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Job Interview Questions: Handling Usual and Unusual Queries

Interviewees should be ready for both conventional and unexpected questions. They should think ahead—and on the spot.

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About eight years after I graduated from college and had worked for a while, I interviewed for an editing job at a publishing startup. It was many years ago, but one of the interviewer's questions sticks in my mind: "What were some of your extra-curricular activities in high school?" High school?

When I asked the interviewer if he really meant high school, he said yes. Although it didn't make much sense to me at the time, I realized later that the interviewer wanted to know what kind of person I was, how my interest in journalism started and if I remained passionate about the field. That discussion, which provided an easy segue to several key questions, wasn't so crazy after all.

So, recently, when Glassdoor sent me its list of leading oddball interview questions for 2013, I thought many of the queries made sense. One question that sparked a lot of attention from online news sites was, "How many cows are in Canada," which Google—known for its tough interviews—posed to a candidate for a local data quality evaluator position. Google data quality evaluators may never have to answer this particular question, but they need to have strong analytical skills, and skillfully provide solutions and troubleshot information.

Amanda Lachapelle, HR director for Glassdoor, told eWEEK in an email that companies ask offbeat questions because "if multiple job candidates have the same qualifications and experience on paper, it can help determine which candidate has better communication and critical-thinking skills, which therefore may help you determine which candidate is a better fit for your team."

Job seekers should expect some interview curve balls, including unconventional questions, but "most companies will ask more common interview questions like "What are your strengths?" and "What are your weaknesses?"—and it's important that you prepare well for those, too," wrote Jacqueline Smith of Forbes. Smith offers tips on handling the most common interview questions—such as learning about the company, Googling your name, practicing and planning before an interview, and being positive.

These steps could also help job candidates respond well to unconventional questions. It's important for interviewees to think ahead—and on the spot.

When responding to interviewers' questions—whether expected or unexpected—job candidates should stay calm and be themselves. They should learn to elaborate without going off on a tangent. Chances are that those doing the hiring want to know more about them than bovine creatures.