Another kind of interview stress is exemplified by this scene: You’re in a job interview. Everything is going better than you imagined it could. You look professional and fabulous. You are totally prepared. You are on a roll. You’re nailing every interview question. You feel wonderful rapport with your interviewer. Suddenly, out of the blue she asks you:
“Imagine you could trade places with anyone for just a week. The person could be famous or not famous, living or from history, real or fictional. With whom would you trade places?”
It’s all you can do to keep your jaw from dropping. You’re stunned. You feel your mouth drying up and sweat forming on your forehead. Your head is spinning, and your mind is a blank. You’re thinking, why in the world is she asking me this absurd question?
Welcome to the world of the off-the-wall interview question — weird, wacky, gimmicky, and off-beat “wild card” questions that seem to have nothing to do with your ability to handle a job. If they’re irrelevant to job performance, why do employers ask them?
They want to see how well you can think on your feet. They want to see if you’ll get rattled. They may want to test your creativity or sense of humor. They want to challenge you. Employers who ask these goofy questions no doubt may feel the questions do relate to job performance. In creating stress by asking you a weird question, the interviewer may be testing how well you’ll respond to the stress of the workplace.
And let’s face it; job-seekers have vast resources at their disposal in the form of books, articles, and Web sites on how to respond to traditional and even those tricky behavioral interview questions. So interviewers sometimes want to lob a curve ball at you by asking a question that you probably didn’t prepare for. In his book,College Grad Job Hunter, Brian Krueger calls these question “dumb” questions, whose purpose, Krueger writes “is to get past your pre-programmed answers to find out if you are capable of an original thought.”
Of course, we won’t refute the possibility that some employers may just be sadistic and want to see you squirm, or they relish the amusement of seeing how you’ll answer an oddball question.
Because an off-the-wall question can be virtually anything, they are nearly impossible to prepare for. Still, some, like the question about being/meeting/dining with a famous person, have been around for awhile and are worth preparing an answer for — just in case.
The key to responding to an off-the-wall question is not to let it rattle you. Don’t adopt a deer-in-the-headlights look if you get hit with one of these funky queries. Simply smile, take a deep breath, and take a moment to compose your response. A little bit of silence is better than blurting out something even sillier than the question. You don’t have to brilliant. You don’t have to be witty. Just be yourself and give an honest response. If worse comes to worst, and you absolutely cannot think of an answer, ask if you can come back to that question later. You may lose a few thinking-on-your-feet points, but you’ll gain points for handling a difficult situation with poise.