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Job Interviews, Bigfoot and You: Advice For Making the Right Impression

in Do What You Love, Joan's Posts

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

Hopefully you’ve never had a job interview quite so bad as the one in the video above, involving live judging, moose antlers and a countdown. (Sorry, one thing you’ll learn about me over time: I can’t pass up a Monty Python reference…)

But I’ve been part of some pretty weird job interviews myself, both as a hiring manager and an applicant.

So I always get a laugh when, every January, the annual list of the weirdest job interview questions from the past year is released.

Almost exactly two years ago, Baker mentioned that list of questions (which comes from Glassdoor), in one of our Man Vs. Debt podcasts. They’re always interesting, and this year’s sparked a lot of discussion in our family.

If you were a pizza deliveryman, how would you benefit from scissors?

My mom wins the best answer to that: “Use them to defend yourself if you’re robbed?” As a friend of mine WAS robbed delivering pizza, that seemed both practical and relevant.

If you were on an island and could only bring three things, what would you bring?

My friend Dan had the fastest answer to this: A plane, a pilot and fuel. He also pointed out he’d be difficult and ask the interviewer, “Well, what size island? Is it volcanic? Where’s the nearest land? Are there other people on the island?”

Do you believe in Bigfoot?

This might be one of my favorites. Mostly because I feel like it’s the type of question I’d ask, and one I’d have fun hearing answers to. My husband, Chris, said he’d just say that he thinks the general mythology of Bigfoot is mostly a string of hoaxes, but added, “But there are mysteries in the forest that I’m sure would astound us.” (As he’s a big myths-and-legends fan, I was curious to his take on this!)

So what’s the point of off-the-wall interview questions?

Well, see, that’s the part that interests me. A Time article from a couple years ago posits that “brain teaser” interview questions aren’t really helpful in hiring.

That might be so – and I think that holds true for ones like “How many snow shovels were sold in the US last year?,” which came up in this year’s list.

They’re meant to be tests of how you’d solve a problem, and I can see the value in that – to a point. But it’s too easy to say a lot of words and produce nothing of substance in response to such a question, but sound impressive.

That said, I love reading these lists, because in some cases, they tell me a lot more about the company than I think they tell the company about me.

Does the company value problem-solving? Is innovation a core value? Do they expect their employees to know how things work off the top of their heads, or are they more interested in them knowing how to figure it out?

All of these are valuable insights that help me decide if a company is somewhere I want to spend my time. And, fundamentally, it’s nice as an interviewer to get an answer that isn’t rehearsed. They showcase how well a candidate can think on his or her feet.

That, I think, is the biggest value in off-the-wall interview questions: They give you a chance to get just slightly more real.

The interview questions I found most useful, and why

As a hiring manager, I liked asking interview questions to help me get to know the candidate as a person.

I would ask things like What’s the last concert you went to? This absolutely doesn’t matter, but music is something you can often get people to be passionate about. When I’m hiring, I want to see what a candidate looks like when they’re talking about something they’re really into, because this helps me see during the rest of the interview when they’re truly excited about the opportunity and when they’re just trying to get hired.

I’d often ask What website outside the newspaper industry (the one I was hiring in) do you visit most frequently? The people who heard me ask that and STILL answered “The New York Times” made me roll my eyes. I get it. You’re up on the news. Now tell me something about you as a human being, because that’s what I want to hire!

The fact is, when I hired an employee, especially for a fairly small team (usually 3-6 people), it was important that I found people who would be a good fit NOT just in terms of skill. When you need to sit next to someone for 8 to 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, it’s nice if they’re interesting!

You don’t have to be “friends” with everyone on your team. But, man, it sure helps if they’re friendly. The questions that helped me most as a manager were those that honed in on the personality of the candidate, the things that made them tick.

Advice for job interviews

So what do you do if you get hit with a really weird interview question? Be yourself. Go into an interview prepared to be professional, but don’t be afraid to get excited and have some fun, too.

If you don’t get a job because you’re too enthusiastic about it, do you really think that’s a place you want to spend your work hours each day?

The same goes for your wardrobe and your demeanor as for your question answers. Certainly be professional, and there’s nothing wrong with dressing to impress. Don’t ever go into an interview in something you’ve never worn before, though.

New suit? Nope. (Though a close friend of mine got a job because, when her luggage was lost on her flight to interview, she went to a local mall and bought an outfit, then told the story in the interview when asked about how she recently overcame a challenge!)

In general, however, you don’t want to present yourself as someone you’re not in an interview. I’d NEVER wear a dress pantsuit to work, and I won’t wear one to an interview. I’ll dress appropriately for the position, maybe even wear a skirt, but I’ll have my trademark funky earrings and chunky necklaces, because that’s me.

Similarly, I don’t hold back on my smile in interviews. I kind of grin like a freak. It’s what I do. If I try not to, I just end up so focused on that, that I lose any hope of being “natural” with my responses!

Always be you. Stay professional, but don’t let that equate to a lack of enthusiasm. 

And whatever you do, don’t do the thing that went down in history as “weirdest interview I ever conducted.” One candidate asked me if he could go home in the middle of the interview to let his dogs out! That’s definitely not good planning, a bit TOO personal, and probably not going to get you hired.

I’m sharing this today intentionally – because I have a job interview this morning!

I thought that if I could use a reminder to relax and be myself, maybe others in the job market could too.

I’d be interested in your thoughts.

How would you answer the interview questions above? Are you good at thinking on your feet in such situations?

What’s the most memorable job interview you’ve had – for good or bad?

Tell us in the comments below!

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Slackerjo January 27, 2014 at 11:40 AM

This is a bit of a rant!
I take the time to research a company, organize my portfolio, ensure I have updated references and write out questions for the interviewer. I prepare. Sadly, it’s not always a two way street.

Interview where the interviewer asked no questions. I sat there for an awkward 5 minutes of silence before I asked “Do you have any questions about my qualifications?” I don’t think this was a “get into my mind test.” The guy interrupted the interview to take a phone call where he proceeded to have a ten minute conversation about golf.

Woman who rolled her eyes at me the minute I stepped into her office. I had previously worked at a production company so the first question she asked was “Can you get my kid an agent?”

A late Friday afternoon technical writer job interview that suddenly included a ‘writing test.’ He wanted me to spend 2-3 hours well into Friday night doing the ‘test.’ There was no test. He just wanted me to write a manual for his product in a few hours for free.

A very detailed tour of the office, including where they kept the coffee filters. This made me think that I was going to get the job because why else would they tell me the location of the coffee filters.

Online evaluation question “Do you like to take naps?” Uh, at home? At work? On my lunch break? How is this your business?

In hindsight I know I am better off NOT getting jobs at these companies because there were so many red flags but at the time it was a very frustrating experience. I spent an enormous amount of time, money I did not have (parking, bus fare, gas) and mental energy preparing for these interviews.

Good luck Joan!

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Joan Otto January 27, 2014 at 3:08 PM

AHHH! That’s hilarious – except I’m sure I wouldn’t find it hilarious if it happened to me! (The coffee filters thing especially.)

I remember one job interview I had where I had to give a presentation/training to most of the department I was interviewing in – it turned out their planned speaker had canceled and they thought it’d be a good way for me to get to know people… I was like, “Uh, free work, much?” (Was fun, but still.)

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pt January 27, 2014 at 1:01 PM

good luck joan!

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Joan Otto January 27, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Thanks!!! I think it went well – and I was definitely relaxed and “myself.” It felt good.

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pt January 27, 2014 at 6:20 PM

great to hear that Joan!

I’m an extrovert and I like to talk, it is one of my strengths.

I didn’t realize the value of being relaxed until I was placed in a position where I had to interview people. I like to give a balance of talking about who I am, listening, observing, responding to and asking questions.

As an interviewer, I was not drawing to:
a. people never talked (were they too scared? nervous? or did they not understand my question?)
b. people who didn’t ask questions (maybe they’re not interested in the job?)
c. people who talked and didn’t listen (are they too self-centered?)

Note I am not a human resources professional.

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Joan Otto January 28, 2014 at 1:19 AM

Those are great points. In ANY interaction where you’re making a first impression, balance is key! I was really happy with how relaxed I was today. The thing that was missing unlike a couple previous experiences of mine is that I’m not “IN NEED” of a job, or any particular job. I am doing well with the work I have, and I think the “missing desperation quotient” helps me relax, you know??

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Paul January 27, 2014 at 2:35 PM

Good luck with your interview! Today I am expecting an offer letter from a company with which I recently interviewed. My position was eliminated in October and I have been looking for a job ever since. I interviewed with this same company in November and did not get that job. Oddly enough, they hired someone with less expertise than me in a pertinent area. The Wednesday before Christmas, one of the men who interviewed me sent me an e-mail. In it he said that another position would be coming out on their website soon, and that I should apply for it. The next Friday the position was there on their website late in the afternoon. As I read the job description, I had my doubts as to whether or not I was qualified, but I applied anyways. The first week of January I was interviewed again, but this time it was only by the man who had sent me the e-mail. Both interviews were on the phone, which was good for me. I am an introvert and I respond much better when I don’t have someone staring at me. Since losing my job, these are the only interviews I got. I did apply for a few other jobs, but these seemed to be the best fit. I’m sure you know this, but just be yourself in the interview and if they don’t like you, it’s their problem. Eventually you’ll find someone who does appreciate what you will bring to the position.

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Joan Otto January 27, 2014 at 3:07 PM

Paul, I hope your offer letter comes as expected and I hope it’s good!!! I’ll cross my fingers!

I’m also introverted but I HATE phone interviews, mostly because I’m almost phobic about talking on the phone sometimes! (Weird, I know.) In person, I feel like I come off less awkward than I do via phone. But I know a ton of people who are the exact opposite.

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pB January 27, 2014 at 6:22 PM

I agree wholeheartedly with Slackerjo, unless I was applying to sell snow equipment I would most likely answer the question about the shovels with an equally inane counter question.

Asking me about bigfoot: I would possibly ask if it their intention to discriminate against applicants based on religious belief :)

I would definitely ask how the questions relate to the company or the position. I would point out that I am in the technical/engineering field and that’s where my strengths lie. If they wanted story tellers comedy straight men then they should have made that clear in their ad.

Some people go to a lot of trouble, and, notwithstanding the name of this blog, some expense to apply for a position and attend an interview. Also if one is actively seeking work, then taking one position may mean incurring an opportunity cost of not taking another.

I also have a phone ‘interview’ scheduled for tomorrow, and I would much prefer to do it in person.

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Joan Otto January 28, 2014 at 1:21 AM

pB, hope your interview goes great!!! And I think you make a great point – there are fields in which these things fit so, so much better than others. If I’m hiring someone to do temporary data entry, I just can’t see how it’s not a waste of their time and mine to get funky like that. (Even if there is growth potential, I would MUCH rather assess that person through working with them. Some people seem to want to cram 5 years’ worth of working side-by-side into an hour interview, which is a little weird!)

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pB January 28, 2014 at 7:24 PM

Thanks Joan!

Not too much pressure, I was contacted by a headhunter and they asked me to nominate a time to talk to them on the phone ‘any time this week’. To try and be helpful/flexible I gave them a three hour time window for today, during their business hours (they are in a different country – multinational). I have made sure to be nearby in a relatively quiet environment, prepared to give my full attention to this person. The time window is about to close and I have still not heard anything. My phone is about to go to silent, and I will continue with the rest of my day.

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Rachel January 27, 2014 at 6:54 PM

If you had a pink elephant (a real one), what would you do with it?

I was being interviewed by a panel at the time (techie job, programming mostly) and the person who asked me said they asked because in their past interviews they were always asked a random stupid question like that and they wanted to do it themselves for once.

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Joan Otto January 28, 2014 at 1:23 AM

Ha, Rachel, now THAT reasoning I can appreciate!! (And might actually do.)

If you care, I would almost certainly make sure the pink elephant had a blue friend (so that I could genetically have a chance of PURPLE elephant babies, maybe?)

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Susan January 29, 2014 at 10:51 PM

An interviewer asked me to finish this statement, “Papa was a rolling stone….” I answered “Where ever he laid his hat was his home”. He asked me to explain its meaning, and when I did, he said I was all wrong and gave his weird convoluted interpretation. This was for a marketing/advertising position. I have no idea what the question was for. On a different interview, I was asked where my kids went to school (we lived in the same part of town). When I told them the name of the Catholic school they attended, the interviewer seemed annoyed and wanted to know why I didn’t send them to the public school in my neighborhood. I gave some vague reason about it being what they’re used to, and his response was, “So, you like to waste money?” Ugh.

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Joan Otto February 2, 2014 at 8:57 PM

OK, there’s weird and there’s unprofessional. I had that come up about homeschooling in an interview of mine too. I was like, “Uh… REALLY?”

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martha January 29, 2014 at 10:54 PM

Wow ! Having an interview like that would freak me out! I am horrible when put on the spot but great under pressure. The interview process gives me the same feeling that public speaking does…utter terror!! But these questions were so ridiculous I couldn’t help but laugh!….Good luck with your interview

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Joan Otto February 2, 2014 at 8:58 PM

Thanks, Martha! It went well (as did another one with another company later in the week). I was happy. I like public speaking but questions like that floor me sometimes, mostly because I’m not the one calling the shots!

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Xu Vicky January 30, 2014 at 2:08 AM

Are there interviews like this for real? This is hilarious indeed!

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Joan Otto February 2, 2014 at 8:58 PM

Sadly yes!

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Raven January 30, 2014 at 5:33 PM

Since I have only had two interviews, I can’t say I’ve had any wierd questions asked. One of the interviews started off individual, then went to group. Even though I was quiet through most of the group interview, the person doing the hiring said she saw me get more relaxed the longer it went on, and thought the position would be good for me. Onto the questions.
Pizza and scissors, I can’t see why scissors would be helpful, unless you were going to use them to cut the pizza.
On an island- probably a boat, sail, and a book.
Believe in Bigfoot- Yes, mostly because there are so many stories about it all over the world.
Last concert- Transiberian Orchaestra, although I want to see Idina Menzel and Pink in concert.
Website- Getrichslowly.org.

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Joan Otto February 2, 2014 at 8:59 PM

Raven, I said that about cutting the pizza too, but my husband threw a FIT. He was like, “How unhygenic!” I was kind of like, “OK, but it’s a dumb question?!”

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