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Unusual Job Interview Questions

Ice breaker questions help candidates relax at the beginning of interviews, give them a chance to warm up their communication skills and give them a fun first impression. They can also be a good way to test for culture fit and general candidate attitudes.

unusual job interview questions

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Ask a job seeker what his or her weaknesses are and chances are they will say they work too hard. Ask that same candidate what they would do if they won $20 million in the lottery and you're not likely to get a canned or polished answer. While oddball questions may seem pointless, they can actually be more telling than the straight forward type of interview questions most employers use.

"Strange or oddball questions are not primarily asked to trick a person, but to uncover qualities about a candidate that can't be determined from a resume or two-minute drill," says Susan Ruhl, a managing partner at OI Partners - Innovative Career Consulting in Denver. "They are designed to uncover how you think, handle unexpected problems and situations, whether you are a good fit for their culture, and how creative you are."

Weird, funny and strange interview questions can be a powerful tool to glean information about a potential candidate as long as they are used correctly. If the interviewer doesn't know what he or she is looking for, then throwing out a strange interview question just for the sake of doing it will be pointless and awkward. "It's an excellent technique to get to know the real person, but you have to know what you are doing," says Mark Jaffe, president of Wyatt & Jaffe, the executive search firm. "It won't yield meaningful results if you don't know what you are looking for." According to Jaffe, if the employer is using oddball questions just to throw a candidate off their game or trick them, then it won't be useful in trying to get them to share something beyond their prepared answers. "The idea is to get people to relax their defenses and to dredge up something that may not be in their immediate repertoire for an interview," says Jaffe.

Career experts say interviewers have to go into the interview knowing the role they are aiming to fill and the type of person that is best suited for that role. For instance, if you are looking to hire an accountant and you ask what would you do with $20 million in lottery winnings, you're going to want to hear they would put it in savings, pay off debt or increase their retirement nest egg, but if you are looking to hire a creative type you may want to hear they would spend the money traveling the world.

"The questions are designed to illicit atypical responses," says Chuck Fried, president, and chief executive of technology staffing company TxMQ. "If you asked what three things you would bring to a deserted island you are trying to figure out if the person is pragmatic or fantasy-oriented." Does the person say he or she would bring a book of matches, a cellphone and water filtration system or do they say they would bring a bottle of wine, a great novel, and an iPod?

When it comes to weird interview questions they typically fall under the categories of problem-solving, thought process and cultural fit, according to Ruhl. The problem-solving ones are designed to see how quickly, accurately and creatively a person solves a problem and could include questions such as how many square feet of pizza are eaten in the U.S. each year? or how many snow shovels sold in the U.S. last year? Similar to problem-solving questions are thought process questions which Ruhl says are designed to see how you think. Examples of thought process questions include describe to me the process and benefits of wearing a seatbelt and why is a tennis ball fuzzy? Cultural fit questions are employed to see if a candidate would fit well within a company. Questions could include if you could throw a parade of any caliber through the Zappos office, what type of parade would it be? and if you were on an island and could only bring three things, what would you bring?

Although weird and funny interview questions can catch job candidates off guard they can also demonstrate if a person can think on their feet. It's not the job of the interviewer or the interviewee to actually know how many gas stations there are in the U.S., but Fried says it's a great tool to see how someone thinks through the problem. "I don't care about the right answer I care about the logic someone used to arrive at the answer," says Fried.

How managers at your organization interview candidates matters and will show up in company reviews. To get involved in the conversation on Glassdoor and start managing and promoting your employer brand reputation, unlock your Free Employer Profile today.

Although these questions are essential, you'll want to create ones that are a little more unique than this. Many applicants have gone through the interviewing process multiple times and have heard the same questions repeated ad infinitum.

These days, applicants are expected to conduct preliminary research on the company they want to work for. This question will show how much initiative the candidate took to investigate his future employer before coming to the interview.

To help with your candidate vetting profess, the hiring experts at KnowledgeCity have compiled twenty creative questions that have been found to inspire honest and insightful candidate responses.

This lets you see how well a candidate can come up with something creative on the spot. This may be a particularly good question for people interviewing for a marketing, advertising or sales position.

This question can reveal whether things went smoothly at their last job. If the candidate is quick to respond, it was likely a mutual break. If there is some hesitation or teeth-clenching, you may want to ask follow up questions to try to uncover what the issues may have been.

But what happens when your interviewer goes off-script and asks you an oddball question? Will you be able to rise to the challenge? How do you even prepare for whacky, out of the ordinary interview questions?

If you're preparing to interview for a position in investment banking, sales and trading, or investment management, it's likely you've already practiced answering a host of interview questions, including: What are your strengths and weaknesses? Why do you want to work for this firm in particular?

Later this week, I will be helping with a workshop designed to help ABD grad students prepare for job interviews. There are some questions that are asked in almost every job interview, but almost all the ones I've done have also featured at least one rather unusual or idiosyncratic question. Here are a few such questions that struck me as odd when I was asked them:

These are relatively mild compared to some of the stories I've been told, however. I was hoping that some of you might have particularly rare or unusual interview questions that you are willing to share so that I could give workshop attendees some examples. If you have an example of an unusual interview question that you were once asked, please post it as a comment.

"How would your friends describe you?"-- Maybe this was fine but it was during the pandemic so I hadn't seen many friends in a hot minute. It was also unclear what a good or right answer to this question with respect to a job interview is supposed to be.

A question about "assessment" that I interpreted as about assessing whether students/assignments meet departmental objectives and not (what I think they wanted) just assignments and grading. (This was an interview with no interaction so there was no way to correct the misunderstanding.)

Hi Trevor, thank you for the helpful post! Do you have any sense that those questions were targeted at you or that the committee asked the same questions to all candidates? Do you mind sharing whether you were offered a job or proceeded to the next level after the interview with those questions?

@curious. It varied the 1st and 3rd examples were asked of all candidates (I assume). The 2nd one certainly wasn't because it was an extremely specific question about my writing sample. I ultimately got offered jobs in cases #2 and #3; I did not advance past the 1st round interview in case #1.

It almost felt like they read an HR sheet listing questions that an interviewee might have for them, and thought they were supposed to ask the interviewee. I basically repeated some of the main things from the job ad, and said "beyond that, I was hoping you could tell me!"

I casually mentioned right before the interview that I play pickup basketball in my free time, and one interviewer asked something along the lines of "how does basketball fit into your philosophical thinking?" It definitely caught me off guard--I assumed at first it was a joke, only to realize that it was fully sincere.

This is an illegal question most likely but nonetheless I was asked it and, when I tried to dodge it artfully, I was asked again more forceully. It was asked during a one-on-one interview not during the interview with the committee.

Normally the question is about diversity in general, not just racial diversity, but I'd say number 4 has moved from an unusual to normal question. I've in fact had it in like 2/3rds of interviews I've exprienced.

Not a question, but I feel like sharing anyway: A very prominent philosopher fell asleep during my APA interview. Then at the "smoker", I went over to his department's table to talk to him; he turned away from me, otherwise refused to acknowledge me, and didn't say a word. It was easier to take it in stride because the market was a lot better in those days.

The question is formulated in an unusual way, but it strikes me as just another way of asking: do you have philosophical interests beyond your areas of work & teaching? i.e. Beyond what you're required to do?

The strangest question I've gotten is, "How do you explain your work [in philosophy] to your grandmother?" My grandmother had been dead for about two decades when I got that question. As one might imagine, I did not have a good answer and did not get a second-round interview.


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