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How to Answer Confusing Interview Questions

How to Answer Puzzling Interview Questions

What's up with kooky questions in unexpected places? From banks asking us about our favorite way to eat ice cream and interviewers asking what type of animal we'd like to be in another life, sometimes we're presented with questions that may feel undeserving of answers. Discriminatory interview questions involving family or religion can obviously be illegal, but did you know that simpler questions may be considered inappropriate, too?

Seemingly random questions can cross boundaries without the interviewer realizing they're being inappropriate. For example, an interviewer asking a candidate if her hair color is natural may pose problems. In a survey of job seekers and hiring managers, 43 percent of job seekers said asking questions unrelated to job skills is one of the most annoying aspects of an interview.

To find out how to deal with puzzling questions, please


What should you do if an interviewer asks you a convoluted question? A human resources consultant gave the Wall Street Journal the following suggestions.

  1. Take a moment and think about the motive behind the question.
  2. Ask clarifying questions in response to try and understand the interviewer's question and avoid giving an equally perplexing answer.
  3. If you know why they're asking the question, you have the option of deflecting it and giving them related information that doesn't directly answer the original question.
  4. You can refuse to answer the question, but that probably wouldn't raise your chances of getting the job.
  5. If an inappropriate question also seems illegal, you can choose to answer it or not. If you opt for the latter, try to cut the awkwardness by clarifying the question.


Join The Conversation
bobbyparsons bobbyparsons 8 years
Oh wow that was awesome. I love good advice on interviews. I practice all the time! Never hurts! I am still looking for trickier interview questions! If anyone has any lemmme know
stephiec274 stephiec274 9 years
thanks... i had an interview this week and these tips helped!
insanitypepper insanitypepper 9 years
I've been asked my age in a few interviews. I look younger than I am, and apparently that means I'm also somehow less qualified.
joy76 joy76 9 years
I got asked once in an interview what my ideal job would be, that is if I could do anything what would I do. It was an Analyst job in an investment bank. Honestly I was going to say have a boutique in an expensive area, and thought not! So I changed it by turning the key skill requirement for the job I applied for into the things I would like about my ideal job. I got called for a second interview but as credit crucnh will happen recruitment was frozen :-(
Kelly-O Kelly-O 9 years
You know, I don't think in all my years of employment I've ever been asked about tree preference, movies, or what condiment I would choose to be. Granted, I think it can be a little harder to honestly answer questions like "what did you like least about your last position" or "tell me a difficult situation and how you resolved it" without sounding like you're reading out of "Interviewing for Dummies."
Marci Marci 9 years
I got a job once because the man I interviewed with (who was also the President of the company and who I would directly report to) asked about my family and what everyone did for a living. He liked that the diversity of jobs was broad and said he felt it meant my mind was probably wide open to different types of people, which actually turned out to be critical in that job. So there you go.
smileyyy123 smileyyy123 9 years
I did alumni interviews for my university and one of the panel members asked this poor high school senior the refrigerator question. She started saying "I would be the light that comes on, because you don't know how valuable it is until it burns out.. but I'm not saying I would burn out in college. I really want to come here!" Ouch.
gigill gigill 9 years
The strangest question I was ever asked was "If you could be any item in a refrigerator, what would you be?" I said filtered water because it's fresh and essential, although I suppose filtered water isn't's just what I prefer. ;) Oh, and it was a job as a salesgirl at the Guess? store!?!? Random question, I know. I got hired but turned it down for a higher-paying job. Maybe they loved my water answer!
freegracefrom freegracefrom 9 years
Thank you, smileyyy! Learn something new everyday.
melizzle melizzle 9 years
I also got the manhole cover question once... I had no idea, so I said, "Because the holes are round." After I was hired, one of my interviewers told me that a big reason I was hired was because of my quick thinking in response to that question.
leeapeea leeapeea 9 years
cabaker - Try including that volunteer and consultant work in your resume. Interviewers will be more likely to accept that you look upon this work as a "career" than "stuff to do to occupy my time". This is a circumstance that a lot of stay at home parents have a problem with too. The goal is to convince them that you chose a non-traditional job, but still a job. You may actually have some luck with letting them know that your husband is in the USMC, as there can be some sympathy towards the armed forces. Happy hunting!
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
The hardest interview questions for me are the "Why have you been unemployed so long?" I've been out of a job for the past 3 years because my husband is in the USMC and we've moved every year. But I can't very well say that or they won't hire me at all. Even still, when I mention all the consultant work I've done, volunteer work I've done, and how I even turned some of my passions into a little money, I get the blank stare like "Yea, but you still didn't work". I know it sounds bad, but honestly I just stopped applying because its too hard to justify every choice I've had to make. Has this been addressed on Savvy yet? How to answer the "Why have you been out of work for so long?" question? Cuz I would love some ideas!
smileyyy123 smileyyy123 9 years
I just checked Wikipedia in case I was massively wrong - they gave a whole bunch of other reasons: *It's easier to dig a round hole (? isn't this in concrete?) *A dislodged rectangular lid would have corners that would be dangerous to car tires passing over it - circles have no corners *Circle manhole covers are easier to move b/c you can roll them etc.
hausfrau hausfrau 9 years
Regarding manhole covers, I think I speak for everyone when I say... "ohhhhhhhh"
smileyyy123 smileyyy123 9 years
Haha, manhole covers are round because they'll never "lose" their diameter - a circle is always a circle and the cover will never fall or be removed and put through the opening. If the covers were rectangular, you could remove them and slide it through on its side.
freegracefrom freegracefrom 9 years
Okay, I'm curious now. Why ARE sewer covers round? :) Interviews are the worst for me. I'd rather have a silly question like what tree would I be, rather than have to answer those dreadful sell-yourself-to-me questions.
ilanac13 ilanac13 9 years
i was asked 'if i was a tree what would i be' in an interview. it was funny because i have an easy answer for that one - my name means tree - and a really pretty one at that - so it's great :) i think that sometimes interviewers just like to throw you off and make it interesting.
ElissaM ElissaM 9 years
I've never had those type of questions. Answering about what type of animal or fruit you would be sounds easier than "describe a difficult situation with a co-worker and how you handled it".
SkinnyMarie SkinnyMarie 9 years
The round sewer covers thing I have gotten before. I answered it correctly and my future boss was shocked I knew it. I admitted that my grandpa asked me the same question 5 years before and taught me why. Besides that I haven't had too many weird questions. Always remember to ask them questions, and good ones. What is the businesses mission statement. Things you don't know about the company that you would want to learn that you couldn't get information about.
smileyyy123 smileyyy123 9 years
Yeah, Microsoft and loads of consulting companies ask the "consultant questions" - ex: how many gas stations are there in America? how many golf balls fit on a school bus? They don't care (much) about you getting exactly the right answer; they want to see how your mind works through the process and how you can explain your assumptions.
meumitsuki meumitsuki 9 years
When you interview at Microsoft, all they ask are random questions because they know you already have the "basics" they need. I got asked what flavor ice cream would I be and why are sewer covers round?
juju4 juju4 9 years
Wow, divinelight that is interesting! (I can't even think of my least favorite movie. I usually block them out!) I do think that sometimes interviewers just want the interviewee to "freestyle", and just speak your thoughts. I always small talk with applicants (the weather, etc.) just to get them talking and see if they are articulate and professional. That's another reason to ask open-ended questions. Sometimes people go into an interview with pre-programmed answers for questions that they have answered many times in many other interviews. It's important to know what they are like when they think on their feet.
eeeyore138 eeeyore138 9 years
The only thing I can think of is that certain companies might be testing your creativity or your ability to describe and "sell" your ideas.
divinelight divinelight 9 years
At the interviews we conduct in my office, we always ask what a person's favorite and least favorite movies are. They seem like pointless questions, but we always ask the person to convince us why we should see their least favorite movie. It's a great way to get a sense of someone's sales technique.
amers230 amers230 9 years
aljefferson and cubadog: those are great questions to ask during an interview. i have an interview on friday for a job i'm DYING to get, so if you have any other suggestions i'd love to hear them :)
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