25 weirdest job interview questions of 2012

by Evil HR Lady on January 14, 2013

The whole list is over here at: 25 weirdest job interview questions of 2012

But, my favorites are:

4. “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.

11. “If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?” – Asked at Trader Joe’s, crew candidate.

Not because I think they are good questions, but because I think they are funny.
As for the penguin, he doesn’t say anything because Penguins don’t speak. Why he’s here is that somebody with connections at the zoo is playing a funny joke and you probably shouldn’t let the ASPCA know about it.

And what would I make for dinner? I generally make burritos for dinner when I have guests. Why? Because I can put all the different ingredients on the table (shredded meat, black beans, cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, tortillas and tortilla chips) and everyone can make their own burrito as they would like. That way, if someone hates, say, tomatoes, they aren’t stuck with a miserable meal. They can just skip the salsa.

Now, would you hire me?

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth West January 14, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I would hire you anytime. ;)
But I wouldn’t ask you any of these dumb questions!

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Evil HR Lady January 14, 2013 at 6:53 pm

You’re sweet! And I’ve thought a lot about the state one, and it’s definitely California. :>)

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Andy Lester January 14, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Some of these questions aren’t dumb at all, given the context.

The “how many cows in Canada” at Google gets at estimation and scaling, which is what Google really does. Ditto for “how many windows in NY”, although I wonder if the Bain interviewer asked just because it was in a list of interesting interview questions.

Asking “How would you rate your memory?” of someone at a hotel front desk makes perfect sense to me.

“Calculate the angle of two clock pointers when the time is 11:50.” is just a math/programming problem asked of a software developer.

Questions like these make sense if they’re asked if they actually apply to the job. In the software industry, it seems like more and more companies like to ask those Google-type questions of estimation (what we call Big O notation questions), but only because Google asks them. If your stock-in-trade isn’t massive scaling, however, it’s much less useful to ask. Better to ask something like “We plan to launch a website with 10,000 daily visitors. How much bandwidth should we allocate?” that more closely matches the company’s actual projects.

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Evil HR Lady January 14, 2013 at 6:55 pm

I agree that some of these questions are good if they are asked for the right purpose and the interviewer knows what he’s looking for. I suspect, though, that some of these questions were asked by managers who were trying to ask cool questions and don’t know what answers are good ones.

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Vicki January 14, 2013 at 9:29 pm

I suspect that _most_ are asked by people who don’t know how to interpret the answer.

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Alison Green / Ask a Manager January 15, 2013 at 12:36 am

Ha, I just wrote a column for Intuit on why oddball interview questions aren’t useful and can alienate candidates, and I argued exactly this — that they tend to be asked by interviewers who can’t explain why they’re drawn to the question and just like the idea of asking them.

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Alison Green / Ask a Manager January 15, 2013 at 3:09 am

(though it will not run until the end of January)

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The gold digger January 17, 2013 at 1:42 am

The McKinsey recruiter asked me what the market size was for windshield wiper blades in the US. I learned after the interview, in which the guy told me that he “loved me to death but I didn’t have enough problem-solving ability” (which isn’t true – I just am not good at BSing, which I think is a key skill for a consultant), that the proper answer to all their questions starts with, “The population of the United States is 380 million.”

Instead, I started with something so stupid that I remember it 20 years later: “If the blades are to be sold at gas stations, and there are three gas stations every square mile in Austin” and I continued to dig the Stupid Hole even deeper.

Oh well. They were right. I would have made a lousy consultant. But put me behind a desk and give me a problem and I will solve it and I will identify new problems you didn’t even know existed and I’ll solve those, too. I just can’t do it with an audience.

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Sasha January 14, 2013 at 7:00 pm

If someone asked me which song described my work ethic, I would need about a month to think about it. For some reason, lots of things by Queen come to mind first. :)

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Anonymous January 14, 2013 at 8:23 pm

A penguin that wears a sombrero and doesn’t speak is lame. So I would answer the following:

He is wearing a sombrero because he thinks he looks good with it, and he is here because he wants my input. And you know what it is? “You look terrible with that sombrero”

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LTMG January 14, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Question 23 is interesting. I hope the interviewer is ready for every possible answer to that question. I’d be very tempted to answer, “4, because narcissistic questions have no place In a legitimate interview.”

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Evil HR Lady January 16, 2013 at 12:20 pm

I’d answer it, “Well, I can’t really tell how good of an interviewer you are until I see what you have concluded. If you conclude I’m the right person for the job and I conclude that this job is right for me, then I’d say that you are a good interviewer. If, on the other hand, we both come to different conclusions about that, then I’d say you’re pretty lousy.”

It is good that I’m not job hunting right now.

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Vicki January 14, 2013 at 9:35 pm

The one I got:
4 people are “escaping from zombies”. It is night. They have 1 lantern between them. They reach a gorge, spanned by a log bridge. There are crocodiles in the gorge (or at any rate, it’s very deep). They need to cross the gorge before the zombies arrive (cross completely, then destroy the bridge).

The interviewer had no clue what he was supposed to “get” from my response, other than “the right answer”. (I got a blog entry out of the ordeal and the clear knowledge that I did NOT want to work for that company).

For the next few months (until I found a full time position), I carried a copy of “How Would You Move Mt. Fuji” with me to every interview, almost hoping to be asked anther stupid “puzzle” question so I could say “I’d look it up.”

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Evil HR Lady January 16, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I love that you carried the book with you.

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KarenT January 15, 2013 at 2:23 am

19 (Have you ever stolen a pen) and 23 (rate me as an interviewer) smell like traps to me. An interviewer who asks questions like these already has the correct answer in their head.

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Evil HR Lady January 17, 2013 at 4:09 pm

I once got asked, “Are you ever tired?” I mean, duh, everyone is tired sometimes. When I said yes, she said they couldn’t hire me and that was why.

Weird. So, you’ll only hire liars? Awesome.

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Rachel January 16, 2013 at 10:36 am

Some of these are quite useful, if you know what you’re looking for.

11. “If we came to your house for dinner, what would you prepare for us?” – Asked at Trader Joe’s, crew candidate.

and
14. “My wife and I are going on vacation — where would you recommend?” – Asked at PricewaterhouseCoopers, advisory associate candidate.

Are both ones about meeting customer needs.

If you answer “What sort of vacations have you taken before?, Do you and your wife have any particular interests”
or
“Are you vegetarian?” before answering you demonstrate a basic skill needed for successful sales – identifying the need of the customer.

25. “How would you direct someone else on how to cook an omelet?”

Is useful – it shows whether your’e good at communicating/coaching leading.

13. “How do you make a tuna sandwich?” – Asked at Astron Consulting, office manager candidate.

Would be a good test for how an office manager – who would need to break down procedures and make sure each step is planned for – structures things.

If they just said “I’d open a tin of tuna and add bread”, then that’s one things, but if they remember, knife, condiments, plate, salad and other bits and pieces (and check who it’s for), then that’s shows they’ve got the right approach to office management, which is about detail, and making sure everything is in place for everyone else to do a good job.

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Evil HR Lady January 16, 2013 at 12:17 pm

But the reality is, someone who told me how to make a tuna fish sandwich would be a serious micro-manager. Seriously. It’s tuna, on bread. And there’s no right way to do it. Add pickles if you want.

I’m more of a fan of asking what you really want to know.

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Rachel January 17, 2013 at 2:13 am

I agree, they would.

But if you wanted to be able to make tuna sandwiches (using it as a metaphor for some office output), then having someone who can think logically and break down the steps required.

A better question might be – “What would you do to prepare for an all day meeting?” – it would elicit the same thought processes.

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Evil HR Lady January 17, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Exactly and it would relate to the job.

I don’t like tuna fish, and therefore, don’t have an elegant answer for that. Fortunately, no job I would ever apply for would require that skill.

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The gold digger January 17, 2013 at 1:46 am

The dumbest interview comment I got from a recruiter (who put on his profile that he was in charge of “corporate highers”) was the response to my comment that I had gone to high school in the Panama Canal Zone.

He chirped, “I really like Florida! I usually go to Tampa.”

What do you say to that?

I paused, thought carefully, and asked, “Do you like Cuban food? Old town Tampa has good medianoches.”

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Evil HR Lady January 17, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Ha! Excellent answer.

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AgilePhalanges January 18, 2013 at 11:44 pm

I wonder if questions 2 and 3 (how many cows, and how many quarters) are simply to see if the candidate clarifies for details. Does “cows” mean head of cattle altogether, or only the females? Only the mature females, excluding heifers? (Of course, clarifying doesn’t actually help the candidate KNOW the answer, but it would show that you make sure to clarify things up front before diving in and doing research, only to have to clarify as you go.)

Same with the quarters–laid flat on the ground and then stacked until even with the top, or stacked on edge? The top of the actual building, or including antennas? From the sidewalk (and on which street) or from the bottom floor, or the bottom of the foundation pillars?

I think number 6 is a great question, considering the company and position being interviewed for.

What’s the point of number 22? (Cell phone on silent, rings anyway, what do you say?) I would probably say “wow, I have no idea how that happened. My phone is on silent…see?” (It’s an iPhone, with the visible switch.) Of course, for something as critical as a job interview, I would have turned it OFF and left it in the car or something, rather than risk some alarm or another overriding the silent feature, even though I use silent all day at work and it never makes a peep.

Question 23, rate the interviewer is just EVIL. My mind would be racing, wondering whether they just want someone to suck up, whether they would value honesty, and if so, how they rate themselves so you don’t go too far off THAT mark, or whether they want to hear good feedback and not just a number rating, or what.

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Scott M. January 21, 2013 at 11:00 pm

I’ve been asked, “What do you think the purpose of a necktie is?” and “Do you prefer a standard or an automatic car?”

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