These days, it's not enough to have a pat answer to, "What is your greatest weakness" -- a question long-feared by interviewees. No, today's job climate demands more of potential employees, who may be asked to spell unusual words, tell how to cure world hunger and guess how many planes are flying over Kansas. While there's not much you can do to prepare for any one question, learning about the company's corporate climate and expectations can help you to come up with the answers necessary to ace the interview.
Some questions you simply can't anticipate, but you stand a better chance of getting the right answer -- or an approximation thereof -- if you're familiar with the company and are well-versed in your field. For example, Google asked potential employees to tell the interviewer how many people use Facebook at 2:30 on a Friday. Even if you don't know the exact answer to this sort of question, being able to provide an intelligent guess based on your knowledge of the company's business can help you score points. Other questions that companies have asked to assess a candidate's general savvy or ability to concoct a reasonable response on the spot include, "Name three previous Nobel Prize winners" and "Estimate how many windows there are in New York."
Not all jobs require a creative mind. If you're applying for a position at your state's department of motor vehicles, you probably don't need to worry about unconventional interview questions. Companies that place a high premium on creativity may take a cue from Horizon Group Properties and ask a question such as, "How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?" You might also hear questions like EvaluServe's "Name five uses of a stapler without staples," or Trader Joe's "What do you think of garden gnomes?"
Companies know that they're not likely to get an accurate gauge of your true personality unless they ask a question that forces you to step outside your interview persona. Thus, questions such as, "What is your favorite song?" followed by a request for a performance, are becoming more common. Of course, most companies won't have you doing the Macarena. Nevertheless, be prepared to be put on the spot, as questions such as, "What is it people don't like about you?" or, "What qualities would a candidate who's better suited for this job than you possess?" are not uncommon.
Ascertain the intent behind the question. For example, if you're interviewing for an IT job and the interviewer asks you how to make a tuna sandwich, you have the opportunity to show off your ability to provide precise directions. This is likely what the company is looking for, not an indication of your culinary skills. On the other hand, if you're asked what kind of insect you'd be, it's probably an indication that you should demonstrate your creativity, unless you're interviewing for a position as a entomologist, in which case you could showcase your knowledge of the praying mantis.
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.