Your outfit’s planned, you’ve researched the role and rehearsed the questions you’re likely to be asked about it – so you’re all ready for that job interview, right?
Well, I’ve got bad news – interviewers are increasingly asking more tricky, curveball posers that seem impossible to prepare for, like: ‘How many bicycles are there in Paris?’.
These apparently plucked-from-thin-air questions might make you think the interviewer is just being mean or trying to trip you up – but there’s a reason behind these tough conundrums.
Don’t panic! I’ll let you in on a secret - the interviewer doesn’t know the answer either. Instead, they want to understand more about what makes you tick, how you grapple with a problem under pressure and think laterally rather than trotting out answers you’ve learned off by heart.
It helps them understand more about the real you, your business acumen, knowledge of the role and industry, and the value you will add to their company.
I’m not saying that questions such as “Tell me about your greatest weakness,” aren’t going to be asked, but it’s a good idea to be prepared for these kind of curveballs.
Some of the toughest interview questions
So, ‘How many bicycles are there in Paris?’
This particular kind of question is known as a ‘market sizing’ one and is your chance to show how you can break a question down into parts, estimate reasonable values and that you’re enthusiastic about solving problems – so never say: “No idea – I’d just Google it”.
Make sure you talk through your reasoning as you get to your answer. Always lead with: “On the assumption that…”.
So your answer could go something like this. ‘On the assumption that Paris has a population of 2million’ (again, it doesn’t have to be totally accurate – it’s actually 2.3m) “and assuming that 15% are too young or too old to cycle, that leaves 1.7 million. Let’s presume that 20% of those are children, 50% of whom own a bike (340,000m x 50% = 170,000) and the remainder (80% of 1.7 million) are adults, 25% of whom own a bike (1.36m x 25% = 340,000). On the basis of these assumptions there would be (170,000 + 340,000) 510,000 bicycles in Paris.” Boom!
If you have no idea of the numbers or where to start, you can still answer market sizing questions with guesstimates. However, being able to make a relatively accurate initial assumption shows good general knowledge and commercial awareness.
‘Highlight two or three moments in your life that shaped who you are as a human being.’
Now, the interviewer doesn’t want a lengthy spiel listing your life story, they want to see your fit for the role and your more vulnerable, human side. Demonstrate your skill set and don’t forget to sell yourself.
‘What are the one or two traits from your parents that you most admire?’ ‘Who is your greatest influence’.
Whether its Beyoncé, Jesus or Richard Branson - think about the skills required for the job and show you have them. Highlight characteristics that really matter to you and to them. Be prepared to be probed on your answer.
‘What colour crayon would you be?’
Frame your answer in line with the job and the desired competencies. Perhaps something along the lines of:“Red, because I’m dynamic and hot when it comes to meeting deadlines” etc.
Where to start with your answers
• Practice: There are pages of these tough questions you can research online. You’ll soon get to grips with what they’re really asking, so you’ll be ready for this type of brain twister when the time comes.
• Prepare for the unexpected: Bear in mind your interviewer will have their own scenarios. The questions won’t necessarily be the same as the ones you’ve seen online.
• Stay calm. This applies to all job interviews, but it’s especially important to keep your cool when facing these more unusual questions which might make you emotional or require extra thought. You can always buy time with: “That’s an interesting question. Let me have a think.” The interviewer expects you to need a moment of contemplation and a good interviewer should allow it.
• Think about the skills required in the role: These questions aren’t asked randomly - the interviewer wants to see if you’re a good fit. Be true to yourself whilst shaping your answer accordingly.
• Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You may need clarification, you may need to buy time, but either way, the interviewer is not only listening out for your answer but also your critical thinking to reach it.
Believe it or not, interviews featuring these brain teasers can be fun if approached with the right attitude. Always be solution focused and don’t be afraid to show a sense of humour – sometimes, that is what the interviewer is actually looking for! Like anything in life, the more prepared you are, the more confident you will be. So do your research, take a deep breath and get ready with your killer answers!