Are offbeat interview questions the way to go?

by Miriam Bell14 Sep 2012

Most jobseekers would not mind being asked offbeat questions – which have very little to do with the role they are applying for – during their job interview, according to new UK research.

Apparently, some recruiters like to make use of “curveball” questions such as “How would you get an elephant into a fridge?” to test candidates’ ingenuity, lateral thinking, and ability to think on their feet, People Management UK reported. In fact, two in five (41%) of those surveyed said they had experienced such questioning at some point in their career.

Weird interview questions could not only spark interesting reactions from candidates but were a useful way for businesses to differentiate between candidates with similar qualifications and experience, Dean Ball from recruitment firm Michael Page [which conducted the research] said.

“They give candidates a chance to step outside the traditional boundaries of the interview process and demonstrate their creativity, ability to apply logic and how they work under pressure. Such questions can also provide a light-hearted moment… giving the employer a real chance to see a candidate’s personality and how they might fit into the company culture, so businesses shouldn’t shy away from them.”

If obscure questions were used correctly, they could help employers to build a clear picture of a candidate’s potential, so it was worth exploring how they might fit into assessment processes, Ball said. “They can sometimes take candidates by surprise though so make sure you take time to think carefully about the questions and what kind of response you are hoping to achieve.”

And, perhaps surprisingly, it seems that two-thirds of jobseekers (66%) would not only welcome such questions, but would feel confident in their ability to answer them, People Management UK reported.

However, 54% of those surveyed said they would be surprised to be asked such questions, while a third (33%) said they would either answer that they didn’t know or would challenge the relevance of the question.

Some examples of “curveball” questions were:


  • “Which three non-essentials would you pack on a trip to Mars?”
  • “Why are manhole covers round and not square?”
  • “Estimate the number of lightbulbs in this building”
  • “Which famous person would you most like to swap lives with for the day?”


Top Lighter Side

New names to old roles – how silly is too silly?
Middle Earth madness: Air NZ shoots hobbit-themed safety video
Over-used words of the workplace No.1: PERFECT


  • by Ross Clennett 14/09/2012 12:42:44 PM

    What a load of absolute tosh. How do these 'curveball' questions valid 'lateral thinking'? Is lateral thinking a core competency of the role in question? This is just amateur psycho-babble. Show me the validated research that this approach identifies the best person for the job.

    Frankly, it's just lazy interviewing dressed up a 'innovation' or 'creativity'.

  • by Pete 14/09/2012 1:02:51 PM

    I think the point you missed is that this technique could be used to differentiate between two candidates of similar abilities.

    It would come down to organisational fit, rather than just ability to do the job, which frankly isn't that important because most people who apply for jobs can generally do that job.

  • by Mark 14/09/2012 1:54:26 PM

    I've asked a few odd questions, just to make it interesting for myself. I asked one person to explain the duel nature of matter. He then started to tell me that matter exhibits both wave and particle like properties. I was impressed and he got the job as a Nurse.