Wacky Interview Questions and Surviving Your Tech Job Interview
29 November 2012

Wacky Interview Questions and Surviving Your Tech Job Interview

This is a new growing trend in the wacky world of interviewing in the 2010s. It is interesting to see how long the trend will continue.

You are all dressed up in your nicest suit, you’ve prepared confident answers for that job interview and then they ask you, “What do you think of garden gnomes?”

Asking wacky job interview questions is a growing trend. It is interesting to see how long the trend will last. The moral of this story is to be prepared for off-the-wall questions and have a strategy for answering them so you are not thrown off, remain calm, and maintain your composure. Never let them see you sweat and always let them see you prevail.

If you are looking for useful advice is book format, check these out.

Answering Tough Interview Questions for Dummies book2

Tough Interview Questions and How to Answer Them 

According to Glassdoor Inc., a jobs and career community website, many people experienced eccentric interview questions in the past year.

To illustrate just how weird job interviews can be nowadays, Glassdoor compiled its 'Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions of 2011" on their site.

Questions from companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Deloitte and Amazon.com ranged from the strange to the obscene.

“Name five uses of a stapler without staple pins,” EvaluServe, a research analyst firm, reportedly asked a potential business analyst.

Other questions were more demanding, such as “Just entertain me for five minutes; I’m not going to talk,” asked by Acosta, a sales and merchandising company.

Trader Joe’s, by the way, asked the garden gnome question.

So, is this the norm? Are all companies now demanding their candidates for example, know how to fit an elephant into a refrigerator (a question from Horizon Group Properties)?

A  recruiter at an executive search firm in Toronto said it’s not the typical approach. “We don’t ask questions like that,” he said. “The questions that we ask that are unusually questions like, ‘Tell us about the political landmines that have to be navigated in your organization.’” Sounds as if these are just as tricky as the wacky questions.

There is no question, interviewers are getting more clever, more tricky, and more obtuse. I think the unpaid 5 day intership that leads to a job, if you pass the grade, may be a more valuable option. Although this approach could open the door to widespread free-labor abuse.

Keep Busy And Build New Skills

Regardless of how crazy interviews get, I believe that there is no replacement for getting on-the-job experience, networking, upgrading your education, and staying relevant through real-world relevant career building activities.

My approach has always been to donate some of my skills and experience through volunteering, interrning, or unpaid consulting while I am unemployed. 

  1. Network
  2. Develop new skills and experience
  3. Fill in blank periods in your resume with productive activities
  4. Get some great references
  5. Receive free on-the-job training
  6. Gets you up in the morning keeping you on a work schedule
  7. Keep a positive outlook through feeling productive
  8. Avoid days alone with no social contact

The secret is to work these experiences and skills into your interview responses, regardless of how bizarre or wacky the questions get. Nobody is ever going to reject you for demonstrating excellent results, amazing skills, a high-performing work ethic etc. Well at least I would hope not.

Why Ask Wacky Questions?

Believe it or not, some interviewers feel that wacky questions help the interviewee relax. Some frankly admit that they’re trying to throw people off guard. Others want to get past the practiced responses you’ve worked on so hard to see the real you. And yet others may simply want to know if you have a sense of humor.

Most, however, pose the occasional off-the-wall question because they want to see how well you think on your feet. The key to coping with crazy interview questions is to remember that how you answer matters much more than what you answer.

How To Answer Wacky Questions- Some Ideas

Basically, you want to come across confident and comfortable dealing with the unexpected, even in a situation as stressful as a job interview. Sound like a tall order? Here are a few tips:

1. First, answer the question. Don’t stonewall or say, “What does this have to do with the job?” You’ll come off as defensive, inflexible, and uncooperative.

2. Think of the crazy question as an interesting exercise in problem solving. Remember that there is no “right” answer to questions like these. Quickly gather the relevant data as best you can and work your way toward the most logical solution.

3. Remember that you are allowed to take a deep breath and ponder for a moment before answering. You can also stall for time by repeating the question to the interviewer. If you absolutely have to, ask if you can come back to that question later in the interview.

4. Trying to guess the motive behind the question may help. For example, the dinner-with-a-famous-person question is an attempt to discover your interests and values. So take this opportunity to say something compelling about your interests and values, ideally connecting them to your work and the job you’re seeking.

5. Don’t be a slave to the question. For example, the Seinfeld character question is a (lame) attempt to learn something about your personality. But the fact is that all the characters on Seinfeld are a little crazy and you don’t really want to be identified with any of them. So don’t feel you have to pick one. Instead, talk about which favorable qualities of the different characters best describe you.

6. A sense of humor can help. If your first impulse is to be funny, and you are truly a funny person, go with it. Just be sure that your witticisms make you look smart and sensible. Keep it light-hearted and clean, please.

7. Be honest. If you try to think of an answer that you think the interviewer will want to hear, you’re going to come off as insincere and manipulative. Put the best light on yourself in a truthful way. You will feel better about yourself, and the employer will think more highly of you, too.

8. As with all interview questions, try to use concrete examples from your work experience and qualifications. If you can, answer in the form of a story—i.e., a beginning, middle, and end.

9. Keep bringing it back to what you have to offer to this employer. If the interviewer wants to know what “Friends” character you most resemble and you choose to mention that you are as highly educated as Ross and as methodical as Monica, tie those qualities to the job.

10. Finally, never let them see you sweat! Don’t jiggle your knee, tap your pen, drum your fingers, twirl your hair, or bite your nails. Keep cool.

Wacky Questions Follow the Ecomony

A recruited once said the following to me about wacky questions: "Every time we have a glitch or a downturn, there is more attention focused on an individual’s actual contribution — how they’ve driven revenues and cut costs. But when the economy is roaring, some of the attention on what really matters is overlooked."

Quotes from 'The Matrix' Bring Clarity

I leave you with quotes by the character Morpheus in the movie 'The Matrix' to bring clarity to how you can make sense of wacky interview questions...

"Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony."

"What is "real"? How do you define "real"?"

"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill -- the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill -- you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."

"I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it."

"Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream, Neo? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world? "

"The Matrix is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."

"What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad."

"Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself."

"If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain."

"The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you're inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it."

"There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path."

Top 25 Eccentric Interview Questions

As compiled by GlassDoor:

Over the past year, interview candidates have shared some of the difficult, or unexpected interview questions on Glassdoor (a jobs and career community).

Here is GlassDoor's take on the top 25 oddball interview questions of 2011:

1. “How many people are using Facebook in San Francisco at 2:30pm on a Friday?” 
– Asked at Google.

2. “Just entertain me for five minutes, I’m not going to talk.” 
– Asked at Acosta.

3. “If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?” 
– Asked at Hewlett-Packard.

4. “What do you think of garden gnomes?” 
– Asked at Trader Joe’s.

5. “Is your college GPA reflective of your potential?” 
– Asked at the Advisory Board.

6. “Would Mahatma Gandhi have made a good software engineer?”
–Asked at Deloitte.

7. “If you could be #1 employee but have all your coworkers dislike you or you could be #15 employee and have all your coworkers like you, which would you choose?” 
– Asked at ADP.

8. “How would you cure world hunger?” 
– Asked at Amazon.com.

9. “Room, desk and car – which do you clean first?” 
– Asked at Pinkberry.

10. “Does life fascinate you?” 
– Asked at Ernst & Young. More Ernst & Young interview questions.

11. “Given 20 ‘destructible’ light bulbs (which breaks at certain height), and a building with 100 floors, how do you determine the height that the light bulb breaks?” 
– Asked at QUALCOMM.

12. “Please spell ‘diverticulitis’.”
– Asked at EMSI Engineering.

13. “Name 5 uses of a stapler without staple pins.” 
– Asked at EvaluServe.

14. “How much money did residents of Dallas/Ft. Worth spend on gasoline in 2008?” 
– Asked at American Airlines.

15. “How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?” 
– Asked at Horizon Group Properties.

16. “You have a bouquet of flowers. All but two are roses, all but two are daisies, and all but two are tulips. How many flowers do you have?” 
– Asked at Epic Systems.

17. “How many planes are currently flying over Kansas?” 
– Asked at Best Buy.

18. “How many different ways can you get water from a lake at the foot of a mountain, up to the top of the mountain?” 
– Asked at Disney Parks & Resorts.

19. “What is 37 times 37?” 
–Asked at Jane Street Capital.

20. “If you could be a superhero, what power would you possess?” 
– Asked at Rain and Hail Insurance.

21. “If you were a Microsoft Office program, which one would you be?” 
–Asked at Summit Racing Equipment.

22. “Pepsi or Coke?” 
– Asked at United Health Group.

23. “Are you exhaling warm air?” 
– Asked at Walker Marketing.

24. “You’re in a row boat, which is in a large tank filled with water. You have an anchor on board, which you throw overboard (the chain is long enough so the anchor rests completely on the bottom of the tank). Does the water level in the tank rise or fall?” 
– Asked at Tesla Motors.

25. “How do you feel about those jokers at Congress?” 
– Asked at Consolidated Electrical.