You’re hitting the job market. You’re getting good at writing cover letters. You’ve updated your résumé. (Well, maybe not updated, but you chose a fancy new font and finally got all the bullets to line up.) All that work can get you in the door, but then you have to deal with the great unknown of the interview itself.
Even a straightforward interview is stressful — What should I wear? Where will I park? Firm handshake? or Do I bow? or Is this the right time for a side-hug?! — but then there are those hiring managers who like to throw you a curveball during your interview to see how well you think on your feet.
Here are a few bizarre (but real) job-interview questions we hope you never have to answer:
1. “You’re in charge of moving a museum across the country. What do you do?”
“First of all, why am I moving a museum? I thought I was applying to be a paralegal? And what’s my motivation here? What kind of shoddy outfit asks one person to move an entire museum? And why are they moving? Do they owe people money? Is this some sort of money-laundering operation?”
Now the question is probably meant to test your ability to delegate and problem-solve, but it might be interesting to turn it back on the interviewer and ask how you can be sure you’re not unwittingly being roped into an art heist.
2. “Are you a starter or a finisher?”
“Where do I begin answering this question?” you might wonder. “And how do I know when I’m done?”
This one is designed to illuminate your work habits. A starter is a motivated, proactive person who moves through tasks quickly, but could potentially leave a lot of loose ends for coworkers. Maybe you don’t listen to the second half of your assignment because you’re already off and running on three ideas about how to execute it.
If you’re a finisher, you might be a procrastinator, a meticulous editor, a perfectionist or a fixer who cleans up other people’s messes. There are potential pros and cons to each.
It’s been suggested that interviewees not linger on this one, that you should respond quickly and definitively. Start your answer and then finish it.
3. “You work for a company on the 50th floor of an office building. People are complaining that it takes too long to get to your floor at certain times of the day. Tell me how you would fix the problem.”
Surprisingly, elevator scenario questions came up quite often when we surveyed people about their interview experiences. According to tech industry insiders, Microsoft has often asked candidates, “How would you test an elevator?” The point here is for the interviewer to gauge your on-the-spot reasoning process and improvising skills and to see how well you consider the needs of others. Train for this one by noticing organizational pain points around you (traffic? leaky pipes? slow service at a restaurant?) and mentally working through solutions.
4. “Out of 25 horses, pick the fastest 3 horses. No stopwatch. In each race, only 5 horses can run at the same time. What is the minimum number of races required?”
Companies like Bloomberg and Facebook are rumored to ask this deductive query. One interesting answer we heard: “Shoot 22 of them. Have one race.” It sounds like a cruel response, but these aren’t real horses — they’re imaginary interview horses. (Okay, there probably aren’t a lot of situations where that response makes a great impression…)
This one actually has a correct answer — 7 races — but A) we had to ask for help, and B) we don’t have time to break it all down here. It’s meant to test your logic as you narrow down the possibilities. Don’t be afraid to ask for paper and draw it out. Hopefully, if you’re a programmer or an IT professional, it doesn’t spook you too badly. Technical careers are where these sorts of questions tend to come up.
5. “You used to steal, but you are done with that now.”
One respondent recounts being asked this agree/disagree question on an online interview test. “It impugned my character either way. If I agree, I say I used to be a thief, but if I disagree, I say I'm not done with stealing. I felt it was the most honest question, really, because it told you right out of the gate that they think you're untrustworthy.”
If they’re asking this question as a thought exercise, they’ll probably give you some room to explain yourself. If you’re only allowed to click one of the two boxes, the employer has probably had a real theft problem.
6. “The color yellow makes me angry...”
a) ...all of the time.
b) ...most of the time.
c) ...some of the time.
If it seems like an absolutely psychotic question, you’re in good shape, because that’s exactly what it’s designed to screen for. Like the previous agree/disagree question, this always–sometimes–never questionnaire rating style is another use of what researchers refer to as a “Likert scale” question. Your response here is meant to flag a potential mood disorder. Suggested answer: “Never.”
7. “Sell me this pen.”
(We’ve reached the “Questions that don’t have question marks” portion of the article. Have you noticed?) This is the classic sales interview question. Another version is something like, “Name 5 unique features of this Bic pen that make it saleable.” A successful response will show that you understand the importance of determining a prospective buyer’s needs before making a sale.
8. “Do you smile a lot?”
“Does it look like I’m smiling? Am I a clown to you? You think I’m funny. Like ha-ha funny? Why is this there so much yellow in this office?”
Seriously, just say “yes” and show them you don’t have any food stuck in your teeth. And try not to be so nervous you get hostile. Smiling is just about universally positive unless you’re interviewing to be a guy who checks passports at the airport. Then you need to establish your poker face.
The main thing, though, is to just relax. You’re probably not going to get one of these horrifying questions, but if you do, it’s going to be okay. Our advice after talking to a number of employers about what they look for in a candidate is confident humility, a demeanor people can be around, listening skills and being okay with not knowing everything. Because none of us do. Not even the interviewer.
Just remember that being interviewed is a lifelong skill, and by the time you’ve figured it out, you’ll probably be the one conducting the interviews.
Ready to get into a few interviews and find your next job? Search KSL Jobs and start practicing making eye contact while giving a firm handshake.
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