How to field curveball interview questions like a pro
By Anissa Ljanta
Every interviewer has their favourite curveball interview questions. They’re often preceded by a glint in the interviewer’s eye and a pause before they strike. You know the ones.
Some we’ve come to expect, like asking what our greatest weakness is, or where we see ourselves in five years time. Others are more out of left-field.
Recruiters I know are convinced people lie in response to those first predictable two. I did a quick poll asking who lies in response to that greatest weakness question in job interviews at a recent social gathering. I came to the conclusion that people’s responses were more sales pitch than lying – at least in that group. It was clear that the connection between the interviewer and job applicant was a key factor to a more animated, honest response.
Five coaching tips for catching curveball questions
1. Look where the ball is going. Take time to respond. A thoughtful look and a considered response will serve you better than rushing into replying. If silence makes you uncomfortable, you can buy time by saying, “Oh, good question”.
2. Play to your strengths. Reply honestly but mitigate. Recruiters are looking for evidence of self-knowledge and ability to learn and grow. An example response to the classic “What is one of your weaknesses?” might be, “I have perfectionist tendencies and while this means my work is of high quality, I’ve learned that finessing tiny details often doesn’t matter in the long run and I’ve learned the value of efficiency over perfectionism, developing strong time management skills in the process”.
3. Don’t sweat. There won’t be a right or wrong answer to some questions, the interviewer will be testing how you respond rather than what.
4. Time to call a timeout! It’s worth remembering too, that a long list of questions are not okay to ask in an interview. In general, questions about age, health, relationships, religion, homelife, political views, ethnic origins, sexual orientation or gender identity are in the illegal camp. It’s a good idea to role-play ways to field these kinds of questions should they crop up.
“I’m more than happy to talk about my X in the staff room or at Friday quiz night with you all, did you have any other questions related to the role?” (Said in an easygoing and friendly manner.)
5. Prepare for a home run! Do your homework. Come up with a list of possible curveball questions and prepare responses ahead of time. This builds confidence and is helpful in avoiding the deer-in-headlights look. Doing this with a friend can be fun. It’s always useful to hear stories about how others have aced, or flunked, interview questions. Here are our top six curveball interview questions to rehearse at home:
- Tell me about a challenging time at work and what you did to resolve it.
- What do you do in your leisure time?
- Sell me this pen…
- Have you ever been fired?
- What salary are you expecting?
- If you had complete freedom to choose your work life, what would you do?
A sample tricky interview question – answered
What are you reading at the moment?
It’s not a good look to say you’re not reading anything. Neither is it wise to give a title that you haven’t actually read, as there is always the chance the interviewer has read it and asks you an impossible question. That would be awkward.
A safe answer is an honest one – if you actually do have a book open on your bedside table or on your kindle. Failing that, give a book you’ve read and liked in the past. Expanding on what you’re getting out of it, or why you like it, is good. Extra points for drawing insightful wisdom out of the book that applies to the role you’re applying for.
And, the bonus last question
Do you have any questions for us?
Go into the interview with questions of your own to lob back to the interviewer’s side of the court. This is your chance to show you’ve done your research and show off your strategic brain. This is also your opportunity to learn more about the organisation.
A formula here is, “I noticed that xxx, does the organisation have any plans to xxx?”
“How would you describe your work culture?” can be an insightful question to ask your interviewers. Nailing the last questions lets you end the interview on a good note. Last impressions are almost as important as the first ones!
About Anissa Ljanta
Anissa is a Connector and Content Specialist with a long history in the not-for-profit sector both here in NZ and internationally. She is a Celebrant, a Diversity and Equity Advocate, Philanthropic Advisor and Consultant in the sector.
She is on the board of her small local community library, is part of a delightful book club, several writers’ groups, and her idea of a fun Saturday night involves writing and wine. Words, social change and deep ecology are at the centre of her life.
Anissa can be found (and hired for word geekery and celebrancy) at www.anissaljanta.co.nz