So, you’re in the interview. You’ve got your smartest outfit on, the interviewers are friendly and, if you’ve done your preparation, you’ll have dealt with the “are you a team-player” and “ give me an example of a time you…….” type questions without breaking a sweat. Even being asked about your weaknesses and a time something went wrong holds no fear for you. Then, completely out of left-field, “If you were a biscuit, what type would you be?” Erm…. what?
That’s a real question a student told us they had been asked at interview. Other examples include asking for your favourite film or comedian or what one item would you take to a desert island with you? Or how many tennis balls would it take to fill this room? The general reaction to being asked this type of question is, what on earth has this got to do with the job you’ve applied for and how do you answer? Do Hob-Nobs get hired and Custard-Creams get shown the door? Will the boss only like you if you can bond over your favourite Michael McIntyre quip? How big is a tennis ball anyway?!!
Start by remembering that’s there probably not one “right” answer. Also, your actual answer is not really what’s being assessed, you are. The recruiter doesn’t care whether your desert island item is a beach-ball or a canoe. They’re looking broadly at two things, how do you react and how do you arrive at your answer.
How to react – you’ve just been hit with something you couldn’t anticipate. The interviewer knows that whatever you say now is not something that you’ve prepared and practised over and over. Firstly, don’t panic when, as it inevitably will for a moment, your mind goes blank. Take a breath, maybe a sip of water. Say something along the lines of “That’s a really interesting question, let me think for a moment”. This doesn’t mean minutes of silence while you mull over all the options. It’s just time to settle the nerves and start to think clearly so you don’t just blurt out the first thing in your head. You are showing the recruiter that, when faced with something out of the blue, probably in a situation you find stressful, you can think on your feet and respond calmly and professionally.
Your answer – Bourbons!! Great, question dealt with. However, you’re only half-way there. If you blurt something out and don’t give them a reason for your answer, they’re certainly going to ask for it. The recruiter is looking at your decision-making process and how you deliver your response. Demonstrate to them that you considered options and alternatives in a logical and thoughtful way, no matter how strange the topic, and reached a decision or found a solution that you can back up with reasons. Show them that you can communicate your choice, and how you arrived at it, in a clear and structured way. “My favourite biscuit would have to be a Hob-Nob. They’re not too sweet and they don’t fall apart when you dunk them in your tea. They’re not too expensive either, which is important on a student budget”
What’s the point? –Yes, they could ask directly about your problem-solving skills, how you cope under pressure or make decisions. You could just as easily respond with a ‘best-practice’ answer that you’ve polished and perfected to be exactly what you think they want to hear. By forcing you to respond to an off-the-wall question, they see the real you in action. You have to demonstrate the skills, not just talk about them. If you can demonstrate the skills in interview, that’s a good indicator that you’d use those skills as an employee. By answering one seemingly random question, you can show a potential employer a lot about yourself.
Finally, don’t have nightmares. These questions are not routinely trotted out at every interview. Most of you will probably never be asked a question like this. You don’t need to spend hours making lists of your favourite things in every possible topic. Prepare for an interview as much as possible (the Careers Service can help with mock interviews if you want some practice) and don’t worry about being asked something crazy. Should such a question come up, you’ll now recognised it for what it is, understand its purpose and how to approach answering it.
For the record – I’d be a Ginger Nut.