So imagine you’ve landed an interview.  You’re dressed for success, the elevator pitch is on the tip of your tongue and you’re totally prepared for any and all job interview questions.  And then the hiring manager poses this question:

“If you were going to throw a parade at our headquarters, what kind of parade would it be?”

If your career skills don’t include parade planner…

This is a true story.  The veteran hit with this question served more than 10 years in the Army, including deployment to Iraq.  He was technically trained, had earned a bachelor’s degree and held an active security clearance.  After successfully completing two phone interviews, he was asked to come in for in-person interviews with several team leaders. The first two meetings went well. During the third meeting he got the curveball question.  It was a dynamite pitch if the intent was to throw the candidate from a position of confidence to one of confusion.   He admits he “froze.”  He couldn’t think of a reason to throw a parade on the grounds of a defense contractor’s headquarters.

In the end, he didn’t get the job.  He doesn’t know if it had anything to do with his inability to respond in an effective way. But it continues to bother him that he drew a blank.

No doubt, there are other stories like this one in the archives of transitioning veterans who’ve been thrown a curveball during what should have been a fairly straight-forward interview.  One might think that when competing for jobs requiring a clearance, the job interview questions would focus entirely on skill sets, talents and expertise.  But that isn’t always the case.

Odd questions aren’t about the job

“Odd job interview questions that have nothing to do with the job are actually common,” said Sally Daniel, career strategist, and executive coach.  “This is something I talk to my clients about when preparing them for interviews. I tell them to expect the unexpected.”

Interviews can be daunting under the best of circumstances.  But the weird or absurd question that comes out of nowhere can throw a job candidate off-course.  What’s the right answer for a seasoned combat-veteran to provide when asked what kind of animal he’d be if he weren’t human?  What should the automated logistics specialist say when asked what the title of her biography should be, or how long it would take to deliver pizzas to everyone working in the Empire State Building?

According to Daniel, job seekers would be wise to prepare for all kinds of job interview questions, recognizing their reactions are more important than their answers.

“Many times, hiring managers are looking at the grace with which you respond to their questions.  They’re looking at the manner in which you demonstrate your willingness to be a good sport, or the degree to which you’re willing to engage or play along. Sometimes these questions are structured just to see how you deal with ambiguity.”

Daniel’s advice is to deal with it head on, by anticipating that a curveball may be pitched.  When it comes, take a mental step back, unoffended and ready to think quickly.

“It’s fine to smile and state that you hadn’t ever considered that question before,” said Daniel. “But then try to move through it. Take a stab at it.  Think of a way to answer it.  You’ll be demonstrating that you can handle unfamiliar situations and that you operate well under pressure and can go with the flow.”

Don’t park the question

Daniel says that some candidates have asked the interviewer if they can come back to that question.  But that’s not what she advises.

“The problem with parking any job interview question is that you might not come back to it again.  Then it goes down as unanswered.  Plowing through and thinking creatively demonstrates you’re willingness to work with what you have.  And remember, many times, interviewers are not necessarily trained in conducting interviews.  So it is still your responsibility as the job candidate to stay professional and provide the best possible conclusion in what, at the moment, may feel like the worst situation.”

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Tranette Ledford is a writer and owner of Ledford, LLC, which provides writing, editorial and public relations consulting for defense, military and private sector businesses. You can contact her at: