How to Tackle Tough Interview Questions: The Curveballs

You’ve made it to the final round of interviews for your dream job. You’ve passed every test they have given you and know you are perfect for the position. But then they throw you a curveball question that leaves you stumped. Your breath starts to quicken, palms get sweaty, and your heart is thumping so loud you swear the interviewer can hear it.

And that’s exactly what they want.


Interviewers want to see the real you outside of your comfort zone. They want to see you in action, and the one way they do this is by asking out-of-the-box questions to see how you will respond.

Here’s how to handle some of the bizarre, but actually asked, interview questions that are designed to throw you off your game.

If you were a fruit, what fruit would you be and why?
No, this is not a question from a cheesy 90s dating show. It is actually a personality test. The fruit that you choose can really show a lot about how you see yourself and what traits you (and your fruit) have.

Let’s say you choose an apple. What qualities do apples have? You could say you both have a strong core. There are a bunch of you on a tree, but you are the one that stands out and gets picked. You can be sweet and sour if needed. You grew out of a solid foundation. You can adapt to a variety of situations and have multiple uses. The list can go on and on.

The point here is not to say, “I’d be an apple because they are delicious.” While totally true, the only thing interviewers will learn about you is that you like apples. They will be more impressed if you think critically about the question and give them a detailed answer.


If you were shrunk to the size of a nickel and put in a blender, how would you get out?
According to posts on Glassdoor, this question is a favourite with large companies like Google and Goldman Sachs.

There may not be one real correct answer to this, but it does not matter if your answer is right. What matters most is how you answer the question. Your answer shows your ability to be creative and think on your feet – or your tendency to panic when you’re put in a situation you don’t totally understand.

You could make a rope out of your clothes to climb your way out or use your shoes to jam the blades and break the motor. If you understood the relationship between mass and density, you could show off your math skills and come up with a way to somehow propel yourself out. Just don’t answer with “I don’t know” or “I would wait to be rescued.”


How would your friends describe you? What about your enemies?
Enemies? What are we, superheroes? Who has actual enemies?

Clark Kent aside, this is actually a reworded version of the question, “what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” Susan P. Joyce, editor and publisher of Work Coach Café, says there are three main purposes for this question:

1. To discover how you view (or represent) yourself, particularly in comparison with how your references (and others) see you.

2. To learn how you handle the question — do you view this as a marketing and sales opportunity, as a time to randomly think out loud, or as a true-confessions episode?

3. To hear how well you understand yourself and your environment.

So rather than rambling on about how much your friends like you, or swearing up and down that you have no enemies, try approaching this question just as you would the strengths and weaknesses one. Highlight the attributes you have that directly relate to the position you are seeking.


If you had to figure it out, how would you calculate the number of light bulbs there are in the city of Toronto?
Say what?

Just like some of the other questions, it’s not what you answer, it’s how you answer. The interviewer is assessing your ability to problem solve. Even if you are some kind of super math whiz who can make an educated guess, explain the steps you would take to get the answer.

“If there were X amount of houses in the city and each had an average of 10 bulbs…” etc.

Just like your teachers used to say, show your work.


Does a company need B players? Or should they only hire A players? Why?

This is definitely an interesting one. Your answer shows the interviewer how you classify certain jobs, what you think it takes to run the company, and maybe even how you would rank yourself.

In her book 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions, author Vicky Oliver offers a good response to this question:

“I believe that a company needs both A and B players. When you’re pitching new business, you want the A players on the front line. But behind the A players, you need the B players who can hammer out the details of the projects and stick with them on a day-to-day basis. Having too many A players on the team leads to ego clashes and a disorganized, anarchical way of doing business.”

Sell me this pen.
9 out of 10 people will hear this classic sales request and immediately begin describing the pen. And 9 out of 10 people would be getting it wrong. It’s not about the pen.

The point of sales questions like this is to see how you handle yourself in the situation. So approach this less literally and more imaginatively. There are three main things interviewers want to see:

1. How you gather information.
Ask them: what they like in a pen, what they use the pen for, what kind of pen they currently use, etc.

2. What you do with the information you gather.
Now show them how the pen meets their specific needs.

3. How you present and whether or not you can close.
You know what they want; you have shown them how the pen gives them that; now ask for the sale. Present your best offer and be sure to close the deal.


If you were standing in a line that was wrapped around a building, would you rather be in the front of the line, the middle, or the back? Why?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question and everyone approaches it differently. The goal here is to see how your mind works and your ability to reason.

This question is one of interview coach and director of recruiting Michele Mavi’s favourites. “Some people just instinctively respond, ‘Who wants to wait in line, I’d rather be first!’ These people may be risk-takers and go-getters, people who jump right into a situation with both feet, ready to field whatever comes their way. Others who gravitate towards the back of the line may prefer to observe, collect information from people who exit the building and then go in more prepared for what lies ahead,” she explains.



When do you think you will peak in your career?
Nobody actually knows the answer to this. If you asked a seasoned professional if their career went exactly as planned, most of them would be lying if they said yes.

The interviewer knows you have no idea when your peak will come, but they want to see what your guess will be. Your answer should show how far down the line you have thought; if you have a career plan and long-term goals. To say you don’t know when you will peak is totally fine, though be sure to indicate your aims for your career and your plan for how you’ll get there.