Maybe you get a “normal” interview, full of questions like “What are your strengths?” or “How do you like to unwind?” Maybe you have to come up with a solution to a hypothetical or real problem.
But a standard interview isn’t a given anymore. With so many applicants and with money and time on the line, recruiters and hiring managers have more pressure to “hire right” the first time around. And how do they make sure that they get the right person? By thinking outside the box. Now anything goes in the interview process; it’s like the Wild Wild West out there.
There’s of course no way to prepare for the quirky interview—they’re trying to catch you in an unprepared moment. They want to see how you react. Or they’re trying to show what a great interviewer they are by creating a “gotcha” moment (one of my pet peeves). Over my years of helping people find their dream job, I’ve come across some, um, interesting interview scenarios.
Homework—One client was asked to read two books on leadership before their next interview. While the interviewers promised her that she didn’t have to read them entirely and produce annotations, that’s a big request with a significant time commitment.
Works Well with People—Some companies want to see how you react around others, so they’ll either do panel interviews (not so weird) or group interviews with other candidates (a little stranger). One client had to play an escape room–style board game with two interviewers and another interviewee!
Performance—These will look different depending on your profession. Some interviewees have to come with a prepared presentation or PowerPoint, perhaps for the team or a potential client. Others have been asked to prepare a marketing, business, or sales plan. Sometimes these performances don’t require prep work but rather are timed case studies: An interviewer gives a sample situation and asks for your hypothetical response. In a perfect world, these scenarios would all be hypothetical. Otherwise, the interviewee often feels like he or she is giving away free consulting advice.
And then there are the Weird Questions—How many gas stations are in the United States? That one is from Google. Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses? from Whole Foods. How would you sell hot cocoa in Florida? from J.W. Business Acquisitions. How many basketballs would fit into this room? or Dawn or Dusk? Hopefully they only ask you questions that are relatively related to your field! The purpose of these questions isn’t to keep the interviewer entertained but to have you describe your thought process so they gain insight about your problem-solving style.
Personality—Some interviewers want to know a little more about your personality—information that can’t exactly be discovered during an interview—so they ask you to take a personality or psychological profile test. You know, like a Meyers-Briggs or the Big Five. Some other ones that have crossed my path are the Caliper Profile, the Hogan Personality Inventory, and the SHL Occupational Personality Questionnaire. Consider trying out a free version of these beforehand so you’re not surprised by the findings. Though keep in mind, there is substantial backlash from the psychology community when it comes to these tests, one famously calling them “an act of irresponsible armchair philosophy.” So keep in mind that these tests don’t seal your fate!
Unnecessarily Aggressive—One client who had been working as a temp for one company was asked during an interview by another company, “If you’re so great, why haven’t you been hired at your company yet?” Yikes. Not sure I’d want the interview to continue!
Games—One company has the interviewees play a game of ping pong after an interview. Not to test their skills at the game but to see how they behave when either winning or losing.
A little side note: If you ever get “ghosted” by interviewers (meaning they never get back to you with a rejection), it happens to everyone. I swear! If you don’t hear back from someone, know that, for 99.99 percent of the times, it has nothing to do with you and that you’re not alone.
The takeaway from this list is not to panic or swear off finding a new job ever again. It’s more to educate you on the various styles of interviewing that can occur. Even if there’s no way to prep, it’s still good to be aware of the possibilities.
Bottom line: you can only prepare so much—just show up and do your best.