Job interviews are nerve-wracking enough — and then you get hit with an odd question like, “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?”
Image from Hamza Butt.
If you know why these types of questions are being asked, however, chances are better that you can get at what your interviewer wants to know without getting flustered or leaving a bad impression. I asked Alison Green, an experienced manager and consultant who runs Ask a Manager, why companies sometimes ask these types of weird questions. She broke it down:
With the brainteasers, they’re often less concerned about the answer you ultimately come up with; they want to hear how you approach the problem and how you puzzle through it. So with those, it’s important to walk through your thinking out loud. But with the just-plain-weird questions, honestly it’s a result of interviewers who don’t know how to interview. They heard the question somewhere and thought it sounded fun, or they wrongly believe it’s a good way to test creativity. Mainly, they just haven’t stopped to think through how to effectively screen candidates. Those are nearly always the sign of a really bad interviewer.
Companies like Google and Apple used to have reputations for presenting candidates with weird brain teasers, but have started to move away from them in recent years. However, you still might run into some wild curveballs (or just bad interview questions) during your job search. When it comes to brain teasers, Alison recommends puzzling through your answer out loud since the interviewer wants to hear how you approach a problem. You can always say you need a moment to think, then dive into your answer. For odd questions that are out of left field, do your best to throw out a short answer and pivot to talking about your skills or experience, which actually have something to do with the job — unlike what kind of tree you’d be.