10 Job Interview Questions (and Answers) You Won't See Coming

Photo Credit: © contrastwerkstatt / Adobe Stock

By Sarah Landrum

READ MORE: Career advice, Job search, New job

The job search for your dream job is over. You found a position that aligns with your long-term career goals, and the job description fits you perfectly. But you know that a lot of people with varying goals and work experience from previous jobs will also apply, and employers will only be interviewing for the best candidates. But you don't do well at interviewing; you might even feel like it's your greatest weakness in the whole process — but you don't want employers to know that.

We've all had a friend or loved one grill us with common job interview questions until we felt absolutely ready to ace the interview. But what about the uncommon, bizarre questions? There are interviewers out there who will throw shockers at you to see how you think on your feet.

Did the interviewer sense your confidence in your thorough responses? Did they use a strange app that generates randomized interview questions and is basically designed to make you sweat and stutter? It certainly feels that way when you’ve engaged and intrigued everyone so far, but out of nowhere comes a left-field interview question, and you’re under pressure to hit it out of the park quickly.

When taken by surprise with weird interview questions, how do you keep your cool as a candidate? But before we dive in, it's important to know the different types of interviews employers will have, because a good answer that shows off your strengths and work experience from your last job might vary depending on the interview.

There are phone interviews, second interviews, HR interviews, informational interviews, panel interviews and group interviews — there are many types of interview questions, then, that interviewers will throw at you to determine if you're a good fit. There are some direct, basic types of questions that probe candidates into talking about specific skills or experiences that fit the job description and show that they're right for the career. And these are usually easy to prepare for, even if the hire manager does toss tough question after tough question in there.  

But not all interviews will ask basic questions about your skills and whether or not you're a team player. You might not be walking into a common interview with common interview questions. Here are 10 unique job interview questions with which the employer may surprise you — and how to answer them.

1. What if you came into work and had 5,000 emails but could only respond to 50?

Those are random numbers that came out of nowhere. However, this question epitomizes how you could feel in the daily life of the role for which you're interviewing, as endless emails will come in and you'll be pressed for time.

How do you determine which are priority emails and why? While you may waste hours reading emails, clearly you need a system. This would include setting up rules in Gmail or Outlook, which lets you categorize if emails are simply sales made and what categories are "action" items. What's your process?

2. What are you currently reading?

While you may expect this question of a newspaper hiring a journalist, interviewers in various industries ask prospective candidates this question to get into insight into their personalities and determine if they're a potential fit for the company culture.

Don't be tempted to lie with an impressive example you’ve read from classic literature but may not remember as well as you think. The interviewer may catch you in the lie as you struggle with follow-up questions, and if they're familiar with the book, you're doomed. While an insightful, classic book may seem like a great go-to, it doesn't answer the question of what you're currently reading.

You can admit that you're re-reading the Harry Potter series again, or whatever else you may be reading. Just make sure you have a solid answer ready. Tell the interviewer that you admire Harry for being plunged into a world he knows nothing about and approaching it with wonder and initiative. You don't have to be ridiculously insightful with a book or character analysis, but do add what's caught your attention this time around and why. Let the interviewer see your personality and how that informs your ability to interpret what you've read.

3. How would previous coworkers describe you?

Don't toot your own horn. Answer realistically and choose qualities or personality traits that would contribute to the role and the company culture.

You could say this: "My coworkers would describe me as eager to work. When faced with a challenging situation, I'm known to lift the mood in a room and find a positive solution. Even when I make a mistake, to me, hard work is a process of working out a problem and learning how to do better."

4. What did you eat for breakfast two days ago?

While an interviewer may ask you what you had for breakfast this morning, a mischievous interviewer will throw you for a time loop. What about two days ago? Were you so busy that you forgot?

Asking about breakfast informs the company of your daily routine and if you even have one. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, since it kickstarts your metabolism and gives you energy for the day ahead. Even if the interviewer doesn't agree with your routine, the fact that you make a quick cup of coffee and grab a power bar shows that you know you need to fuel yourself and arrive at work on time.

5. If you were a super hero, what would be your super power?

You've known this answer since you were a child, and the typical response would be something like invisibility or flying. There's nothing wrong with those answers, but have you thought about it more deeply? What are your strengths and talents?

Can you talk strangers down when they're upset? That shows you have an empathetic nature and care about the common man. Are you the fastest coder on the West coast? Can you find lost keys like nobody's business? (Hint: Now is not the time to go into your ability to pick locks though.)

6. If you were stranded on a mountain, how would you survive?

When the going gets tough, especially at work, what do you do? Can you take initiative? What if you're the only one who can save the company?

They may give you a life-or-death situation with a rule of threes you need to follow in emergency survival situations. "You can survive without air for three minutes, shelter for three hours, water for three days and food for three weeks." This is a good place to start since it shows that you retain basic information and can retrieve it when you need to look for resources.

Can you breathe? Keep a cool head and look for ways to remedy the situation. Depending on the time of year and where you are, a mountain has plenty of resources to offer. Don't ramble on about possibilities. Instead, provide a solution. You can say: "Assuming it's getting cold, and I'm on the Appalachian Trail…" Feel free to give it perimeters, use the rule of threes and answer realistically.

7. What’s your “cue” song as you walk into a room?

So, you're a character on a TV show and a segment of a popular song cues you in. What is it? Why?

Be careful with songs such as Madonna's "Like a Virgin." If your interviewer has a sense of humor and it's really your song, go for it... But have a really creative and unique reason to back it up — perhaps because the potential of being chosen for this job makes you feel shiny and new. Yes, you can steal that.

8. How do you take your coffee?

Shouldn't management be asking you to write down how they take their coffee? What's with the interviewer wanting to know about your breakfast and coffee habits?

Your coffee (or tea) routine provides insight into your daily work routine and your personality. One observational survey of coffee consumers used science to analyze the relationship between how you take your coffee and how you present yourself to the world. Black coffee drinkers are straightforward and no-nonsense, for example, while someone who is very specific with their order may have perfectionist tendencies (or just know what they want).

Don't be surprised if the breakroom has exactly what you need. If this is the last question, don't assume anything just yet, but allow yourself a small cheer.

9. If you could eat dinner with three famous individuals, living or dead, who would you choose?

The goal of this question is to identify who inspires you and why, so consider their work over the course of their lives and how it motivated and influenced your professional growth.

If you chose Lada Gaga and are in the performance or fashion industry, you might say how her stage costumes are always unique and works of art in and of themselves.

If interviewing for a leadership position at a company, you could choose President John F. Kennedy, who believed that “the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” JFK advocated for courage over complacency and leadership over salesmanship.

Perhaps you choose famous people from various industries and ages for their impact over the course of your different life stages. Would you be more interested in the conversation than anything else? Why?

10. How would you fit 25 clowns into a clown car?

This is a very specific example of an uncommon interview question. But we'll give you a sample answer, don't worry. The answer could be as easy as, "Well, it's a clown car. So, it's like Doctor Who's Tardis — it's bigger on the inside." Your answer shows creativity and humor, but it lacks in how you weigh the logic.

As strange as this question is, the lightness of it may take your focus away from having to do a math problem and focus more on how you'd go about getting the information necessary to solve the issue. You'd need to determine how large the clown car is and how to safely seat the clowns, if safety matters, among other practical questions. Does the trunk count?

Unusual job interview questions of all kinds from an employer can throw you off as an eager candidate. While you've likely taken your time to prepare for the interview, a stumbling response to a left-field question will make you feel incompetent, shy and nervous.

Don't take 20 minutes, but let yourself breathe and think through the question. Remember that it's okay to ask the interviewer to repeat the question, give you an example or allow you a piece of paper to work it out. Sometimes, your instinct will give you a good idea with which to work, but you need to know why you're giving that answer to support what you're saying. It's also okay to ask questions yourself!

Unexpected interview questions will make you feel like you're being ambushed, but your answers should be as unique as you are — not filled with cookie-cutter responses that you think make you sound professional. Your employer and interviewer want to get to know who you are as a person and a professional, and uncommon questions are meant to shake up the process. It's a stressful situation, sure, but you can get through it.

Keep cool, wow your prospective employer, kiss the job search goodbye (finally!) and go get that offer!

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