Interview curveball questions and tips for handling them

Hiring managers like to keep candidates on their toes in interviews and may occasionally throw in some uncommon questions to gauge an individual’s creativity, ability to work under pressure and think on their feet. These somewhat unusual questions are designed to help the potential employer ascertain the degree to which the candidate will be a good fit for the team and office culture.

What is a curveball question?

A curveball question does exactly what it says. As if coming out of nowhere, it’s meant to uncover a candidate’s ability to think outside the box. The purpose is not to evaluate the interviewee’s performance, but to better understand them as a person, and to explore their personality and critical thinking.

While there are typically no right or wrong answers to curveball questions, to make a positive and lasting impression it’s worth familiarising yourself with this form of questioning and considering potential responses that will make you stand out from the competition. Curveball questions provide a golden opportunity to demonstrate your intelligence, knowledge and skills in an interesting way.

Here are a few examples of curveball questions that could be thrown at you:

  1. If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be and why?
  2. Would you rather be liked or feared?
  3. Sell me this pen…
  4. Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your coworkers about the next steps in a project
  5. When have you been happiest in your life?
  6. What is your favourite product and why?
  7. What is your favourite place to travel to?
  8. If you could invite anyone, dead or alive, to lunch, who would it be?
  9. What is your greatest failure?
  10. If you could be a superhero, which one would you be?
  11. What is your favourite song?
  12. What is one word you would use to describe yourself?
  13. How do you define success?
  14. If you could be one person for a day, who would you choose, and why?
  15. If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be and why?
  16. Tell me a joke…
  17. Can you teach me something I don’t know?

Tips for handling curveball questions:

Listen carefully

The key to delivering an impactful answer to a curveball question is showing that you are fully engaged. By listening carefully, you will be better able to give thoughtful responses to the question, allowing the interviewer a glimpse of how your brain ticks.

Don’t be afraid to think aloud when attempting to solve the problem and don’t worry if it takes you a few minutes to formulate and structure your response, as this demonstrates your thoughtfulness and intentionality. Bear in mind that the interviewer isn’t necessarily expecting you to have the right answer, or even to successfully solve the question or problem they are proposing, they just want to see the approach you take to articulating the thought process.

Practice, practice, practice

This is an important and often underemphasised component of the interview process, whether you are anticipating being asked curveball questions or not. Thorough preparation is crucial if you want to ace the interview and imprint a positive impression in the interviewer’s mind.

Remember you will never get a second chance to make a good impression, thus attempting to ‘wing it’ in an interview is never a good idea and your lack of preparation will shine through. Be sure to research the company and draw up potential answers to an array of curveball questions. Of course it’s impossible to predict the specific questions that will be fired at you, it’s more important to practice thinking creatively and measuring up responses to a variety of possibilities. For example, if you practice preparing an answer to a question such as ‘which celebrity would you invite to dinner?’, your justification may help you answer similar questions.

Ask clarifying questions

To be effective in your communication it’s imperative that you fully comprehend what is being asked of you, so don’t be afraid to fire back to confirm that your understanding of their question is correct. Asking clarifying questions in an interview helps to remove ambiguity and improves your chances of delivering a memorable response. For example, you could ask something along the lines of ‘when you said…can you please be more specific?’, or ‘can you provide an example of…?’ or you could try paraphrasing to confirm that your understanding is correct. If the hiring manager asks how many windows you think are in your city for example, it’s okay to begin your answer by expressing that you don’t know, then explaining how you could figure it out.

Let your personality shine

Remember that the purpose of curveball questions is to help the interviewer learn more about you, your characteristics and your strengths. They want to know if you are qualified for the role in question, but they also want to assess how successfully you’ll fit in with the workplace culture. So, focus on being positive, upbeat and friendly, and most importantly, relax and be yourself.

Showcase your thinking and communication skills

As we’ve already discussed, there is no one true way to answer a curveball question. This deviation from the expected offers candidates the chance to showcase their intellectual prowess or stellar soft skills in creative and engaging ways. The interviewer wants to see how you attempt to work through a problem, and how you think through the steps that will lead to a sensical answer. So, ensure that your reasoning process is visible.

How CY Partners can help prepare you for interview success

Our specialist consultants here at CY Partners know everything there is to know about the job market you are interested in and can help to maximise your chances of interview success by providing lots of tips and pointers.

If you’re looking to further your scientific career, our team can help you by:

  • Providing expert interview coaching
  • Making you aware of what to watch out for
  • Making you aware of what the employer is looking for
  • Providing a ton of information about the company and role
  • Talking you through the interview process
  • Letting you know if your experience and qualifications are up to scratch
  • Ensuring you are prepared to answer a variety of different questions
  • Offering specific advice for impressing the employer
  • Working with you to optimise your CV
  • Working with you to perfect your interview technique

Finally, do not let interview nerves get the better of you. If you conduct thorough preparation you will ooze confidence and sail through to the next round.

Let us help you work towards future career success. Get in touch with our knowledgeable and friendly team today by calling 0191 477 4733 or emailing [email protected].

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