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!