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How To Tackle Curve Ball Questions

Written by: Stephanie Sparrow
Published on: 26 May 2015


As the HR environment becomes more demanding, and pressure grows on professionals to acquire skills in business or data, recruiters are looking for new ways to conduct incisive interviews.

One strong trend is the use of so-called “curve- ball” questions, where the interviewer lobs an unconventional query, or line of thought, at the interviewee.

“‘How would you move Mount Everest?’, is my favourite, asked by a client I know,” says Jo White director at Vana HR Resourcing.

This isn’t a straightforward question, and has many possible answers, but, as White notes, it was part of the search for a talented HR business adviser with a £60k salary and so it was important to see how the candidates tackle complexity.

However, these questions can appear daunting and candidates need to meet curveballs with confidence. Read our five top tips on getting to grips with this interview technique.


Can you prepare for a curve-ball question? Does it pay to ponder possible permutations on “what gets you up in the morning?”, and “how would you write a Lonely Hearts ad”? Probably not.

Advice from experts, such as Julie Towers, managing director at Penna Recruitment Solutions, is to abandon anticipation but spend time preparing for all aspects of the interview with the same levels of rigour and professionalism.

“Follow the classic type of preparation”, she says. “Know about the role, do the process. Mind map your story board and get your evidence pieces [about your career and results] ready.”

This “classic” approach helps you steer a path through unconventional questions because you will have the basic foundations for an interview, and will be able to recall relevant examples with ease. Having such confidence frees up your mind and energy to deal with the unexpected.

2. Understand the context

Context can influence your reactions or perceptions. For example, in interviews for public sector roles, any question which is not linked to an accepted competency might seem to be a curve ball, whereas an overtly entrepeneurial private sector interviewer might be expected to ask an outlandish question.

“An interview is training for the job”, says Towers, “and so will be something like the job.”

The sector and size of employer offers clues to when these questions are likely to occur. “Big corporates are likely to ask these questions in the assessment stage”, says White, “whereas smaller businesses could ask them earlier in order to look at how you are engaging.”

3. Appreciate the purpose

Accepting the notion that an interview offers an insight into the rigours of the job (rather than acting as a check- list of skills) makes the rationale behind the curve-ball question easier to understand.

So, for example, applicants who say they are can manage a “ vuca “ environment ( volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) should expect to be asked an ambiguous or complex question at some point in the interview.

“The interviewer wants to see that the candidate thinks on their feet”, says Towers, “and sometimes how they react within time pressures. It’s about getting a 360 degree assessment.”

4.Reflect, then react

If you find the question is too obscure, or difficult then the general advice is to stop and reflect.

“Think through why you are being asked the question”, says White. “Are they looking at your emotional intelligence, IQ or lateral thinking?”

If you can’t answer the question, then give the reason and make time to recover your thoughts.

“Sometimes it’s not about the content of your answer but about reacting to the curve”, says Towers.

White agrees. “If you answer the Everest question with ‘why do you want to move Everest?’ then you are exploring the objectives straightaway”, she says.

5. Be your best self

All aspects of the job-hunting process should display honesty about yourself and with others. Curve ball questions can offer an opportunity for demonstrating honesty because they offer the chance to show what is important to you. “They can demonstrate how you solve problems and how you tick”, says White. So, if you consider team work as an important attribute, then you might reveal it as a key tactic in your “moving Everest” answer.

Interviewers expect to conduct a two- way conversation between peers, and want the interviewee to shine. “Imagine that it’s a meeting, not an interview”, says Towers, adding, “It is important to be as you are in real life”.

She also points out that there is no correct answer; the aim is to reveal the candidate’s personality and preferred way of thinking. “It’s about how to solve problems, how you tick and what’s important to you”, she says.


Image used under license from Rex Shutterstock