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Weird Interview Questions: Why They’re Asked, and How to Answer Them

Posted by Kaitlyn Brown on Thu, Jan 17, 2013 @ 10:01 AM

weird interview questionsCan you tell me how many cows are in Canada? What about the number of windows in New York? Can you at least say: ’Peter Pepper Picked a Pickled Pepper’ and cross-sell a washing machine at the same time?

No? Sorry, no job for you.

Each year, Glassdoor.com compiles a list of the top 25 oddest questions asked by interviewers.  Reading through these questions got me thinking about the psychology behind it. Why do interviewers ask these questions, and is there a right way to answer them?

These bizarre interview questions have slowly evolved over the years. What once were a few solvable brainteasers are now weird, random open-ended questions with no real right answer.

A huge reason for this weird question evolvement is the prevalence of the Internet. Not only can you track down the answers to all these brainteasers through a simple Google search, you can also find practically every common interview question along with a detailed explanation on how to answer it properly – or just a flawless answer ready for you to memorize. This has caused a bit of an issue for hiring managers. If every candidate responds with these robotic answers, how are they ever supposed to differentiate between candidates and actually get to know them?

Cue the oddball queries. By asking these left-field questions, hiring managers are able to see how well you can think on your feet and what kind of answers you can come up with on your own. In his book, College Grad Job Hunter, Brian Krueger explains the reason for these “dumb” questions "is to get past your pre-programmed answers to find out if you are capable of an original thought." In doing so, employers are able to get a real feel for your personality. A candidate’s response to a question like, “A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?” will tell the hiring manager whether the candidate is creative, has a sense of humor, and/or is simply excellent at spitting out bull.

Another reason a hiring manager may choose to ask bizarre questions is to test how well you can handle stress in the workplace. Did the candidate keep his cool or did he get flustered easily? If you find yourself in an interview that has suddenly taken a left turn into crazy town, these are some of the things your potential employer is trying to gage. 

Not all weird interview questions are completely irrelevant to the job. Back in the day (don’t tell him I said that) our CEO, Jerry Schmidt, would interview sales candidates and ask the question, “Do you consider yourself lucky?” If he received an answer like, “No, I never win anything”, this told him that the candidate was a negative thinker. In sales, positivity is an important part of the job, therefore someone who answered “yes” to that question is much more likely to get a call back.

However, not everyone agrees that left field job interview questions are effective. According to an article in Time, "No-Brainer: ‘Brainteaser’ Job Interview Questions Don’t Work", a new study says these weird questions don’t help a company find the most-qualified workers, and employers aren’t just wasting your time, “they’re also actively discouraging otherwise qualified workers and breeding resentment that can have long-term ramifications on that company’s ability to hire and retain the best workers”. If candidates can’t see how an interview question relates back to the job or their ability to do the job, they consider it unfair and feel as though they have been set up to fail. 

As a hiring manager, if you do decide to use this unorthodox method of interviewing candidates, it’s important that you know what you’re doing. Many hiring experts believe bizarre questions can be a powerful tool to gather intel on a potential employee – as long as they are used correctly. These questions are not meant to trick or throw candidates off their game. If you use them that way, you will have nothing to take away from your interviews – and that includes a new employee. 

A recent study found that two out of five candidates have been asked an unusual interview question. Whether you think these questions are pointless or not, there’s a chance you will have to answer one someday, so it’s always best to be prepared – for anything.

The key to answering these weird questions is to take your time and don’t let it rattle you. No matter what is thrown your way, keep a smile on your face and act like you have heard this question a million times. Take a deep breath and think about your response for a moment. A little bit of pensive silence is much more desirable than the awkward silence that is sure to follow if you blurt something out without thinking.

Most of the time, these questions have no right answer, so don’t worry about being perfect. Concentrate on being yourself. If you remain true to who you are and they don’t like or appreciate your answer, this probably isn’t the right fit for you anyways. If the question really throws you for a loop and your mind draws a blank, just ask if you can come back to that question later. This may not be the quick-on-your-feet answer they were looking for, but they will appreciate your honesty and the way you kept your composure in a difficult situation. 

Another good way to handle these unexpected queries is to try and relate it back to the position you’re interviewing for. Think about the question and why they might be asking it. Apply sound logic to your response, and your efforts will not go unnoticed.

If you just go into the interview with self-confidence, a positive attitude, and take each question in stride, you will not only survive these seemingly terrifying interrogations; you will also give your competition a run for their money.

Now that you’re prepared for any bizarre questions your interviewer might throw your way, you also want to be fully prepared for the interview as a whole. Because we are your biggest fans and want to see you land that dream job, we have prepared an interview guide to help you make it happen.

And if you're always open to more great advice, please follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook for endless thought leadership from ExactSource!

Topics: Tips for Hiring Managers, Tips for Job Seekers

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