If You Were a Tree …
Let me get this out of the way first: I hate trick questions. In all cases, but particularly in interviews. I don’t like them, I don’t ask them, and I don’t like it when people ask them of me. I have a strongly-held belief that an interview should be an honest, professional conversation between two people, with the intent of determining whether a given job could be a good fit for the person. Trick questions turn that into a sort of game, and it’s the worst kind of game because only one of the players knows the rules.
If you’re interviewing for jobs, I can promise you two things. First, I’ll never ask you one of these questions if I happen to end up on the other side of the desk from you. Second, I’m almost sure that someone, somewhere, will ask you one of these kinds of questions.
There are any number of lists online of ‘trick interview questions’; feel free to search. It certainly doesn’t hurt to think about what your answers might be to some of the more common ones, like ‘if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?’, or ‘what’s your favourite colour and why?’, or ‘what dog breed are you most like?’. The first and most important thing to realize is this: there are no right or wrong answers (unless, I suppose, you’re actually interviewing to be a tree or a dog). As long as you can give some answer, and a rationale for that answer, you’ve done as well as you can under the circumstances.
If I were a tree, I’d be an oak, because I’m strong and reliable. My favourite colour is blue because I like the limitlessness of the sky. I’m most like a Golden Retriever because I’m loyal and committed. These are just a few of the answers that would be just as good as almost any other answer.
If the answers don’t really matter, then why do recruiters ask them? Well, to be honest, I think some recruiters ask them without really knowing why, and some ask them because they actually like playing the game, feeling a sense of authority and power. Some, however, would say that they ask them to see how a candidate deals with the unexpected. Are you able to think on your feet? Are you able to respond quickly, even when you’re taken off guard? Do you react unprofessionally when surprised? I can learn these things about you in different ways, asking better questions. But that’s me.
So what’s the takeaway? Prepare as well as you can, by researching some of the more common trick questions and thinking about how you might answer. And then … expect the unexpected. Whether it’s a trick question, a difficult question, or something else entirely, there will come a time when you’re caught off guard in an interview. If you tend to be quick on your feet, no issue. If you know this would throw you off your game, then memorize this phrase: “That’s a really interesting question. Let me think for a second.” Taking a beat of silence isn’t a bad thing; a well-thought-out answer is worth waiting for.