So your job interviewer just hit you with a question that came totally out of left field. Maybe it was “What would you do to survive a zombie apocalypse?” or “What’s your spirit animal?” You didn’t expect that one, did you? The interviewer is likely just checking for a personality and a pulse behind your resume and how you react on the spot. That’s okay, though, because there’s an easy formula to constructing your answer.
Here’s a foolproof way to answer any “trick” question and leave the interviewer feeling impressed with your sense of humour and composure:
Break down the question
Don’t panic! Keep your cool and take your time to think about the question. Break it down briefly in your mind. Give a little “Wow, haven’t heard that one before!” with a confident smile, buying yourself some time contemplating what the question is truly asking.
An off-the-cuff and wacky interview question is designed to push you out of your comfort zone. Interviewers know you’ve been preparing for this chat for days and they want to see the real you. How do you perform under stress? How do you deal with an unexpected situation? Do you have a sense of humour and a good vibe? Most importantly, how do you process ideas on the fly?
So, quickly consider the question and break down exactly what the interviewer is asking. Is she asking you for a more complex understanding of statistics principles, or guesses and simple napkin math based on logical inferences? Is she asking you to pick an animal that you think resembles your nature (cunning like a snake, looking for the clever solution, or focused like a dog after a bright yellow tennis ball) or to break the ice with a fun introductory question where the answer doesn't matter? It's all probably simpler than your first instinct might lead you to believe.
(Fun note: Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes asked his executive assistant the spirit animal question and she answered “duck” - calm above water, but with webbed feet working hard beneath the surface).
Got that down? Great! Now start talking.
Run through it step-by-step
The best way to approach the question is to talk through your thoughts. You’ll want to show your logic and reasoning in a way that is easily digestible by the interviewer. Go through your solution step by step and out loud.
You’re in a zombie apocalypse, so your first bet might be to go it alone. After all, resources will be scarce and you can’t risk having to provide for others, right? But it’s easier to cope with the stresses and dangers of post-apocalyptic life with a good group of friends at your side, so you might try to join up with others.
Explain your reasoning. Going it alone because you work well when you can move at your own pace? Prefer to join a group and take a leadership role in helping everyone survive? You don’t have to go overboard with your answer and provide every detail. Just provide enough to answer the question, show off some effort, and pique the interviewer’s interest.
Add some style
Along the way, add some personality and humor to your answer! This is an opportunity to show either a warm personality or a creative edge. Don’t just leave your answer at “My spirit animal is a bear.” Add a bit of flair. What kind of bear? What's the bear doing? Why?
A silly question is an interviewer’s way to get to know you beneath the highly practiced and polished look of your interview face. Open up and let your personality shine through - it’s both expected and desired.
Part of determining cultural fit involves the interviewer deciding if they’d be willing to work with you every single day. That involves having a relationship beyond the professional and into the personal. This is a great way to tell the interviewer that you’re a genuinely great person to be around. You don't have to be a comedian out there -- just show a friendly face. Take advantage of that opportunity.
Ask your own follow-up question
A great way to wrap up is to ask for some of the zany and interesting answers that the interviewer has heard from other candidates. It’ll be a nice and fun way to continue bonding over the question. You can even go beyond that and counter back with the same question. It’ll be your opportunity to get to know the person beneath the hiring manager facade.
However you decide to answer an unexpected question, just remember that it’s not a high-stakes, right-or-wrong-answer question. Be patient, take your time, and have fun with it! After all, it’s just as silly an interview question to the person on the other side of the table.