Even though it’s a job seekers’ market, Glassdoor reports that as many as 45% of people responding to a recent survey said they were planning to be on the hunt for new employment.
With so many jockeying to show off their skills and experience in the best light, the in-person interview could be the make-or-break point in what’s become an ever-lengthening hiring process. While we’ve reported how to avoid some pretty major missteps, Susan Underwood, Glassdoor’s global head of recruiting and talent acquisition, advises job candidates to be ready for any question that could be asked during today’s competitive recruiting process.
Forget the standard "Where do you see yourself in five years?" or the trickier "Why shouldn’t I hire you?" that one CEO uses to weed out less worthy candidates, and prepare to be grilled in much weirder ways.
Glassdoor evaluated over 100,000 approved interview questions shared by job candidates on its platform during the past year. Analyzing community feedback on questions labeled "brainteaser" and other descriptors, they compiled six different lists of oddball questions from employers across North America and Europe intended to give job seekers a clearer picture of what could lie ahead. These are the top 10 oddball interview questions at U.S. companies:
- "When a hot dog expands, in which direction does it split and why?"—SpaceX propulsion structural analyst job candidate (New York)
- "Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?"—Whole Foods Market meat cutter job candidate (Lexington-Fayette, KY)
- "If you’re the CEO, what are the first three things you check about the business when you wake up?"—Dropbox Rotation Program job candidate (San Francisco)
- "What would the name of your debut album be?"—Urban Outfitters sales associate job candidate (New York)
- "How would you sell hot cocoa in Florida?"—J.W. Business Acquisitions Human Resources Recruiter job candidate (Atlanta)
- "If I gave you $40,000 to start a business, what would you start?"—Hubspot account manager job candidate (San Francisco)
- "What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer?"—Trader Joe’s job candidate (Orange, CA)
- "If you were a brand, what would be your motto?"—Boston Consulting Group Consultant job candidate (Washington, D.C.)
- "How many basketballs would fit in this room?"—Delta Airlines Revenue Management Co-op job candidate (Cincinnati)
- "If you had $2,000, how would you double it in 24 hours?" —Uniqlo Management Trainee job candidate (Los Angeles)
Although Google—once famous for challenging potential recruits with curveball questions—conceded that clever responses to such queries don’t necessarily translate to job performance, Underwood points to recent research by Glassdoor that found a statistical link between a tough interview process and greater employee satisfaction in six countries including the U.S. and Canada.
Such findings would indicate that the employee would be more likely to stay, saving the company resources, time, and potentially thousands of dollars in recruiting and retraining new hires.
Underwood maintains that employers still reach for the tough question to test a job candidate’s critical thinking skills, how they problem solve on the spot, and to gauge how they approach difficult situations.
"We hear from a variety of employers that challenging interview questions can help them learn more about a job candidate," she says. If they are all great "on paper" Underwood explains, "how they answer and respond to a tough or challenging question can give the interviewer some added perspective into how they solve unexpected problems, which arise in almost any job at any employer."
But are they always fair? For example, Dropbox's question asks candidates to theoretically put themselves in the corner office and prioritize their morning, even though they ask it of those in a "rotation program," which would indicate a lower-tier position. Underwood counters that any question that adds value to the interviewer in helping pinpoint the best candidate is a fair question.
"Remember, it’s not about the right or wrong answer, because there are always multiple answers to all of these questions," she says. "It’s about thinking a response out loud, coming to a conclusion, and showing how you think critically and solve problems."
Underwood says a good response would first acknowledge that each CEO would have their own personal approach. "But depending on what’s most important to the business, the bottom line, or what’s going on that day—that’s likely what the CEO should be checking first, so it will likely vary by day," she says.
By giving an answer like this, Underwood observes, the job candidate is showing the interviewer that they know how to juggle multiple tasks and find what needs the most attention first, and then address it.
Extroverts who tend to babble during job interviews should beware, Underwood advises. "If someone speaks up a lot but doesn’t necessarily have things of value to say, well, that can hurt them in this case," she says, noting that a brief, well-thought-out reply can bode well for the applicant.
"The main thing to remember is to answer the question as best you can, think through an answer, engage with the interviewer by asking additional questions if needed, and to come to the best conclusion you can with the information you have," she advises. "The worst thing you can do is give a one-word response or say, ‘I don’t know.’"