July 17, 2017

Wacky Interview Questions From the Trenches

postitInterviews are pretty strange when you think about them. In fact, it’s sort of insane that we haven’t come up with anything better than a glorified meet up to determine whom to hire.

Here at Red Branch Media, we work with both sides of the hiring equation: recruiters/HR pros and candidates, jobseekers, and employees. As a result, we get a pretty robust view of what the hiring process looks like.

Recently, we decided to ask our network about the weirdest interview questions they’ve received. Here are some of their responses:

Privacy Concerns and Working Moms

“Do you have a private room with a door that locks?”

McKenna Slack, a recruiter for Triage Staffing, was taken aback when a candidate asked this question.

“This question was completely out of the blue,” Slack says, “With no … setup, you can imagine why I thought this question was strange. Turns out, she was nursing and wanted to ensure she’d have a private place to do so.”

Given that women are the breadwinners in 40 percent of households with children younger than 18, chances are some recruiters will run across questions like this. Better yet, maybe we should be volunteering the info. According to Care.com, “90 percent of employees have left work due to family responsibilities and more than 40 percent say the lack of family care benefits impacts their job performance. … [C]are-related productivity losses costs American businesses tens of billions annually.”

Riddle Me This

Sometimes, candidates ask us odd questions. Other times, we find ourselves in the hot seat as job seekers ourselves – just like Jonathan Kestenbaum, executive director of Talent Tech Labs: “I once had an interviewer put a math problem on the whiteboard right when I sat down. He didn’t say anything about it to me, so I brushed it off. At the end of the interview, he asked me the answer to the math problem. I looked at him and asked for five minutes to answer the problem.”

Companies like Google and Facebook have long been known to stump their interviewees with puzzles and riddles. Meanwhile, the vacuum company Dyson has gone next-level, asking candidates to solve puzzles just to get an interview!

As for Kestenbaum, his experience didn’t go so well: “[The interviewer] said, ‘The guy who I need for this job should have been thinking through that answer throughout the interview.’ Let’s just say I didn’t get the job.”

DuckAn Odd Duck of a Question

Liz Bardetti, vice president of marketing for Cybergrants, recalls a few interesting questions from her agency days, including, “Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?”

What do you even say to that? How can there be a right answer to that question? How could the answer possibly impact your ability to do a job?

Oddball questions are the topic of a whole lot of articles in our space, and rightfully so. When you spend most of your days interviewing people, you’re liable to start asking some really strange questions, if only to entertain yourself!

Before you do, though, try out some slightly more humane interview questions on your (frightened) candidates.

Questions Concerning Being on Fire

Okay, I give. People are strange. Is the goal of a job interview simply to scare the ever-loving heck out of people? If so, this question may take the cake:

“Imagine yourself in a tunnel.

“Out one side is a fire-breathing dragon who will surely burn you to a crisp.

“Out the other side is a blazing sun that will surely burn you to a crisp.

“How do you get out of the tunnel?”

Marc Wong, chief data scientist at PeopleTicker, had to take on that wacky riddle at an interview. Unlike subjective duck-related questions, however, riddles and puzzles can test a candidate’s ability to solve thorny problems, which, in the world of data science, is a vary useful skill.

Wong correctly answered the question, by the way: “Wait until dark and exit the tunnel on the side that had the blazing sun.”

Penguins With Free Drink Tickets

Sara Pollock, head of marketing for ClearCompany, has been asked more than her share of doozy questions. In fact, we probably could have done an entire article on the befuddling interview questions she’s encountered:

“How many high school students are there in the U.S.? Walk us through your reasoning for that number.”

“You have two identical bowling balls and are in a hundred-story building. The bowling balls will break when dropped from a certain floor. What is the smallest number of times you can drop a bowling ball to determine the highest floor the balls can safely be dropped from without breaking?”

“How many kegs of beer would Gillette go through if everyone in the stadium had a free drink ticket?”

I can tell you that if someone had asked me any of those interview questions, I would have gotten up and walked straight out of the interview – except the bowling ball one. In that case, I would have asked to be immediately taken to the bowling ball room to check it out myself.

But I do know the answer to this one: “If a penguin wearing a sombrero walked into the room right now, what would he say?”

Nothing, obviously. Penguins cannot talk. In fact, they can barely walk. It’s more of a waddle.

The Interviewer Becomes the Interviewee

Michael Heller, HR pro and founder of iRevü, is used to having the tables turned on him during interviews – but it still makes him scratch his head a little:

“Having spent a good bit of time in recruiting, I have heard several strange interview questions, both from hiring managers and from candidates. I find it very strange when I’m being interviewed and get asked a question that has nothing to do with the job, [like], ‘How many golf balls would fit in this room?’

“I understand the interviewer was trying to sense how I solve problems, but I was being interviewed as a recruiter! I don’t believe I would ever need to [fill a room with golf balls] as a recruiter, unless I was part of some elaborate practical joke.”

What’s Your Age Again?

As recruiters and hiring managers, we understand that we are not supposed to ask about certain things: pregnancy, kids at home, marital status, and of course, age. However, that doesn’t mean candidates can’t ask us how old we are.

During an interview where she was the interviewer, McKenna Slack once got carded – sort of: “So you’re a manager? How old are you?” the candidate asked.

“I am a younger female in a sales world dominated by men, so this question really took me by surprise,” Slack says. “I used this as a learning opportunity for the individual I was interviewing. I politely reminded them that, for many reasons, age should be avoided during interviews.”

“Illegal” interview questions, while not “illegal” in the strictest sense of the word, open your organization up to so many risks that they might was well be outlawed. Avoid any interview questions related to:

– age;
– race, ethnicity, or skin color;
– gender or sex;
– country of national origin or birthplace;
– religion;
– disability;
– and marital status, family status, and pregnancy.

Thankfully, Slack knew this. Instead, she steered the question to her own advantage and decided to show off the culture of her company.

“I also used this moment to discuss how the owners of Triage have created a culture where anyone can be successful if you are willing to put the hours and the hard work in,” Slack says.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Red Branch Media blog.

Maren Hogan is founder and CEO of Red Branch Media. You can read more of her work on Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, and her blog, Marenated.

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Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketer and community builder in the HR and Recruiting industry. She leads Red Branch Media, an agency offering marketing strategy and content development. A consistent advocate of next generation marketing techniques, Hogan has built successful online communities, deployed brand strategies in both the B2B and B2C sectors, and been a prolific contributor of thought leadership in the global recruitment and talent space. Hogan speaks and writes on all career and workforce related subjects. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies and SMBs around the globe. Red Branch Media was formed in 2006 as a simple consultancy. Today, the firm is a full-service B2B Marketing Agency that serves clients in the U.K., Africa, China, Israel, Europe and North America. Primarily focused on the Human Resources and Global Workforce vendors, Red Branch Media handles clients of all shapes and sizes.
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