I went for an interview at a large pharmaceutical company for an account manager position. The interview asked me the strangest question: If I was part of a group of 10 who were bound in chains in the middle of the room, how would I answer the phone when it rang at one of the desks far away from the chained group? I was caught off-guard. I responded that I would ask everyone to hop together towards the phone and the closest member would pick up the phone. I didn’t get the job.
Any thoughts on how to prepare and handle these weird questions that seem to have no relevance to the job?
Signed: Stranger than Strange (SS)
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In an article on this topic, Globe & Mail reporter David Kennedy explains that Canadian employers are starting to ask these types of challenging and strange interview questions to test a candidate’s critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Google and other large cutting edge has been doing this for a long time in their interviews.
The article quotes Scott Dobroski, associate director of corporate communications at Glassdoor. “Employers are looking to test a candidate’s critical thinking skills, as well as how they problem-solve on the spot and how they handle an unexpected challenge.” These employers aren’t necessarily looking for a right or wrong answer, adds Dobroski, who clarifies that employers are trying to see is how you can think out loud and come to your best solution on the spot. Dobroski suggests that the best way to answer is to take a minute, breathe, think about how the question and related your response back to the position that you’re interviewing for.
Glass Door presented the top 10 strangest interview questions asked by leading companies:
1. “What would you do if you were the one survivor in a plane crash?” — an Airbnb trust and safety investigator job candidate was asked.
As with all the oddball questions, interviewees should relate their answers back to the workplace, Dobroski noted. In this case, a potential response could include how to ensure the survivor’s safety, as well as checking the rest of the plane to make sure there were no other survivors. Asking about nearby resources, such as radio or cell phone towers, could also help show the interviewer that the applicant can think ahead and plan for emergencies.
2. “What’s your favorite ’90s jam?” — a Squarespace customer care job candidate was asked.
While this might seem goofy, Dobroski notes that this open-ended question is a way for a candidate to show off their positive qualities. “I could answer, ‘All Star’ by Smash Mouth. This reminds me to keep reaching for the stars,'” Dobroski said. “These can be very short responses, as long as you relate it back to the workplace.”
3. “If you woke up and had 2,000 unread emails and could only answer 300 of them, how would you choose which ones to answer?” — Dropbox rotation program job candidate was asked.
This is the type of situation that almost everyone deals with today, but it also allows the candidate to show how he or she would prioritize in a potentially stressful situation, Dobroski noted. Candidates could note that they’d search for names of people and subject line terms that would need attention first, for example.
4. “Who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman?” — Stanford University medical simulationist job candidate was asked.
This is a circumstantial type of question where a candidate could ask the interviewer for more information, such as whether the fight is in a cave (giving Batman an edge) or the top of a building (Spiderman). “This shows how you assess an unexpected challenge,” Dobroski noted. Giving a one-word answer such as “Spiderman” isn’t what employers want to hear (no matter how much you love Spidey.)
5. “If you had a machine that produced $100 dollars for life, what would you be willing to pay for it today?” — Aksia research analyst job candidate asked.
Candidates could ask the interviewer for more information, such as whether there is only one of these machines available or if there’s a glut. Asking about whether there is risk involved — such as whether the owner could be targeted by criminals — could also help show analytic skills, Dobroski noted.
6. “What did you have for breakfast?” — Banana Republic sales associate job candidate.
This sounds like small talk, but it allows the interviewer to gauge whether the candidate is an upbeat person and can relate to other people. Sales associates are asked questions all day long by customers, and keeping upbeat energy is important.
7. “Describe the colour yellow to somebody who’s blind.” — Spirit Airlines flight attendant job candidate was asked.
This question tests a candidate’s sensitivity and how they gather information. An applicant could ask whether the person is partially blind and when they became blind, helping to formulate an answer and deal with someone’s disability. “There are times when they have to work with passengers with special needs,” Dobroski noted.
8. “If you were asked to unload a 747 full of jellybeans, what would you do?” — Bose IT support manager job candidate was asked.
Unloading a plane full of jellybeans is no small task, so this allows a candidate to show off their project management skills. An interviewee could ask what the budget is, when the deadline is for unloading the plane, and whether they have machinery or staff to work with. That will help demonstrate the candidate’s ability to think through all the possible dimensions of the challenge.
9. “How many people flew out of Chicago last year?” — Redbox software engineer II job candidate was asked.
This question for an entry-level engineering job is, not surprisingly, geared toward assessing a candidate’s analytic skills. The interviewee could walk through their thinking, such as how many flights go in and out of Chicago each day, how traffic surges at the holidays, and come up with an answer. The interviewer isn’t interested in the correct answer, Dobroski noted. Rather, it’s all about how a candidate handles such problems.
10. “What’s your favourite Disney Princess?” — Cold Stone Creamery crew member job candidate was asked.
This question is all about getting a candidate to show off their personality. Responses should link back to the business, Dobroski noted. “You might say, ‘I like Cinderella. She epitomizes someone who works hard, is well liked and has overcome some challenges. That’s how I approach work,'” he said.
The bottom line about answering difficult unexpected questions is to stay calm and confident, to think through the answer out loud and take a risk trying to figure out the answer. The right answer is a lot less important than the process of answering the question.