Remember, you are also judging them – and it is not your obligation to take responsibility for their poor interviewing skills. Most important, learn as much as you can with each interview experience – good and bad.




About the Author: Joe Gagliano, a founding member of YouTern and our CMO, brings years of start-up management, strategic planning, marketing and market research experience to the team and his blog posts. Joe, who runs our learning center for interns, also brings a passion for start-ups, entrepreneurship and mentorship to our team. Connect with Joe on Twitter!




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