In this new age of interviewing, savvy career searchers know to expect a “Huh?” question just as much as the standard “Tell me about yourself” inquiry. Several years ago, Google forever made its mark on interviewing with such quandaries as, “How many ping-pong balls do you need to fill a Boeing 747 plane?”
I’ll let you ponder that one for a few minutes.
I’ve been telling clients to expect these questions and training them on how to answer such queries. Tip 1: remember that it’s not about a precise number or response so much as talking out loud about how you would go about getting the answer. Tip 2: In addition to thinking out loud, ask questions of your interviewer to better formulate your response as opposed to panicking or appearing flustered by the question. Also, comment if you are interested in answers to this plane/ping-pong ball question.
As a tip of the hat to recently retired David Letterman, we bring to you a Top Ten List of NEW Oddball Interview Questions and are also providing tips on how to approach answering them.
1. Batman vs. Spiderman: Who Would Win?
This is a “stop you in your tracks” question that came from Stanford University; how does one even approach answering a query such as this? What if comic book heroes – and their movie franchises – are not topics you even know much about? Here’s my thought, and I believe you can apply the logic to many similar questions:
Potential Response 1: If you are familiar with the characters and can reason an answer, go for it (I am quite familiar with both characters and do believe that Spiderman’s capabilities truly outweigh those of Batman and here’s why…)
Potential Response 2: If you are not familiar with the characters, answer the question without really doing so at all (Although comic book heroes are not my forté, I believe that both characters are good guys and fight the bad guys. As such, I believe they would not ever find themselves in a fight as they are both on the same side!)
2. In what ways are you lucky?
This is an interesting alternative to the “Tell me about yourself” question; Airbnb asks it and given their penchant for upbeat employees, it makes sense. What this question is really asking is, “How do you see yourself?” and is therefore a behavioral interview question. The key here is to be thoughtful without being too revealing (please avoid such responses as, “I’m really lucky to even be here after escaping from prison last week…”) We suggest keeping your answer somewhat career-focused.
Potential Response: I am quite lucky to have found a sector I truly love and have worked for some companies that value hard-work and innovation. I am also passionate about what I do and am quite fortunate to have worked with great people so far; I look forward to continuing that lucky streak in future positions.
3. Tell me a story.
Technically, this is a request and not a question! Celgene, a global biopharmaceutical company based in New Jersey, asked this question for a corporate communications role; interviewers were looking for people who understand the art of story-telling and power of communication. The same logic applies here as to so many others on this list. Ask a few questions and then go in for the kill — the goal is to quickly establish expectations and show collaboration (even though you are the one who will eventually need to supply a story!)
Potential Response: What kind of story would you like to hear today – a scary story, a fairy tale, an allegory or a funny story from my trip down here to meet you? Okay, a funny story from my trip in to this interview it is. As I was walking over, I saw what can only be described as an event straight out of “The Three Stooges.” A man walking down the street, let’s call him Moe, did not see the banana peel in front of him and actually slipped on it. I did not think that happened in real life! I did run right over to help him up and make sure he was fine; besides hurting his ego, which was absolutely bruised, he was injury-free. I removed the peel from the sidewalk and we both continued on our way. Besides him being fine, I am happy that I have not seen “Moe” walking around the office since arriving for the interview!
4. What is the world’s tallest building and how many quarters would you need to build a quarter tower the same height as that building?
This question is a two-parter; first, it is asking for you to determine the tallest building (which is, essentially, current events — how up-to-date are you on such trivial knowledge?) before forcing you to reason out a response. The good news? You don’t need to provide an actual answer.
Suggested response: I do believe that a hotel in Dubai is currently the world’s tallest building. I would need to know first if we are stacking the quarters flat on top of one another or edge on edge — either way, we are breaking laws of physics at some point! From there, I would need the height of the building and the dimensions of the quarter before running some simple math equations.
5. If you were a cartoon character, which one would you be and why?
This is another behavioral interview character and the interviewer is likely looking to see how creative you are; I doubt a white-collar law firm would ask this but a digital marketing agency probably would. Think outside of the box and make sure your response to back it up is relevant to the work place.
Potential response: I would have to say Marge Simpson; despite her poor taste in hair color and spouses (even though I generally like Homer as a character), she has always struck me as a truly smart person, as well as someone who is able to navigate tricky situations with grace. I know how challenging that is, even in a 2-D world, but can personally identify with those qualities.
6. If you were a crayon color, which one would you be and why?
This is another great behavioral question that is assessing your creativity. A good response would be interesting; a great response will tie it back to the job overall.
Potential Response: I would pick a vibrant color that is rare in nature but spectacular when you see it; a deep blue or emerald green that you see on a really beautiful peacock feather are both colors that come to mind as I feel that what I bring to the table, career-wise, is a rare combination of skills.
7. What would you do if a colleague approached you about another team member who has a body odor issue?
This question stinks! All jokes aside, this is actually a really useful one as it helps the interviewer to see how you handle awkward situations within the workplace. The key here is to remain as politically correct as possible.
Potential Response: I would check the handbook and speak with HR as the employee should probably hear this info but it would likely be best coming from someone whose job description entails handling “human” issues. That said, if the person is a dear friend outside of work, I may consider being that individual but it would have to be a very close friend whom I believe would respond better hearing this kind of sensitive information from me.
8. How would you design a spice rack for the blind?
This question is both a process-oriented and behavioral question in one. Your response need be both pragmatic as well as empathetic; while those are seemingly two opposites, great responses are absolutely possible.
A potential response might be: This is a great question and one that may be best answered by trying to experience using a spice rack the way a blind person does. I may engage in some R&D first, speaking with a few blind individuals to hear what is currently in their home before designing something even better. I do believe that having brail on the rack is important, as is easy access to smelling the contents. I also believe it will be helpful for some component of the rack to let a user know when the contents are getting low so he or she can refill it.
9. What do you think you will hate about this job?
Medtronic asked this question for a relatively entry-level role. Why is it important to mention the level? My guess is because the response can help determine one’s maturity level. We suggest being as honest-yet-politically-correct as possible.
Potential Response As with many life changes, there may be parts of the role that are not my favorite; that said, I thrive in creative, collaborative settings and am looking for that in a role. I do believe that, based on our conversation so far, I would be absolutely fine.
10. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate me as an interviewer?
The creator of your favorite mac-and-cheese (Kraft) is known to ask this question not because they actually want to hear how much you suck up to the interviewer but rather see how well you communicate opinions, especially in a stressful situation. Our suggestion is to avoid extremes (as in, try not to give either 1 or 10 as a response) and focus more on the sandwich method of positive, constructive criticism, positive.
Potential Response: Overall, I have really enjoyed our conversation as it feels both authentic and informative, so thank you for that. I would like to hear more information from you about upcoming major projects that the person in this role would be working on and perhaps there is time for that now. Honestly, though, I believe your interviewing skills are absolutely on-target and I look forward to the rest of our dialogue today and, hopefully, in the future. I would rate it at nearly 9.
Special thank you to Glassdoor.com as well as our wonderful Project Manager, Jodi Rogozinski, for supplying most of these oddball questions; the others come from family and friends who report back from the trenches.
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