Careers advice > Answer unexpected interview questions

Answer unexpected interview questions

Business chair in a spotlight

While many interview questions can be predicted, some come at you completely out of the blue. For example: Is a Jaffa cake a cake or a biscuit? How far is the sun from the earth? Really!

We explain how to tackle these interview toughies



Why do employers ask ‘weird’ questions?

Interview questions usually try to work out whether or not you can actually do the job; however, some interviewers come up with very strange questions to see how people cope with them (or, if they’re honest, interviewers get bored and want to spice things up!).

These questions don’t help them to see how well you’ll do the job, but they can show them how you react when you’re thrown into the deep end...


Some unusual interview questions:

Some odd questions are actually closely linked to the job, others are designed to test your unflappability…

How would you sell me this paperclip?

If the job you’re interviewing for is about selling, this question is predictable. If you are up for a role that needs you to think on your feet, be ready to sell something (go quickly for the benefits and how owning the paperclip can improve life for the buyer) or argue a case.

What’s 12.5% of £50,000?

If the job you’re going for requires maths skills, be prepared for some mental arithmetic.

How many light bulbs are in this building?

If you are asked to make calculations under pressure it is the thought process that counts, and an intelligent approximation rather than an exact figure is acceptable.

Fortunately, questions like this are rare. Far more common are standard difficult interview questions like ‘what are your weaknesses’ or competency based questions. For example, if you’e up for a hotel receptionist job, you might have to answer a question on how would you handle an angry customer who refuses to pay his bill?

Fantasy questions

These are different because they are unrelated to the real world of work…

What three things would you take on a trip to Mars?

Designed to see what kind of person you are and if you’re practical.

Which famous person would you love to have dinner with?

This is usually a throwaway question at the end of the interview, which is supposed to test something of your personality.

Don’t freeze up!

So, how are you going to tackle these questions? They are usually impossible to predict but never fear, here are some tried and tested techniques for handling oddball questions...


  • If you are going for a job involving any kind of creativity, prepare for questions like these.

  • Practise the answers you would give to the questions set out in this article.

  • If you are given a difficult but serious question, ask for it to be repeated, then take your time thinking through your answer.

  • If you’re asked to calculate something, take a moment and don’t blurt out the first answer.

  • Don’t get flustered, because the only wrong answer is where you freeze like a rabbit in the headlights.

  • Don’t take the question too seriously. A witty, light response works best.

  • If nothing else, say ‘As I’ll probably think of a great answer on the way home, can I email you later?’

As with the opening of an interview, work hard on keeping a good relationship with the interviewer. Whatever you do, SMILE!


John Lees is the author of How To Get A Job You’ll Love.

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