Most job seekers are familiar with the type of questions they make be asked in an interview. Recruiters want to know about your background, education, experience and skills, and how these traits will be utilized in the new position. They may ask you to respond to hypothetical situations to see how you process information and formulate solutions. Applicants can prepare for these questions by identifying stories that illustrate their most marketable qualities and by conducting mock interviews with a friend. However, there is one type of question that seems impossible to prepare for. The unexpected queries often called “wild card” questions can throw you off balance and leave you tongue-tied. But while you may not be able to anticipate which wild card question you may be asked, most generally fall into certain categories that you can be prepared for.

What Kind of Person Are You?

Many offbeat questions are designed give the interviewer insight into your personality. For one thing, the way you respond to any unexpected question tells them a lot about your grace under pressure. Don’t roll your eyes, huff or stammer. Treat it like a normal interview question. You might be asked some variation of the following:

  • Do you prefer cats or dogs?
  • If you were a color (vehicle, ice cream, animal, Star Wars character, etc.) which would you be?

    • Which super power would you like to have?

    Remember, you should never give a one-word answer. Use the implied “why” to illustrate a characteristic that makes you a good employee. If asked whether you prefer cats or dogs, don’t say that you prefer dogs because you are allergic to cats. Instead, you might tell the interviewer that you prefer dogs because, like you, they are loyal, energetic and goal oriented. Your response to this unexpected question might include a relevant anecdote. You might say, “My dog can be relentless because he will bring me his ball over and over until I agree to play fetch, but I admire that. It reminds me of the time I had a difficult sale to make and I kept at it until I got the response I was looking for.”

    How Creative Are You?

    Other questions test your creativity and ability to think on your feet. Examples include:

  • Can you list five alternate uses for a stapler that is out of staples?

  • What would you do if you were transformed into a frog?

  • If your car came to life and began kicking puppies, what would you do?

    These questions really ask you to think on your feet and deal with unexpected situations. Some ask you to consider a world that has changed drastically. You can use these questions as an opportunity to illustrate your adaptability. You might share an anecdote about a time when the goal of a project suddenly shifted and you had to change the focus of your team to accommodate it. Others ask you to think outside the box and offer you the opportunity to illustrate your ability to come up with ideas beyond the obvious. Try to share a story of a time when you faced a problem that required an innovative solution.

    How Do You Solve Problems?

    Some questions let a recruiter see your problem solving skills in action. You might be asked:

  • How many bicycle repair shops are there in Japan?

    • How many beach balls would fit in this room?
    • How would you move Mt. Rushmore?

    At first glance these questions may seem not only unexpected but impossible to answer, and if taken literally, they probably are. But the interviewer doesn’t really want to know how many beach balls would fill the room. He or she wants to know how you approach a difficult task. Will you declare it impossible and give up? This is not likely to improve your chances of getting the position. Instead, you could begin by asking questions. It’s always a good idea to get more information before tackling a big problem. You could also share any background knowledge you have that might be relevant. You might point out obstacles to filling the room with beach balls, and suggest solutions. You could break the problem into smaller chunks. Whatever you do, remember that the point of these wild card questions is to demonstrate how you tackle a challenge.

    The prospect of answering an unexpected interview question makes many candidates panic, but once you understand the motivation behind these queries you can actually prepare for them. Remember that every question you are asked is an opportunity to illustrate your most employable traits.

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