Friday, March 15, 2013

Interview: My Take on Answering Oddball and Riddle Questions in the Interview Process


My Take on Answering Oddball and Riddle Questions in the Interview Process

Recently there has been a rise in the use of out-of-the-box thinking questions which I used to only find at larger corporate interviews a decade ago. Now there is even an article on the top questions.

The trick to answer these types of questions is very similar to the other questions in the interview that are not technical in nature. Although it may sound technical (a question that has a right answer), your answer should be based on what the interviewer is looking for.

I do not mean give the answer that will get you hired, but to understand the real question beneath the interview question. Is the interviewer looking for someone that is more forward-thinking, detail-oriented, or imaginative? How you answer the question should sell your views in what type of person they are seeking.

For interviewers, I find they use these questions because they are simple but have an infinite number of answers. Interviewers who are using the question to understand how you think will ask questions to either in attempts to focus your answer or challenge your thought process. Others who use the question as a warm-up question, as an ice-break, or to lighten the mood will be less attentive or allow you to answer in full. Once I recognize the latter, I will try to wrap up my answer as it would save us both time but more importantly the interviewer wants to move on with the interview process.

Before I start to answer, I like to ask questions but limit the number of questions. This means avoid asking for details if the interviewer knew that detail could answer the question themselves, do not be redundant with your questions, and stop asking a specific question if the interviewer has declined to respond. Stay positive and ask only questions that will greatly enhance your answer. Think out loud.

The only exception to this is if the interviewer is extremely detail oriented. They are usually very easy to identify because they are very meticulous in the order of questions, organized binders/folders/pens/resume, and very formal. In this case, you have the option to try to be also detail oriented.

If you are truly stumped by the question, all questions and problems can be broken into smaller manageable parts. For example, "how many windows in NYC" can be broken down to number of windows in a block then broken down to number of windows per building. Then build back up, take the number of windows per building multiply by number of buildings per block.

For extra bonus, prepare some short riddles of your own to ask. More likely than not, the interviewer also enjoys these types of questions. Be sure to be able to answer them though. I have withheld the answers for a day or two to let them think on them. That way they are forced to remember who I was so they can ask for the answer.

Unlike my reasons whether these types of questions should be asked, these types of questions are great opportunities to outperform the interview process for those who know how to answer but are weaker on the technical questions.