How to: Answer curveball interview questions

How to answer curveball interview questions

‘If you could be any kind of animal, what would you be?’

Ah, the classic curveball interview question. Meant to test your creativity/keep you on your toes/see how many times you can say ‘um’ before it gets awkward/all of the above.

Your answers to this type of question will not only help the interviewer to understand what type of person you are, they’ll also show how well you can work under pressure. And whilst there are often no right or wrong answers, there are some tips to help make sure you’re not caught short.

We’ve already covered some pretty difficult questions (unless you’re an expert on basketball and biscuits), so to follow up here are five curveball questions that could come up at the interview courtesy of James Reed’s bestselling book, ‘Why You: 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again’:

If you were an animal, what would you be?

The archetypal interview curveball, this question could come up in a number of different guises.

However, whether it’s the type of animal you are, the superpower you’d choose, or even determining the correct colour packaging for a packet of salt & vinegar crisps, this question is essentially a test of creativity. In other words, it’s not what you answer, but how you answer that counts.

It’s important not to rush yourself. A simple ‘give me a moment to think about this one’ will buy you a few seconds of thinking time. Then try and think of an answer which brings in some necessary skills for the role, whilst also showing off who you really are.

Right answer: ‘I think I’d be a duck. They’re always calm on the surface, but hustling like crazy to get things done underneath’.

If all else fails, say you’re a Kestrel. Always go with Kestrel.

Wrong answer: ‘Definitely a Tiger. Grrrr…’

Every CV has one lie in it. What’s yours?

Research shows that as many as one in five jobseekers admits to lying on their CV.

However, whether you choose to blur the lines or not, there’s one person in the room who you definitely don’t want to tell: the interviewer.

Even if you’ve been a little ‘creative’ with your chronology, answers here should always be in the negative. You could even use a little humour to break the tension, and reassure your employer that everything you’ve written is above-board.

(You could also, you know, just tell the truth in your CV. That too…)

Right answer: ‘OK, so “active lifestyle” may have been a bit of a stretch. I do go and sit in the sauna in my gym from time-to-time, if that counts? On a serious note though, I don’t believe there are any lies on my CV. I believe integrity is very important and that starts with your CV’

Wrong answer: ‘Pass’

Would you rather be liked or feared?

While this could also be considered a character question, the fact that it’s almost a deliberate trick question means it could be considered in the curveball bracket.

Luckily, the answer to dealing with a question like this is deceptively simple. Don’t answer it. You may have been presented with a straight choice, but there’s an unspoken option waiting for you to take full advantage of.

Acknowledge the original framing of the question, but explain why it would be impossible for you to choose from what’s on the table. Then offer a third, alternative answer, before sitting back and admiring your own seemingly-instant ingenuity.

Right answer: ‘Well I certainly wouldn’t want to be feared. Personally I think fear is a terrible motivator, and could lead to some uncomfortable situations. Everyone wants to be liked, but it isn’t always possible. Sometimes you have to do unpopular things to get the job done. I’d much sooner be respected, but have my co-workers understand that I always do my best for the team as a whole.’

Wrong answer: ‘I want people to be afraid of how much they like me.’

Where does your boss think you are now?

In other words, are you the kind of employee who would openly lie to my face?

This question is a good measure of character, but shouldn’t be taken lightly. Admitting that you lied to your current employer in any way, shape or form, is unlikely to endear you to your interviewer. Even ‘white lies’ have the potential to make you appear unreliable or, worse, untrustworthy.

The safest thing to do in this situation is to either say you booked a day’s leave in advance or explain that you worked it in around your schedule. Notable exceptions include temporary or freelance roles, and redundancies. If it’s clear that you have no long-term future at a company, only the most unreasonable of bosses would stand in your way.

And don’t be tempted to go with the overly ambiguous ‘for personal reasons’ option. Pulling on your manager’s heartstrings can only ever end badly.

Right answer: ‘I booked today as annual leave. I know colleagues who have lied about their whereabouts in the past, but it’s not something I’d be comfortable doing’

Wrong answer: ‘I’m not sure really. I just kind of walked out…’

Sell me this pen…

Finally, the perennial interview ‘sales-pitch’ favourite.*

However, this question isn’t simply intended as an assessment of your sales skills. Instead, it’s all about identifying the needs of the buyer.

No matter how great an object is, if the buyer has no desire to purchase, you won’t make a successful sale. It’s all about the questions you ask, finding out about an issue they have, and demonstrating how your product can solve the problem.

So forget about features and benefits, and concentrate on your questioning. (Don’t worry, this even works with ugly pens).

Right answer: ‘Do you do a lot of writing in your spare time?’

Wrong answer: ‘You know how you were saying earlier that you needed a pen…’

*Particularly if interview takes place in a pen shop.

Need more interview questions?

Not sure any of these questions will come up? Don’t panic. We’ve got plenty more…

Buy James Reed’s new book: Why You? 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again and start loving Mondays now.