Comebacks to Curly Questions in Job Interviews

I can recall many years ago being asked in a job interview, “If you were a car, which car would you be and why?” As I glanced out the window, buying time, I remember firstly trying to work out which car and secondly, and more importantly, wondering how my answer would provide any insight into whether I was capable of doing the job I was being interviewed for. As it turns out the question is actually designed to ascertain the cultural fit as well the competency of a candidate.

So how do you correctly respond to questions of this nature and what other curly cues do interviewers use to glean the suitability of candidates?

Let’s firstly address the car question:

“‘If you were a car, which car would you be and why?”

Unlike my response, which needless to say didn’t get me the job, the right answer to this question shouldn’t involve a $400 van that you lived in for twelve months, nor should it be based on Jeremy Clarkson’s latest review on Top Gear. Your answer should rather be based on the requirements of the job you’re applying for. The car you choose should also align with the culture of the organisation and the characteristics of the respective industry. For example, a job in a fast-paced industry where quick thinking is critical could be likened to a sports car – a prestigious, client-facing role, where aesthetics matter could be something classic and sophisticated, perhaps an Aston Martin. A Jeep might be appropriate if you’re pitching your athleticism, willingness to get your hands dirty and ability to handle all terrains. Whereas a job centred on reliability and practicality, or perhaps even safety, is better reflected by a Volvo. 

How about, “If you were a brand, which brand you would be?”

This is another question related to selling your personality. Are you a brazen and bold brand like Redbull? Ethical and socially conscious like Toms, or trusted and stable like O’Neill? In response to this question, it’s good idea to choose a well-known, respected brand or an industry leader, just make sure it still honestly reflects you and again, is aligned with the role you’re going for. Although your intention may be to take a tongue-in-cheek approach, you should avoid brands that can polarise or put off potential employers – anything associated with sexism, politics, child labour etc. are no-go’s. Similarly, you may have to tackle, “If you were a piece of fruit, what would you be?”, “What animal would you be?” and, “If you were a colour, what colour would you be?” While employers like to see you that you have a sense of humour be weary of venturing down any path that may infer anything offensive or inappropriate – especially if you’re likening yourself to a banana or cucumber (no explanation needed) or nominating a dog because you’ve been described as a bitch.

“Who are your role models?”

To answer this one, think about people who embody qualities that you admire and that would be most valued in the position you’re applying for. Your response doesn’t have to be based on a real person or a well-known celebrity or public figure, you just need to explain why you regard the person you’ve chosen and how they have influenced or inspired you. Bear in mind you should focus on the positive qualities and how they relate to the job. Nominating Eddie Aikau because he’d insanely charge waves no one else dared and brazenly performed rescues without a lifejacket may be perceived as valuing recklessness and risk taking. Whereas highlighting that he served as the first lifeguard of Waimea Bay, braving waves that often reached 30 feet high, and that he saved more than 500 people, better indicates a value for courage, community-mindedness and determination.

“What are your new year's resolutions?”

If you’re asked this question you can assume that the interviewer isn’t really that interested in your goal of tackling Shipsterns this year or your resolve to get your hands on a custom nickel-plated Newson, Brewer and McNamara board. What they are hoping to gauge is your ability to set goals and objectives and your focus in working towards achieving them. It’s useful in any interview to be armed with a good response to this question, which can take various guises, including the, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and “What’s in your three-year plan?” Identify areas for opportunity and think about two to three short and long-term goals that relate to your career and professional development and highlight your future ambition.

“If you only had three months to live, what would you do with the time?”

Despite the apparent morbidity, this question is also related to goals and your current motivations and aspirations. A good answer will provide insight into your immediate priorities and what you’d like to achieve in life. Given the nature of the question it’s also intended to throw you a little and thus tests your ability to think on your feet and respond under pressure. Resist the temptation to divulge your dream of barrelling your way through a drug-induced haze in Sri Lanka for three months, instead focus on what you would want to achieve in life, particularly in your career, perhaps what you’d like to have contributed to the world and how you want to be remembered. This gives prospective employers a good indication of your values, your ambitions and how much importance you place on your career as well as other aspects of your life including your family, your health and the community.

So, while many of these questions may sound more like something you’d face at a speed-dating event rather than in a job interview, you should view them as an open invitation to get creative and showcase your unique selling points. Use these curly questions as a chance to share aspects of your personality, which you think the employer would be impressed by, and that you may not have had the opportunity to illustrate in responding to more traditional interview questions.

Posted by: Jaclyn Knight, on December 3, 2014
Categories: Articles