job-hunt

Say what? Top oddball interview questions

June 6, 2012 at 10:10 AM ET

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If you interviewed for a job as a customer service representative at one company you may be asked this question: "If you were in the movie 'The Wizard of Oz,' which character do you most relate with and why?"

“Why are manhole covers round?”

Most of us are prepared for standard job interview questions such as “What’s your biggest weakness?” and “Are you a people person?”

But what happens when you get hit with a bizarre and unexpected question from a hiring manager such as:

“How can I get to some gold in the middle of the Amazon in the cheapest way possible?”

This question was asked of a job seeker who interviewed for an associate project manager position at Google in Mountain View, Calif., and it’s No. 1 on the Top 10 list of oddball interview questions asked by hiring managers. The list — compiled by Glassdoor.com, a jobs website where people post their job-hunting experiences — was culled from thousands of questions submitted by job seekers this year. 

While unusual questions have always been part of the interviewing landscape, things have gotten increasingly weird in the employment trenches during the tough economy, said Rusty Rueff, Glassdoor’s career and workplace expert.

With more than 8 percent unemployment, some human resource professionals may think you guys are willing to put up with a lot.

Given that power seems to have shifted from the employee to the employer, Rueff said that some interviewers “take advantage of some people and there can be a little hazing that goes on. That’s not fair, but it is what it is.”

In many cases, he added, employers just want to see how creative you can be, and whether you can think on your feet and not get flustered by a curveball question.

His advice: “Put your best foot forward, roll with the punches and don’t get angry.”

He suggested talking out loud through complex and strange questions so a hiring manager can hear your thought process.

For example, if you’re asked, “Why are manhole covers round?” you should take a deep breath and think to yourself, “Why are they round?” Then, answer the question out loud in several parts if need be, such as: “They’re easier to move, or stake. And they could be round so they can’t fall through the hole.”

Bottom line, he stressed, you can’t prepare for such questions so don’t sweat them.

Or you can just write off hiring managers who ask such crazy questions, suggested communications consultant Mark Jeffries, author of "What's Up With Your Handshake?"

“If you’re asked how to get to a pot of gold in the middle of a jungle it’s time to say bye-bye,” he said, adding that employers are going through so many job candidates these days that they’ve “gone insane. Do you really want to work with a company that approaches employment like that?”

Here’s the rest of Glassdoor's Top10 oddball question list:

  • “Tell me the restaurant where you dined last night?” – Ernst & Young consultant candidate (location n/a) 
  • “Do you feel you had a normal childhood?” – Gentex mechanical engineer candidate (Zeeland, Mich.) 
  • “If you can grow anything on a tree, what would it be?” – Red Frog Events event coordinator candidate (Chicago, Ill.) 
  • “If you were in the movie 'The Wizard of Oz,' which character do you most relate with and why?” – National Contract Management Association customer service representative candidate (Ashburn, Va.) 
  • “Would you rather be ranked No. 1 in the office and hated by everyone or No. 15 in the office but well-liked?” – ADP outside sales representative candidate (location n/a) 
  • “If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you want to have with you?” – Cisco Human Resources manager candidate (location n/a) 
  • “Jeff Bezos walks into your office and says you can have a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea. What is it?" – Amazon product development candidate (Seattle, Wash.) 
  • “My clock is nine minutes slow every hour. At noon, it tells the correct time. After how many hours will it again tell the correct time?” – Bloomberg L.P. financial applications engineer candidate (New York, N.Y.) 
  • “If you had five red balls that contained four red balls and those red balls contained the original five red balls, then how many sets of sets of balls would I take to have a double set of red balls of varying sizes inside each next largest red ball?” – Goldman Sachs investment banking vice president candidate (New York, N.Y.)

 Have you been asked an odd interview questions recently? If so, what was it?

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