“What type of animal is most like you?”
“How many square feet of pizza are eaten in the U.S. each year?”
Sound like icebreaker questions at a party? Believe it or not, these are real job interview questions.
While they seem inconsequential, your interviewer is not just making polite conversation. The job interview is a short window during which your potential employer is trying to get an accurate picture of the way you think and what your values are. This is not a game; this is your interviewer’s serious attempt to understand you.
If you get a weird interview question, consider what possible connections your answer has to the job. What values are they probing to find within you? What can you offer in answering their question that will display these values? This is where advanced research about the company and the job will especially pay off.
Be respectful and treat the question seriously. Once you have answered the question, also consider what you can learn about the interviewer and the company from their question. Interviews are a two-way street.
Here are some examples of what to say—and what not to say—during such an interview:
Weird Question 1: “What type of animal is most like you?”
Good answer: “I am like an ant because I work tirelessly for the team and prepare for inevitable hardships.”
Ants are respected for their work ethic and help your employer see you as a hard worker. They are also rarely used in proverbs or fables as antagonists, which means your prospective employer will be likely to look favorably towards your answer.
Bad answer: “I am like a wolf because I am always on the prowl for opportunity.”
This answer sounds corny and comes across less serious than the other answer. Additionally, wolves are often viewed as ruthless and evil loners, not something you want to convey to a prospective new employer.
Weird Question 2: How many square feet of pizza are eaten in the U.S. each year?
Good answer: “Well, if there are about 300 million people in the country, and maybe each person eats about 3 slices of pizza a week, that’s about 154 slices a year. If 4 slices represent a square foot, that would be about 38 square feet of pizza, so a rough estimate would be about 11.4 billion square feet.”
This example, taken from interview questions by Goldman Sachs, was cited on a recent Yahoo article. Regardless of how close your answer is to the truth, the key to answering the question is showing that you can approach the problem logically, make reasonable calculations and arrive at an answer that makes sense. You should also ask appropriate questions for clarity, if necessary. Thinking out loud demonstrates your thought process and problem-solving skills, which is what is most valuable on the job.
Bad answer: “I have no idea. Maybe a billion. Why is it relevant?”
If you don’t even try, you’re missing the point of the question, which is not to come up with the right answer as much as it is to demonstrate your ability. It’s also disrespectful to blow off the question like it doesn’t matter.
If you ever come across a strange interview question, don’t get caught on your heels. A thoughtful response can help you stand out above other candidates.