As you interview for new jobs, you’re likely to face some questions that seem vague or particularly difficult to answer. Understanding how to prepare for tricky interview questions, riddles and logic puzzles can help you stand out from other interviewing candidates. In this article, we provide you with a selection of tricky interview questions as well as sample answers to help you practice for them.
Why do employers ask tricky interview questions?
Prospective employers ask tricky interview questions to understand the way you process information, communicate and make decisions under pressure. Tricky questions are those that may not pertain directly to the job or your work experience. They may include logic puzzles, hypothetical situations or discussions of your life and job search beyond the scope of the position for which you’re currently interviewing.
These questions serve an important purpose as they may help your employer understand your personality or identify soft skills that don’t always show up on a resume. Mind trick questions force you to abandon your rehearsed answers and think of original responses on the spot, which can sometimes say more about you than a well-rehearsed reply.
How to answer tricky interview questions
Preparing thoughtfully for your interview will help you handle tricky interview questions confidently. Follow these steps to answer tricky or strange questions in an interview:
1. Study for your interview
Look to online resources or ask others who have interviewed with the company about the process. Reviewing similar tricky questions ahead of time will help, even if the ones you encounter in your interview aren’t the same.
2. Listen to questions carefully
Listen patiently to the interviewer’s question. Allow time for the speaker to finish the entire question before you formulate a response. Before responding, repeat questions back as needed to show that you’re paying attention and confirm your understanding of the topic.
3. Ask questions when needed
Ask clarifying questions that will help you discover the purpose of complex questions. If you’re unsure about whether you’ve understood properly, rephrase the question and say, “Are you asking…?” to make sure you’re responding appropriately.
4. Talk out your thought process
Explain the math or logic you’re using for puzzles. If the question has a concrete answer, talking through the process will offer insights into your critical thinking skills that help justify your final response, even if it’s incorrect.
Discussing your thought process for subjective questions provides context that helps the interviewer understand why you chose your response.
5. Maintain your calm
Approach tricky questions with a ready smile and good humor. Nod your head to let the interviewer know you’re acknowledging the question and feel free to take a moment to think.
Sample tricky interview questions and answers
Review these sample questions to give you an idea of the tricky topics your prospective employers may mention and how you can answer:
1. Why are utility hole covers round?
This question tests your spatial reasoning and logic. There are a few specific points that answer this accurately. The right response lets your employer know you can assess objects in three-dimensional form. This question also gives your prospective employer a chance to see how you approach an unexpected challenge.
Example: “A round utility hole cover cannot fall through the hole, whereas a square cover could fall in if it were aligned diagonally. You can also roll a round cover to move it more easily, and placement is simpler because it doesn’t have to be aligned with corners.”
2. Where will you be standing at the office holiday party?
This tricky question helps the interviewer envision where your personality might fit in the overall landscape of the work environment. Your approach to a holiday party lets your prospective employer determine which position you might take on a team. An introvert is likely to be at a dinner table, while the extrovert will be on the dance floor. A follower might be at the back of a food line, while a leader will announce the raffle winners. Provide an answer that gives insight into your social strengths.
Example: “I would be handing out candy canes to get to know everyone there. At my previous job, I always made a batch of cookies for our last day in the office before the holiday break. I think small treats are a great way to create conversations and spread holiday cheer.”
3. What’s your dream job?
This question is tricky because an overly obvious response is to name the job for which you’re currently applying. However, suggesting another position could make it seem like you’re not serious about the current opportunity. Choose a response that demonstrates your desire to grow within the company. This gives your prospective employer some insights into your long-term career goals.
Example: “My dream job would be to climb from marketing agent to marketing manager, and have the opportunity to oversee the entire department. I’ve been attending seminars to improve my leadership skills for future opportunities in management.”
Related: How to Prepare for an Interview
4. You have a three-gallon jug and a five-gallon jug. How can you measure four gallons?
This obviously has a right and wrong answer, but you might find yourself stumped for a moment, particularly when you’re facing the pressures of the interview process. Think about how you would answer the question in the classroom. If necessary, ask for a pencil and paper or tools like paperclips to help you visualize the problem. This question helps the interviewer assess your math and critical thinking skills under pressure.
Example: “Fill the three-gallon jug and pour it into the five-gallon jug. Fill the three-gallon jug again and pour it into the five-gallon jug until it’s full. There should be one gallon remaining in the three-gallon jug. Empty the five-gallon jug and pour the one gallon into this. Refill the three-gallon jug, and after emptying it into the other one, you should have a total of four gallons.”
5. How does this job compare to the others you’re interviewing for?
This question is often used as a way to determine whether you’re applying for other jobs and where the current job ranks on your list of prospective positions. The question also tests your honesty and integrity. Provide an honest answer that’s somewhat vague in regards to company names and job titles. Mention a positive point about the job for which you’re currently interviewing.
Example: “I’ve applied for several similar positions, but I haven’t yet determined which one is the best fit. I like the cross-functional approach your team takes here and feel that my diverse skill set would be well-suited to that type of approach.”
6. If you were a tree, what species would you be and why?
Your interviewer may ask this question to get some unique insights into your personality and how you think. This question can also be framed as the flower, animal or bird that you’d like to be. Provide a thoughtful response that reveals one of your personality strengths.
Example: “I consider myself to be fairly strong yet flexible—able to withstand almost any storm—so I feel I’m most like a palm tree. Palm trees can also thrive in a variety of environments and seem like they could keep growing indefinitely, and I always strive for growth in my career.”
7. What’s your personal theme song?
The answer to this question can give your employer an idea of how you approach your job. Whether you come in with an energetic attitude or move through the day to a smooth classical song, your answer will give some insights into your personality on the job. Answer with a well-known song that includes lyrics you can relate to positively.
Example: “My personal theme song is ‘Taking Care of Business.’ I like to focus on getting things done, but I also enjoy what I’m doing and find it easy to rock through the workday with enthusiasm.”