Ever heard of horror stories where the candidate is asked a totally unrelated question out of the blue at the interview table? "Why is a manhole cover round?" "Which part of the sandwich is the most important?" "Name three things you would like to have with you if you were stranded on a deserted island."
We doubt any job is going to leave you stranded on a deserted island anytime soon but yes, Mr. Interviewer, why do you torture candidates with questions like these? The truth is, they are asked for a variety of reasons, but it’s not because they want the answer.
In fact, some of these questions don’t have a correct answer. What the recruiters are interested in is what your answers can tell them about you.
Recommended Reading: How To Ace Your Interviews (From The Interviewer’s POV)
Types Of Oddball Questions
But first, let’s take a look at how odd (aka nerve-wracking) these questions can be. Glassdoor is the best place to take a look at the weirdest interview questions ever put forth by corporations, questions like:
- "How many cows are there in Canada?" – Google
- "How many quarters would you need to reach the height of the Empire State building?" – Jet Blue
- "How would people communicate in a perfect world?" – Novell
- "Estimate how many windows are in New York." – Bain & Company
- "Calculate the angle of two clock pointers when time is 11:50" – Bank of America
(Source: Glassdoor, 2012)
Looks like we’re screwed, aren’t we?
What’s the point?
Believe it or not, the answer is not the most important thing. What interviewers are looking for (if they know what they are doing – more on that later) revolves around three things:
- to see your confidence level and how you react to something unexpected
- to see if you can think out of the box, put more than just your degree on the table
- to see if you can solve new, upcoming problems which may not have a textbook answer.
Be Ready for anything
Note that these are the questions that are asked by people bent on catching you off guard, so it’s highly unlikely that you would be able to get the question ‘right’. However, you’d still have to think of something that beats "I don’t know, what’s the answer?".
If your response runs along the lines of asking someone else what the answer is, or a mere I don’t know (or I don’t really care), good luck getting a phone call back.
Quick! How many penguins would it take to surround the North Pole? And give 2 standard deviations from your answer (Goldman Sachs).
Your Grasp of concepts
If you are the trying sort, remember that for some of these questions, your approach to the question is more important than the answer itself. While in school or university, we’re taught to give the right answer, it is the concepts that are in the limelight when it comes to solving real-life problems.
Think Out Of The Box
How do you put an elephant in a fridge in three steps. Take a minute to think about it if this is new to you. Done? Just open the door to the fridge, put the elephant in then close the door. It’s a perfectly legitimate answer to a perfectly legitimate question, and it satisfies the three-step requirement too!
The only dead weight holding back this answer was probably the common knowledge that an elephant is usually a lot bigger than even your largest fridge. Toss that out and the answer is so elegantly simple, Einstein would have been proud.
Here’s a variation of that question involving a nickel-sized you and a blender, and what one author thinks is a possible answer.
Hints and Tips
These questions burn up the Internet because of their ambiguous nature. And by the time you get to the interview table, chances are the interviewers have changed the questions. So basically you can’t prepare for these questions, or can you?
Here are three things that may help.
- The questions relate to the job role you are applying for, or what the company does, so try to keep that at the back of your head at all times.
- Secondly, the recruiters are probably using this question to settle a tie. Leave an impression.
- Lastly, don’t take it too seriously, because sometimes even the interviewers have no idea what they are doing.
For More Tips: First Job Interview: 10 Things You Should Know
Yes, not all interviewers know what they are doing. In smaller companies, instead of an HR executive, well-trained in recruitment techniques, the boss or the managers are doing the interviewing. Some companies use weird questions like these simply because everyone else is using it.
And research is revealing that questions that are ‘designed to scare‘ should be removed from the interview table. A company could lose a real good candidate who has passed everything else with flying colors apart from the one oddball interview question that had no reason to be there in the first place.
The Best tactic
So after all that, what should you do when asked weird questions like these? Have fun with it, but try to make the interviewers remember you. As an example, remember the question about using penguins to measure the North Pole?
If asked that, I’d probably say I wouldn’t know what the answer would be but penguins do not live at the North Pole and more importantly, the North Pole doesn’t really physically exist. There isn’t really a pole there, or an area with a border. It’s just ice, everywhere. Then, I’d pray that they won’t ask me to use unicorns to measure rainbows.