Employer Branding

Are Curveball Interview Questions Really Beneficial?

How lucky are you, and why?

If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why?

How many square feet of pizza is eaten in the US each year?

The famed ‘curveball question’ was once the sole preserve of mega-corporations like Apple. However, their popularity as a recruitment tool has grown, and interviewers around the world now routinely pose bizarre questions to candidates.

When hiring in a fast-paced industry, assessing your interviewee’s ability to think on their feet is essential. However, when hiring for other roles, curveball questions could unnecessarily panic your candidate. Should you be asking these questions when interviewing?

What can a curveball question tell you?

There are several different types of curveball question. Each category can give you a different insight into the candidate:

1) Whimsical and Nonsensical:

  • ‘If you were a chocolate bar, what would you be and why?’
  • ‘Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses?’

Why are they useful?

Whimsical and nonsensical questions are designed to test a candidate’s creativity. They can also be used to assess the interviewee’s ability to rise to a challenge. If they manage to give a comprehensive answer, they are probably flexible and open worker. However, if they struggle to respond, they could be more analytical in nature.

2) Introspective:

  • ‘What’s your biggest regret?’
  • ‘What makes you truly happy?’

Why are they useful?

Introspective questions are an unusual extension of the traditional ‘tell me about a time when…’ model.  They are highly intrusive, making them an unusual choice for a job interview. They catch the applicant completely unawares, forcing them to provide a deep insight into their personality. However, this tactic sometimes fails, as candidates may try to mould their answer into a standard interview response.

3) Analytical:

  • ‘How many tennis balls could you fit into this room?’
  • ‘How many umbrellas were sold in the UK last year?’

Why are they useful?

If you are hiring for an analytical role, this style of curveball question can be particularly useful. When answering, the candidate will demonstrate their ability – or inability – to apply logic to a complicated problem. However, this type of question can also prove useful in other industries, as the interviewee must find a creative solution to the problem.

4) Business-focussed:

  • ‘What are the biggest challenges facing our industry?’
  • ‘How could we do better?’

Why are they useful?

By asking a specific question about your business, you can test whether the candidate has researched the role. If they can give a comprehensive answer, they have probably researched the company thoroughly – and therefore really want the job. If they can’t give you an answer, you should be wary about making an offer.

The cons of curveball questions:

  • Job interviews are an unnatural environment, and many people find them stressful. Nerves are common amongst candidates, and it normally takes a few starter questions to get them to relax. However, if you have a particularly nervous candidate, throwing them a curveball question out of the blue could unsettle them, derailing the entire interview.
  • Analysing the responses to an unusual question can prove difficult. Amateur psychology is rarely accurate, and you could be left with more questions than answers. If you really want to learn about your candidate’s capabilities, perform a thorough reference check.
  • Candidates are wary of saying the wrong thing in job interviews. As a result, many believe curveball questions are an attempt to trip them up. Interviewees will often shy away from answering these questions, and will instead try to twist their response to fit a standard format.

Assessing the suitability:

Curveball questions can occasionally backfire on the interviewer. However, in the most extreme cases, they can lead to a full blown PR disaster.

In 2013, electronics retailer Currys faced widespread criticism after a disgruntled candidate lifted the lid on their hiring process. During an interview, applicants for a sales position were forced to dance in front of the other candidates. The move was widely condemned, and the store eventually issued a public apology.

You should only ask curveball questions if they are relevant to the role you are hiring for. For example, ‘How many tennis balls could you fit into this room?’ is a good question to ask a prospective accountant. However, if you were hiring a customer service assistant, you would be better off staging a communication-based task.

Curveball questions are now relatively commonplace, and can be used effectively to augment the interview process. However, don’t place too much importance on the responses. Assessing a candidate’s relevant qualifications and experience should always take precedence over their ability to answer a bizarre question.

Author: This article was written by Mark Potter of, a leading ICANN accredited domain registrar and web host.

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