Imagine you’re nearing the end of the final interview for your dream job. After months of grueling tests and interviews, you are this close to getting the job. And the interviewer asks you a question you were least expecting: “How many golf balls can you fit inside an airplane?”

You’re totally stumped. What do you do?

Well, for starters, don’t get flustered. Stay calm.

Many top companies and educational institutions often throw you such curveballs or unexpected questions that have no clear answers. Crazy as some of these questions may seem, they are not meant to trip you up but are only meant to see how quickly you can think on your feet.

Look at some famous curveball questions: 

“If you were a box of cereal, which cereal would you be, and why?”

“Why are manhole covers round?”

“You have a 3-liter jug and a 5-liter jug. How do you measure out exactly 4 liters of water?”

Curveball questions often don’t have a right answer, or at least not one you can think of immediately, but you need to answer them to ace the interview. They are aimed at testing your thinking and communication skills, which are key to success at work and in life. 

So what should you do to prepare for curveball questions? Thinking on your feet is most important. You need to be able to think critically, reason logically, and be creative when answering these questions.


You can polish these habits by doing the Harappa courses on Thinking Critically, Reasoning Logically, and Unleashing Creativity

But that is not enough. You also need to be able to communicate your thoughts articulately. Harappa’s Speaking Effectively course will help you learn how to articulate yourself in high-pressure situations.


The Types Of Curveball Questions

To be able to answer curveball questions intelligently you first need to identify the type of question. The broad types of curveball questions are whimsical personal questions, role-specific curveballs, and brain teasers. Each of them tests for specific thinking and communication skills and should be approached differently.

1. Whimsical Personal Questions

At the start of an interview, an interviewer may ask you something whimsical about yourself, like “If you could have one superpower, what would you choose?” or “Are you a lucky person? Give examples.”

Whimsical personal questions act as icebreakers and check your creativity, quick thinking, and communication skills. There is no right answer– in fact, different people will have different answers to such questions.

Try to frame a response that conveys something interesting about yourself and gives the interviewer a glimpse of the person you are behind your CV.

If your response is witty or unique, you may even make the interviewer chuckle, which is a great note to begin an interview on.

2. Role-Specific Curveball Questions 

Straightforward role-specific questions in interviews are par for the course.

But some role-specific questions can be curveballs such as “How would you fire someone?” or “What would our company be crazy not to do in the next quarter?”

Sounds confusing? Here’s why such questions are asked. Curveball questions like these force the candidate to envision different real-life challenges connected to the role or industry, and to think about how they would respond to them.

Your response to such hypothetical questions will give the interviewer crucial insights into your values and temperament.

You can plan your answer strategy for such curveball questions beforehand. Carefully examine your CV and the job description of the role applied for. Choose a few selling points about yourself that you want to emphasize in the interview. Try and weave your selling points into your answers.

You may also be asked to share something you dislike about your job or industry. Don’t blurt out the first thing that strikes you. If your answer is too negative, it will leave the wrong impression.

3. Brain teasers

Now let’s look at the third kind of curveball questions: brain teasers.

Some famous brain teasers asked in interviews are:

“You have a 3-liter jug and a 5-liter jug. How do you measure out exactly 4 liters of water?”

“How many golf balls can you fit inside an airplane?”

It seems impossible to answer these kinds of questions on the spot. After all, no one really knows how many golf balls can fit inside an airplane.

Here’s the thing: the interviewer doesn’t expect you to simply give a number or do complicated mental mathematics perfectly.

They want to see how you work through a problem.

The key to answering such questions is to think through the steps that lead to the answer carefully. And make sure you think through your answer aloud, in a step-by-step manner, so that your reasoning process is visible to the interviewer.

For questions that ask you to guess or estimate something outside your line of work, offer two or three plausible answers if you can’t figure out one clear answer. 

Interestingly, Google, the company most famous for its brain teasers in interviews, has reportedly done away with them in recent times. Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations, said in an interview that they felt that such questions don’t predict employee performance on the job in any meaningful way.

However, curveball questions remain a favorite of interviewers and are an important way of evaluating candidates.

The most important thing to do when you get a curveball question is to stay calm. Ask clarifying questions if needed. But don’t overthink or get nervous. Remember, the interviewer is not your adversary. Approach curveball questions as opportunities to showcase your thinking and communication skills, and you will shine in the interview.

Tanvi Khemani is a Curriculum Specialist at Harappa Education. She is a postgraduate in Media and Cultural Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences and enjoys eating street-side chaat and writing fiction.

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