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Elon Musk and Peter Thiel ask curveball interview questions—here's how to answer when you're stumped

Don't get stumped when an employer throws a curveball interview question at you.
Don't get stumped when an employer throws a curveball interview question at you.

Many top execs use curveball interview questions to test if applicants can think on their feet. At SpaceX, Elon Musk has been known to toss out a riddle to engineers while Peter Thiel prompts candidates to reveal something they believe to be true but no one else agrees with them on.

If you're asked a tricky question and aren't sure how to answer, TopResume career advice expert Amanda Augustine offers up these survival tips.

1. Stay calm and breathe

Hopefully, you've come to the interview prepared and have already scanned lists of oddball questions companies ask on sites such as Glassdoor or CareerBuilder.

Practicing your answers to these questions prior to your interview can keep you comfortable, confident and poised, Augustine tells CNBC Make It.

But if you're still stumped, just remember: your interviewer is testing how you handle pressure. Don't clam up. Remember to smile, make eye contact and sit up straight as you answer questions.

2. Consider what's being asked

Most curveball questions don't have one exact answer. They're designed to suss out if you're a fit for the culture, to get a window into your personality or to get a sense for your creativity.

In these cases, consider what sort of qualities or traits your interviewer is trying to reveal with an oddball question and answer accordingly. Interviewers use your responses "to get a sense of [your] personality and to gauge if [you'll] be a good fit with the company," says Augustine.

Some curveball questions will have a correct answer, like Elon Musk's riddle, one based on scientific principles. Try searching for the most popular oddball interview questions to get a sense of possible responses. While it's impossible to fully prepare for every potential question, you can at least practice answering some of the more common ones to help you practice logically thinking through an answer you might give on the spot.

3. Talk through your answer

Take your interviewer through your thought process out loud. This strategy ensures your interviewer remains engaged in your conversation and knows you're comfortable. It will also demonstrate to your interviewers how you problem solve.

In those cases, "It really has to do with how do you attack problems and try and solve them," says Augustine. "What's your thought process? How methodical are you? How do you get from A to B to C?"

Interviewers "care about how you arrive at an answer," she says. "Get comfortable with being able to communicate your thought process." That way, you don't freeze up when a curveball question is tossed your way.

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