How many traffic lights are in London? Amazingly, that is a genuine question being asked in job interviews right now. James Reed, Chairman of REED, completed extensive research by asking thousands of recruiters and employers their favourite interview questions, but not just any questions – questions they’ll be asking in 2015. He then ran workshops up and down the country with specialist consultants asking their view on how people should respond to these questions, and the results were interesting. Cue his latest book: ‘Why you? 101 interview questions you’ll never fear again‘.

Reed found that over half of jobseekers leave interviews feeling like they were under-prepared. He separated the book into the ’6 Cs’: “The classic questions, career goal questions, character questions, competency, curveball and creativity.” It was the curveball questions that interested us the most: ‘What would you guess is the most searched-for phrase on YouTube?’.

What’s the point of curveball questions?

“Interviewers ask them for a variety of reasons, and dare I say it, one of those reasons might be to have a bit of fun,” James says. “The curveball questions are designed to put you under pressure, because you don’t know what you’ll do until you are put under pressure.”

But fear not, as he adds: “Not even the best candidates should hope to get through an interview without being totally stumped at least once. Your interviewer is not necessarily looking for a right answer, instead they’re looking for you to go down in flames with a certain degree of élan.”

James tells us that understanding the ‘reasoning’ behind these crazy questions is the key to discovering what you’re actually being asked. “Often, employers will want you to be creative on the spot, such as by asking offbeat and outwardly useless questions like ‘If you could be any type of biscuit , which would it be?’ Impersonating a biscuit won’t get you a job, but the sort of person who can riff and improvise around abstract subjects just might.”

His advice? Don’t let the weirdness throw you! “Roll with the punches and have fun, but remember that you are still in an interview. If you can work out what is really being asked of you, you’re halfway there. It’s not so much getting the answer right but more importantly taking it in the right spirit and demonstrating your calmness and creativity.”

Five interview questions and examples

So to help you with the wacky questions that throw you off your game, here’s some advice on how to answer them with the real questions in italics next to them. “We’re thrown curveballs in life all the time, but the key is how to handle it.”

If you were an animal, what would you be? [How do you respond when you haven't had the chance to rehearse an answer]

There’s loads of variations to this question but basically, they are supposed to “rattle you out of simply reciting the canned answers you have prepared for the interview,” James says. “The simple purpose is to see how well you deal with it, and how you respond to something that is out of the ordinary. ‘There is no right answer”, he adds. But getting uncomfortable and awkward won’t do you any favours. Pause, think about your response, and try and say something related to your personality and career.

Every CV has at least one lie in it, what’s yours? [Are there actually any untruths lurking on your CV?]

Of course there aren’t any lies in your CV, but this suggestive question might make you think there should be. And if there are lies on your CV, you’ve got yourself into a pretty awkward situation. James says you could try something like “well it says under hobbies that I enjoy keeping fit, but that might be stretching the truth slightly!”.

Where did you last go on holiday? [Will I like chatting with you around the water cooler every day?]

“Just because a question isn’t hard-hitting, doesn’t mean it’s not important,” he adds. Interviewers also want to know your personality, as well as the skills and experience you have for the job, so although it might sound like small talk, it’s relevant small talk. Give an honest answer, but don’t ramble on.

What would you guess is the most searched phrase on YouTube? [How do you handle uncertainty? And can I get you to say something ill-judged?]

Avoid the taboo topics that come into your head straight away. “All you have to do is mention something innocuous, and then follow it up by saying that you’re not exactly sure but you are confident you could find out.”

Aren’t you over qualified for this job? [Are you going to get bored and jump ship in a few months when something better comes along?]

This might be familiar to those who have degrees and qualifications, but can’t find work. Whether it’s a ‘job for now’ or one which requires no qualifications, bottom line is you probably actually want it if you’re at the interview. “You have to tell them a convincing story about why you really do want this job and offer them a motivation they can believe in.” In short: what is it about the role/company/industry that you really like?

You’ll have to buy the book if you want to actually read all 101 questions and be super prepared…

Photo Credit: William Warby

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