I’ll never forget one of the first interviews I experienced as a young job seeker.
I had applied for a job as a presenter of employment workshops designed for teenagers. During the interview, a member of the selection committee asked me: Mathieu, in your opinion, what is a young person?
What’s a young person? Uh… Umm…
I was asking myself: is the interviewer waiting for a generic answer along the lines of “Young person: The definition is a young person is a person who is not advanced in age.”
Or maybe she’d rather hear a poetic response: For me, young people represent the cradle of our civilization – they are the fertilizer of our future.
I didn’t know and, in any case, I didn’t get the job. When I didn’t, I asked myself if it was because I blew this cursed question.
The destabilizing technique
The Crazy Question can take several forms, but a few common examples include:
- If you were the prime minister of Canada, what would you do?
- Tell me a bit about a game that you enjoyed playing as a child.
- Here’s a pen. I want you to sell it to me.
No matter what form it takes, the Crazy Question is designed to mentally bring the candidate far away from the formal discussion of a job interview.
Questions like these allow an interviewer to evaluate, in real time, the capacity of a candidate to adapt to unexpected developments, a skill that is particularly useful in positions that involve interaction with the public.
If a candidate is paralyzed by a Crazy Question and has no idea how to respond to one, an interviewer may take that as a sign that the candidate has trouble dealing with surprises. Oppositely, if the candidate reacts with interest and finds a way to answer an unexpected question with a sense of humor, the job seeker can turn the Crazy Question to their advantage.
In most cases, a recruiter shouldn’t judge a candidate too harshly if they fail to answer a Crazy Question with aplomb. The Crazy Question should be considered an opportunity for the candidate to gain some extra points, not to lose any they’ve already won.
Personally, when I interview candidates, I avoid asking them questions that are too crazy, since doing so risks poisoning the dialogue we’re having. Some of them might say: This recruiter is weird. Did he just escape from an asylum?
Or worse, they may think: This guy is asking me strange questions to be cruel.
Either way, the candidate will be on their guard throughout the interview, which is not what I want at all.
Sometimes, however, I end up asking questions that may come across as crazy on first glance. For example, if a candidate tells me that they love literature, I may ask them to tell me about a book they particularly enjoyed, since I’m also a lover of books.
A question like this can allow me to see a candidate’s passion more clearly and to learn about their ideas and perspectives, in a much more effective way than by asking standard interview questions.
Sadly, however, some candidates freeze up when asked unconventional questions because it makes them uncomfortable to go “outside the boundaries” of a typical job interview.
How to respond to a Crazy Question
I once had a client who told me about a question they were asked during an interview. It was:
“If you were a fruit, which fruit would you be?”
My client replied: “A kiwi, because I’m hairy.”
In one sense, he aced the question with a funny and spontaneous response. On the other hand, I doubt that the interviewer could do much with this answer in terms of evaluating the person’s candidacy.
Ideally, the candidate could have started their response in the same way that they did, to get a smile. Humor is always welcome in a response to a Crazy Question.
“I’d say I’m a kiwi. At first, I wanted to say that I chose this fruit because I’m hairy…”
At this point, he could have gone deeper with his response, in order to support his candidacy for the position:
“…But I’d rather say that the kiwi is delicious to taste, just like me. I like to entertain people and to make them laugh. Kiwis are also packed with nutritional value, in particular vitamin C. Similarly, I know how to bring constructive ideas to the table that nourish the whole team.”
Keep in mind that your answer shouldn’t be too long – don’t go into a 30-minute story about how you’re a kiwi.
The difficult part about preparing oneself for Crazy Questions is that it’s impossible to know what form the question will take. This is by design: the power of the question lies in its’ inability to be prepared for. For example, if you equip yourself with a nice answer about what fruit you are, but the interviewer instead asks you which tropical animal you would be – what will you do then?
This is why it’s always a good idea to develop your capacity for improvisation. The best way to prepare for the unexpected is to be constantly sharpening your spirit.
Personally, I find watching certain talk shows to be helpful in this regard.
The talk show host Jimmy Fallon often asks his guests Crazy Questions, or invites them to play absurd games. In general, his guests demonstrate how to have a good repartee without taking yourself too seriously. These types of interviews may be a good source of inspiration for job seekers, since they differ so greatly from the typical job interview.
In an interview, remember that every question serves a purpose. When you find yourself thrown off by a question, ask yourself what the intention of it is. The answer should help point you in the right direction.
By: Mathieu Guénette, Guidance Counsellor at Les Chercheurs de sens