Interview Questions: Tips on Answering the Odd Ones

In an internet article giving career advice for interviewing professionals (here), Justin Thompson gives advice on answering some of the oddest questions I’ve ever heard of in a professional interview.  I think he got it wrong.

Q: Do you believe in UFOS?

His answer: “While I may not believe in UFOs, I do believe that in business, you have to have an attitude that anything is possible. Whether it’s pursuing a lofty revenue goal or a potential client who has turned you down 10 times, you have to believe the extraordinary can happen.”

BOoOoOooring.  Correct answer.  “Well, I didn’t used to, but my cousin’s girlfriend’s mother’s brother swears he saw one out over the sand bar down Willie’s Creek, and then Joe Bob took out his camera and took a picture.  They put it on the board down at t’ general store and everything.  An’ then I sawr this picture down at the the-a-ter where they was makin’ drawrings and stuff of Devil’s Tower.  I hear tell it were a true story…what was it?  Close Encounters or somethin’ like that.”

Or, you could go with: “Of course!  And we have to band together to fight those little green devils before they enslave us all!” 

Q: Have you ever been the dumbest guy in the room?

His answer: “Let’s be honest – everyone has. And don’t try to pretend you’re not or lie. Go with it. Respond with, ‘Certainly. Everyone has strengths and talents to offer, and you are not always going to be the best or the smartest. Recognizing this is the best way to work effectively in a team, allowing each member to contribute in their area of expertise, for the best cumulative result possible.’ ”

Better answer:  “I might be the dumbest guy in the room right now!”

 The Dr. Sheldon Cooper totally honest answer: “No.”

Q: Can you drive in bad weather?

His answer: “Driving in bad weather is sometimes a necessity. It simply means you have to focus a little harder, be a little more cautious and exercise patience. It’s difficult, but not impossible, and you can always make it safely to your destination with a little calculated effort.”

Correct answer: “Of course I can.  I drive with the storm chasers down in the panhandle.  Why I drive the pickup 60-70 miles an hours, sometimes more, if those tornadoes take a turn and start running right at us.  And I really like driving in snow and ice.  I love to take the truck and spin a 360 right there on the Interstate.  Like, last winter?  When they shut down the government and sent everybody home and the roads was all packed?  I threw my truck into four wheel drive and drove down the medians and the ramps.  You betch, I can drive in bad weather.”

Or: “I am risk averse, so no.  I never drive in bad weather.  Statistically speaking…(make something up here).”

Q: Do you bake or buy?

His answer: “…explain the advantages of buying and baking and why you’d chose to do one or the other in certain situations. If you bake, you might want to say you enjoy compiling ingredients to create something others will enjoy or benefit from. If you buy, you might want to say you are a good delegator and always seeking ways to be more efficient with your time and resources.”

Although I could be forgiven for asking “Bake or buy what?”, let’s assume we know what the interviewer is asking about.  Maybe they want to know what you bring to the potluck table.  Or maybe, they really are after the (sigh) humdrum answer above, but I think a better answer is (especially if they have a vegetarian sticker on their wall): “I don’t do neither.  I hunt and I barbecue.  Elk, deer, quail, duck, even possum a time or two and that one time when I hit a cow…in my defense, it was a long way off and I though it was a really short, fat elk.”

Q: If I gave you a brick, what would you do with it?

His answer: “If you gave me a brick, I’d go out in search of more bricks, of all different sizes and colors, in order to build something spectacular.”

You’re talking about Legos, there, buddy.  Your five year old could have come up with that one.  Good answer: “I’d get a few more and some boards and built me a bookshelf, or iffen the brick is the right size, I’d use it to prop up the trailer.  It’s kinda leaning a bit.”  Or, you could take the brick (assuming she actually gave you one), open the door, set the brick down to hold the door open and spread your hands apart, palms up, while grinning and half bowing…you know, the non-verbal “Ta-da!”

Q: Are rules meant to be broken?

His answer: “It depends.” Rules are there for a reason typically: they ensure accountability and checks and balances and keep things running smoothly. But, once you adhere to the boundaries that are in place, you shouldn’t be afraid to say that when the time comes for critical thinking and innovative solutions to persistent problems, sometimes the rules need to be flexible.

Yawn.

Mine: “Heck yes! And I see you think the same thing, because there you are wearing white and it’s after Labor Day.  I think it’s even in the Bible, or something.  The verse says, “Rules are made to be broken.”  I even have it on a bumper sticker on my truck.”  Unless you are applying for a job in law enforcement. 

Q: Are you a pencil or a pen?

His answer: “…you could venture to say that as a pencil, the best work is always a process, and you enjoy having the ability to draft and redraft, erase and rethink the task at hand until it’s perfect. As a pen you might say you’re authoritative, bold and daring when appropriate.”

Mine:  “Okay, now you’re just screwing with me, right?  Am I on Candid Camera?”  or “Neither.  I’m a MacBook Air.  I’m super-fast, reliable and the best in my field.”

Q: If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

His answer: “Be clever when responding. Whether it’s the ability to fly, see into the future or leap over tall buildings in a single bound, you should always make a connection to your professional contributions. The superpower you choose needs to relate back to an organization or how your skills would benefit others. For example, the ability to read someone’s mind can help you create better solutions for a client.”

Are you kidding me? Are you trying to prove you’re a suck-up?

Instead, give ’em something like the truth:  “Everything I touch would turn to gold.  Then I wouldn’t need this job.  Of course, then I would have turned YOU to gold when I shook your hand, so that doesn’t work…so maybe I’d like to be able to teleport.  I could live anywhere in the world I wanted and still be to work on time.  Or flying.  Flying is a great super-power.  So is healing.  I’d go into all the hospitals and heal everyone.  That would be super-cool.  Wouldn’t need Obama-care then, would we?”

Q: What do you do when you see a spider in your house?

His answer: “The employer is trying to get a feel for how you respond to situations. You can say you typically leave the spider alone because you don’t sweat the small stuff, or you can say that you ask someone else to take care of it because you delegate well while focusing on the bigger picture.”

My answer:  (Quake visibly.)  Please don’t mention spiders.  They freak me out.  Or ants.  Don’t mention ants either.  (Look around wildly.)  Do you have a bug problem in this office?  I really can’t work somewhere that has a bug problem.  (Reach for your purse/briefcase while doing a complete visual body inspection and then run from the building.)

I would love to do a series of posts with imagining different people’s answers to these questions.  Maybe another time.

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