5 Crazy Job Interview Challenges (& How to Beat Them) | Top Universities

5 Crazy Job Interview Challenges (& How to Beat Them)

By Guest Writer

Updated December 9, 2016 Updated December 9, 2016

Guest post: Beth Leslie

Maybe it’s because every single candidate submitted a perfect CV. Maybe it’s because it genuinely helps determine how good an applicant is. Maybe interviewers just get bored.

Whatever the reason, weird and unpredictable job interview techniques are becoming increasingly common. And because warning you would spoil the fun, a crazy interview could be sprung upon you when you least expect it.

Solution? Be prepared for anything…!

Job interview challenge #1: The unanswerable question

“Have you ever stolen a pen from work?”

“How many cows are in Canada?”

“What superhero would you be and why?”

These are all real interview questions. They are also all un-Google-able, subjective, and generally impossible to get “right”. Which is exactly the point.

Too many candidates spend their job interview reciting rehearsed answers they got off the internet. Not only is that dull for an interviewer to listen to, it’s also impossible to determine how the candidate would think and react in a real-life situation. So interviewers throw out crazy, unexpected questions to make you think on your feet, answer genuinely, and show them how your mind works.

Remember that with unusual questions like these, it’s not what you answer so much as how. If both the question and the job involve mathematics then you may be expected to demonstrate some numerical knowledge. Generally, however, the idea is not to find the “correct” answer, but to show creativity and personality. Usually you can satisfy the interviewer’s main criteria by keeping your cool and demonstrating that you don’t crack under pressure. Speak confidently and don’t be afraid to answer a whacky question with a whacky answer!

Job interview challenge #2: Undercover observation

If you think your job interview starts when you shake the interviewer’s hand, you’re wrong. It starts from the second you make contact. Did you proofread your email confirming attendance? What tone did you take with the receptionist when you called to check the address? What did you do to pass the time while you were waiting to be seen?

The logic is simple: people are most themselves when they don’t think they’re being observed. Some companies take this technique to the extreme of organizing what they claim is a post-interview social, which is actually the real interview. They watch how polite you are, how sociable, how much you take the initiative, and so on.

Luckily, there’s a super-easy way to circumnavigate this sneaky tactic; act like you’re in a job interview from the moment you walk in the door until you’re a good few miles away! Treat everybody you meet with the same level of respect you’d give your new prospective boss. Find something intelligent-looking to do in the waiting room – reading a cheap magazine or scratching your nose is not the best look. But generally, just be yourself. If they don’t like you for who you actually are, you almost certainly won’t enjoy working for them.

Job interview challenge #3: The puzzle

Imagine this. At the start of your job interview you are handed a box filled with stationary, locked in the room, and told to find your way out. This happened to one Quora member. He used the box to smash the lock, and got the job. Meanwhile, prospective employees of HalloweenCostumes.com are asked play Jenga with staff members. In short, it’s not uncommon for companies to ask candidates to complete a puzzle or brainteaser, sometimes in teams.

This is actually a pretty good way to see how you approach difficult situations and solve problems. The trick on your end is to stay calm and not let anything put you off your A-Game. Bear in mind that it won’t always be necessary to complete the challenge, as long as you demonstrate ingenuity and other key skills in how you approach it. Take your time, and don’t panic.

If you’re asked to perform a team challenge then it’s pretty obvious that the company is looking for displays of strong teamwork and leadership skills. Make sure you stand out from your fellow candidates, but be careful not to appear domineering. Volunteer for positions of responsibility, but then ask for and implement ideas from across the group.

Job interview challenge #4: The performance

You’re asked to name your favorite song. Then, you’re asked to sing it. Or you’re handed a plastic volcano and told to make it explode.

Usually if an interviewer asks you to demonstrate knowledge or a skill which is not directly related to the role, it’ll be because you’ve mentioned it as a hobby or interest at some point in your application. (The candidates in the examples above had claimed, respectively, to be a professional singer and a chemistry major.)

By honing in on your extra-curricular activities, interviewers may be trying to break the ice or want to get a better feel for you as an individual. Or they may be testing your claims to see if they’re credible. After all, if you lied about being able to hit that top C, you probably lied about your superb timekeeping and organizational skills too.

Don’t use anything in a job application that you would be unable to stand behind if called on it. Even if a request feels a little outside your comfort zone, take it as an opportunity to show how confident and flexible you are. You don’t have to be the next Beyoncé – just personable and memorable!

Job interview challenge #5: The silent treatment

According to the author Michael Lewis, giving an interviewee the silent treatment was once a common interview technique in the investment banking industry. The idea was that by deliberately stressing candidates out they would get a better measure of their qualities. Interviewers would refuse to respond to the candidate’s greeting or initial questions, to see whether the candidate would take control of the situation or crumble.

That’s a pretty extreme example, but plenty of bosses agree with Mark Settle, CIO of BMC Software, that using silence in small doses is a great way for an interviewer to get the measure of a candidate. By limiting the talking they do, they force the candidate to lead the interview.

If you find yourself faced with a taciturn interviewer, therefore, don’t assume they’re not interested. Keep the conversation flowing, ask questions yourself, and show confidence.

Beth Leslie writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a recruitment agency specializing in matching candidates to their dream internship. Check out their graduate jobs London listings for roles.

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This article was originally published in December 2016 .

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