Why Strange Interview Questions Matter – 5 Reasons

Every year Glassdoor, who provides an inside look at jobs and companies,  select the top 25 strangest interview questions companies ask during job interview.  I will share the list for 2013 below, but my main focus for this post is to talk to you about  why strange interview questions matter and why you must take them seriously if you want to stay in the race.

strange interview questionsWhile some of these interview questions seem extremely random, I believe they are deliberately asked so that companies can figure out who really are the best candidate for the job.  Especially in today’s market, where there are many more applicants than job openings, strange interview questions are a way for employers to catch candidates off guard and see how they respond.

Based on the 25 strangest interview questions rated by Glassdoor for 2013, I can see five potential reasons why they are asked in interviews.

Reason 1: Business acumen and math skills –  questions like “how many cows are in Canada?” is not to check your farm or Canada knowledge.  You are not expected to know the answer or even get to the right number.  Instead the interviewer  wants to see how you figure out how to estimate the answer – what questions you ask, what assumptions you make, can you communicate your thought process clearly, is it logical,  and can you do basic math.

  1. “How many cows are in Canada?” – Asked at Google, local data quality evaluator candidate.
  2. “How many quarters would you need to reach the height of the Empire State building?” – Asked at JetBlue, pricing/revenue management analyst candidate.
  3. “Estimate how many windows are in New York.” – Asked at Bain & Co., associate consultant candidate.
  4. “Calculate the angle of two clock pointers when the time is 11:50.” – Asked at Bank of America, software developer candidate.

Reason 2:  Ability to analyze and/or communicate on your feet – these are obviously questions you cannot prepare for, so it’s a good way to assess how well you can respond under pressure and how analytical you can be.    Pretty much all 25 questions are in this category but these are some good examples below.

  1. “If you were to get rid of one state in the U.S., which would it be and why?” – Asked at Forrester Research,  research associate candidate.
  2. “Name 3 previous Nobel Prize winners.” – Asked at BenefitsCONNECT, office manager candidate.
  3. “On a scale from 1 to 10, rate me as an interviewer.” – Asked at Kraft Foods, general laborer candidate.
  4. “How would you rate your memory?” – Asked at Marriott, front desk associate candidate.
  5. “You are a head chef at a restaurant and your team has been selected to be on [the TV show] ‘Iron Chef’. How do you prepare your team for the competition, and how do you leverage the competition for your restaurant?” – Asked at Accenture, business analyst candidate.

Reason 3: Level of creativity / boldness – These questions are ways to assess how creative or bold you really are.  Certain jobs / company cultures want to only hire people who are creative and think outside the box.   Directly asking how creative you are is meaningless.  Instead, interview would give you a random scenario and see what you say.

  1. “A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?” – Asked at Clark Construction Group, office engineer candidate.
  2. “[Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos walks into your office and says you can have a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea. What is it?” – Asked at Amazon, product development candidate.
  3. “How would people communicate in a perfect world?” – Asked at Novell, software engineer candidate.
  4. “If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?” – Asked at Trader Joe’s, crew candidate.
  5. “What kitchen utensil would you be?” – Asked at Bandwidth.com, marketer candidate.
  6. “If you had turned you cell phone to silent and it rang really loudly despite it being on silent, what would you tell me?” – Asked at Kimberly-Clark, biomedical engineer candidate.
  7. “Can you say: ‘Peter Pepper Picked a Pickled Pepper’ and cross-sell a washing machine at the same time?” – Asked at MasterCard, call center candidate.

Reason 4: Personality or character fit – Everyone rather work with people they like personally.  This is one way for an interview to find out what kind of person you are and perhaps use your answer to assess whether you are a good fit for the team and/or company.

  1. “What songs best describes your work ethic?” – Asked at Dell, consumer sales candidate.
  2. “What do you think about when you are alone in your car?” – Asked at Gallup, associate analyst candidate.
  3. “What’s your favorite song? Perform it for us now.” – Asked at LivingSocial, Adventures City manager candidate.
  4. “Have you ever stolen a pen from work?” – Asked at Jiffy Software, software architect candidate.
  5. “Pick two celebrities to be your parents.” – Asked at Urban Outfitters, sales associate candidate.
  6. “If you could be anyone else, who would it be?” – Asked at Salesforce.com, sales representative candidate.
  7. “My wife and I are going on vacation — where would you recommend?” – Asked at PricewaterhouseCoopers, advisory associate candidate.

Reason 5: Detailed communicate skills – some jobs may require you to train others or teach others a skill.  These questions below are a way to tell if you can communicate well enough for someone to understand and learn from you.  It’s one thing to know what you are doing and a completely different skill to be able to teach it to someone else.

  1. “How would you direct someone else on how to cook an omelet?” – Asked at PETCO, analyst candidate.
  2. “How do you make a tuna sandwich?” – Asked at Astron Consulting, office manager candidate.

Of course, many of these questions are asked for more than one of the reasons I listed above.  And it is also possible that the interviewer was just bored and didn’t have a purpose when they asked some of these strange questions.    You may never know.  I am just trying to illustrate that while you may get a strange question or two during your job interviews, remember that more likely than not, they have a purpose behind it to assess your candidacy.  So be prepared to answer unexpected questions.  Good luck on your job search!

Your comments: What other strange interview questions have you encountered?  do you think it was random or on purpose?  Share your comments below.

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