How to handle those impossible interview questions

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Interviews are certainly atop the causes of anxiety for job seekers. Here on “The Work Buzz,” we’ve devoted many posts to the topic, and each time you have plenty to say. As it stands, the job search process appears stacked against job seekers. You try to impress employers and say the right things in order to get an offer, because the number of applicants outnumbers the number of positions. Only when the offer is extended do you feel as if you’re in power.

A bad handshake.

A tie that’s too bright.

Not making eye contact.

Not speaking with enough authority.

“All of these little things can cost me an offer?” you ask.

Depending on the employer, yes. Fair or not, that’s the truth. And according to a new survey from, a job search website, employers are messing even more with your mind. They’re not trying to make your life difficult; they simply want to find the strongest candidate for the job. In order to do that, they don’t stick to the standard questions. You might hear, “Tell me about yourself” one moment and then, “How would you describe an orange?” another.

Seriously. According to a recent analysis of major technology companies, in one interview, Hewlett-Packard asked a software engineer applicant to describe an orange. These questions are causing serious concern for job seekers who don’t know how to answer them and what they have to do with their performance. Consequently, many companies are rated high on the list of places to work but low on the list of places to interview.

In his article, author Mike Swift explains that these are popular jobs at popular companies. The companies can afford to be selective and applicants are willing to put up with the hassle. He writes:

“The interview process wasn’t a breeze at any of the dozen tech companies in the Glassdoor analysis, a group that also includes Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Oracle, Microsoft and Dell. Job candidates at all 12 tech companies rated the interview experience as more difficult than the average rating for the 17,000 companies for which Glassdoor collects data.

“No matter how difficult the interview questions or process might be, there is a silver lining for some tech job-seekers. Demand is intense for software engineers right now, with Google, Facebook and some other companies hiring rapidly, recruiters say.”

Such brain teasers have been around for a while, but they are growing more popular, especially in certain competitive industries. Job seekers consistently want to know: Why do they ask me a question I couldn’t possibly know the answer to?

Because they want to see how you reason out the answer and handle the pressure. Think about the drills you had to do in order to try out for cheerleading or basketball in high school. You don’t actually ever run back and forth between a series of cones during a game, but you have to prove that you have the power to do it and are willing to try. Job interviews are similar.

In a previous article, “Why Do Interviewers Use Brain Teasers?” we tackled the topic:

“A precise answer is rarely the goal. ‘In many cases, hiring managers have told me that they don’t even know the answer.’ The interviewers ‘are interested to see the logic and problem-solving ability of the candidate,’ [says Greg Moran, managing partner of Better People, a recruitment outsourcing firm].

“Other questions are used simply to evoke a reaction from a candidate. Moran often asks, ‘Beside this question, what is the worst interview question you have ever been asked?’ He wants to see how a candidate will perform if hired. ‘It gives our recruiters a good idea of the candidate’s sense of humor while seeing if they can engage with a good story.’ He considers it a good test for candidates applying for a sales position.”

One sure-fire way to fail this test is to say that you don’t know. Who’s going to pick the cheerleader who doesn’t even attempt to do back flips or a handstand? As with a coach, employers want to know that you’re not going to give up in the face of a challenge.

Think about how you would answer one of these seemingly impossible questions if you heard them in an interview — all of which were asked of engineer job seekers for the respective company:

  • “Approximately how many garbage men are there in California?” (Apple)
  • “Given an array of integers, find the maximum number that can be reached by summing the best possible consecutive subsequence of the array.” (Facebook)
  • “Estimate the volume of water on the Earth.” (Yahoo)
  • “Find the anagrams in a dictionary.” (Microsoft)

Have you encountered these questions in an interview?

  1. Kind of extreme.

    I’m an open-minded person so I probably would laugh and answer the question to the best of my ability. However, I do not think these are effective ways of weaning the competition down to a manageable size.

    An easier (and more acceptable way of doing so) is to simply develop proficiency tests. This method should receive no complaint from the expert techie who is proud (and sometimes even boastful) of his skills. This would be preferred as opposed to asking them questions more suitable for a professional clown or circus entertainer position.

    Grade the test not only on if they were able to solve the problem, but HOW. In the HOW you can find a person’s creativity as well as hard skills.

    Sometimes Human Resource Managers don’t seem to understand that thinking too far outside the box just ends up in a surplus recruitment of space-heads, which you don’t want too many of in a highly competitive industry.

    (And this is coming from a former space-head!!!)

    Get it together HR!

      • You’re an idiot. First off, “weaning” is an acceptable word. You should look it up in a dictionary, if you own one that is(and I won’t even make you find the anagrams in it).

        Also, if you are going to insult someone, especially at an intellectual level, try using proper grammar. Capitalization and punctuation are not optional. However, the lack of them does make you look extremely less intelligent, and some people need all the help they can get. ;)

          • The question to describe an orange could be useful in testing ones vocabulary and descriptive skills.

            Unless the job is with a waste management company where the applicant might be expected to have some background knowledge, the garbage men question should be rephrased “How would you approximate how many …” The applicant could then describe how he would approach the problem and not try to come up with an actual number.

            • The question on how many garbage men are in California can be taken this way! Enough so every person in the state gets their garbage emptied once a week at least. This is because of the fly growth cycle and is a public health regulation.

            • Wean: Fig. to set apart.

              I found the orange question very fascinating. The answer could be very technical, concise and straight to the point or, it could actually measure one’s creativity and problem solving capabilities, the command of the language required to do the job as well as the body language used when replying to the interviewer. Not everything is black and white. I could go on and on. I definitely am the creative, problem solving type.

        • Actually Joe is correct. While “weaning” is a word, how it was used by Jon was incorrect for any definition of the term.

          While you can wean a baby off of milk to solid foods, you don’t wean a list of potential candidates down to a manageable size. You can, however, weed out candidates to shrink the list down to a manageable size.

    • ‘One sure-fire way to fail this test is to say that you don’t know.’

      Sorry but that’s plain wrong.

      It takes courage to admit you don’t know the answer and it shows you’re open and honest. These are valued qualities in many roles and are far more impressive than floundering around when you’re out of your depth.

      Of course that shouldn’t be the end of your response: tell the interviewer how you’d go about finding the answer.

      For example:

      Q. How many golf balls can you fit in a jumbo jet? (asked to me by a large management consultancy)

      I didn’t know but went on to explain how I’d go about finding out. Size of the plane, volume of a golf ball etc.

      I got the job and the interviewer commented that the right answer was to admit ignorance but then explain how I would go about getting the answer.

      Moral of the story: DON’T be afraid to admit ignorance of tough questions, but DO be prepared to explain how you’d get the answer.

  2. Seriously? How you describe an orange can make or break your interview? I’m sorry but if this is the best our so-called brightest companies can do than I am truly disheartened for our future. It’s downright immature, arrogant and silly. Help me understand this here – how does it really find the “best candidate” for the job? I agree with Jon – get it together HR!

    • I think the Orange question is a very good one. One of the most important aspects to a job is to be able to describe something to somone who knows nothing about it.

      I would judge the reponse based on if it was complete, well organized and immidiately conveys understanding.

      • The question is a good question for the job. Many computer based jobs that involve programming and engineering have to break down tasks to the most basic functions. The person has to tell the computer what to do. The more detail the better the program. The interviewer might be looking for the most detailed answer. This along with other questions may give you your best employee.

    • Retired HR director here! Never asked anyone to describe an orange, but I think its an inventive question. I would answer: A pretty colored spherical fruit when ripe with dimpled skin unlike my thighs. Shows the person has a sense of humor, can think on her feet and demonstrates her cage isn’t rattled so easily.

      • Totally not appropriate about the “dimpled thighs”. My sense of humor maybe different than someone else’s so that would burn me, the applicant, in the end. Maybe state the vitamin C in oranges in which we all need for cold season (finding common ground)
        “Dimpled thighs” could come back to haunt the applicant later like a bad rerun!

    • I know several grads that can recite books cover to cover, but can not walk and chew gum at the same time. A flexible mind that is quick and nimble is needed when working on equipment that has programing, electrical componets and complex machinery in state-of- the-art companies.

  3. Most of those asking these “tough questions” are lucky they are not the ones being interviewed, because once you get inside any company you soon learn most of them cannot think their way out of a paper bag and are a waste of salary, space and oxygen. Not only are they morons during the interview process, they also make “team decisions”–everyone down to the seething incompetent has to love you or you don’t get the job–which is just one more way they hold big-ticket management titles without actually “managing” much of anything, starting with the hiring process. I’m lucky to be part of a wonderful team of people who are actually expert at what they do and these kinds of “games” are what will get you thrown out the door. Sadly, though, I had to endure legions of interview idiots and almost lost our entire life savings before I made it in from the cold. You can keep the “amusing stories about tough interviews.” These people inflict real misery on huge swaths of the populace and then expect “that Obama” or “those Republicans” to fix it all. Screw all of them and may the same thing happen soon to them, and to THEIR children.

      • Another sweeping assumption?
        Not droll, but dull. Definitely trite.

        You dismiss a very valid observation that too many self-assigned gatekeepers implement methods to validate their own sense of importance. Far too many could not work in the positions they are hiring for, much less jump through the very same hoops they hold up for others.

        Those in the wrong relish “design by committee” and work to exclude any exhibition of individual ability; teamwork yes, but comprised of capable and willing members, not of spineless and bland paste too weak to be labeled “vanilla.”

    • Maybe “Rex range’s” name should more accurately be “Rex rage.”. That’s probably why it took him so long to find a job! Chill, Rex

  4. Most of those asking these “tough questions” are lucky they are not the ones being interviewed, because once you get inside any company you soon learn most of them cannot think their way out of a paper bag and are a waste of salary, space and oxygen. Not only are they morons during the interview process, they also make “team decisions”–everyone down to the seething incompetent has to love you or you don’t get the job–which is just one more way they hold big-ticket management titles without actually “managing” much of anything, starting with the hiring process. I’m lucky to be part of a wonderful team of people who are actually expert at what they do and these kinds of “games” are what will get you thrown out the door. Sadly, though, I had to endure legions of interview idiots and almost lost our entire life savings before I made it in from the cold. You can keep the “amusing stories about tough interviews.” These people inflict real misery on huge swaths of the populace and then expect “that Obama” or “those Republicans” to fix it all. May the same thing happen soon to them, and to THEIR children.

    • I once had an interviewer ask me what color I’d be. Yes, seriously. This was during a phone interview that already gone on for over an hour. She asked me plenty of other “spacey” questions, but that one took the cake. And for other “job oddities” I’ve recently encountered, just this afternoon I interviewed at a staffing agency for an assignment with one of their clients. I had changed my shoes before going into the office, but I was carrying my sneakers with my stuff. And the recruiter actually said I should probably “take care of tics like carrying your shoes. On the assignment, you should change your shoes outside the building.” Number 1, carrying your walking shoes is not a “tic.” Number 2, I already HAD changed my shoes before I came into the building. I got the feeling that she was one of these recruiters who likes to micromanage every single aspect of presenting you to the client, and that the client was an anal witch who wouldn’t give you the assignment because of something like carrying your shoes. I encountered this once before with a recruiter for a temp project. The client asked about my future plans after the assignment was over, and I told her. The recruiter said later I didn’t get it because the client didn’t LIKE my future plans – “you want to do more than be an admin assistant.” Well, yeah…but how are my future plans any of the client’s business? If you might not like somebody’s future plans…don’t ask. They’re not relevant anyway most of the time on a temp project. I told the recruiter, “Fine,” and decided not to deal with her again. Oddly enough, she keeps calling me…and I just ignore her.

  5. Cindy – I’m with you in thinking that if this is the best our so-called brightest companies can do, you’re disheartened about the future. I honestly believe that HR managers, staffing agency recruiters, and others involved in hiring are at least partly to blame for the the high uenmployment rate. They want to find the silliest, most insulting reasons to not hire people. I received a list of “interview tips” yesterday from an agency, and it actually included this gem: “Don’t remove your blazer during the interview, or during any testing.” What? I’ve never done this anyway. I don’t know anyone else who has, either. Most people I know just don’t think about doing that. Some of the other “tips” on that list were just too dumb to believe. Another agency last year tried to tell me to “wear makeup!” I finally said, “I have short hair, I don’t chew gum during interviews, and I know when to wear high heels.” They didn’t seem to get from looking at my resume that I’ve been working for over twenty-five years, and I know how to conduct myself on an interview. This micromanaging, and not hiring for silly reasons, has to stop if our economy is going to get back on track.

    • Mary reminds me of something that really ticked me off. our region has very high unemployment and I have had to find new jobs often due to closings and relocation of businesses out of town. each time I have been placed by the same employment agency, 1st as a temp then got hired within a few weeks. so this year when my company laid everyone off I went back to that firm. I went in and introduced myself and asked to enroll & get my tax forms submitted. the very young gum chewing receptionist explained that I needed an appointment and 4 hours. I asked why, she told me I have to watch a video about being a good employee, and complete a questionairre with questions like “how late is too late to regularly show up late to work?” I explained to her I’ve been working 20 years and had excellent references within their firm, but without hearing a word I said she says everyone has to do this. Maybe she’s used to morons with no history, this being a temp service too, but I made it clear that any of their recruiters would vouch for me . thank God I got another job before I had to sit through that useless crap.

    • Does HR truly understand the skillset required? Probably not, in all honesty, and with no disdain- HR is tasked w/ hiring all levels and sectors of a company’s staff.

      What this really indicates is that the management of the company considers themselves too important, OR… relies on assets OUTSIDE HR to find its key employees. How many people have submitted resumes, then finding out the outside search is a formality- that the desired candidate (friend, contact or inside advancement) is already identified. Protocol, don’t you know.

      As for executive recruiters? What a joke! With all the consolidation in the markets, what do these people bring to the table? Overhead to the candidate and/or a numbers game (throw enough candidates at a prospective employer). Most ALL recruiters are flesh marketers, hoping to cause a domino effect. As for the top recruiters- they just love the huge packages awarded- commission is based on total package. And look at the result- CEOs, CFOs, that have failed before and probably won’t succeed. But who cares, as the Golden Parachute is in the ready.

      How often have we seen a failed CEO or other top exec get bumped from job 1, just to land as a top exec at job 2? Perhaps, if these individuals, who may have failed (their fault or not), were reassigned to a lesser position, ALL would benefit.

      But for stupid, esoteric questions as a 30 second snapshot of someone’s wizardry or confusion re: a ‘left-field’ screwball- get a grip- people cannot, and MUST NOT, be characterized in such a minute timeframe.


  6. What these interviewers don’t realize is that such inane questions reflect poorly ON THEM.
    I’M interviewing THEM as well.

    When I get a question like this- I don’t worry about how to answer it- as I’ve immediately crossed the company off my list.

    I’ve excellent skills (which I worked hard to achieve and EARNED the right to say so), and have skills that are in demand.

    Even if I think that I’d really like to work at a given place- these questions are a GIFT to me- it tells me immediately to RUN don’t AWAY from this company.
    Those questions tell me IMMEDIATELY that airheads/fanciful thinkers/figure heads are tolerated- they don’t work, they just get paid.
    The reason they’re hiring is that the people they already have are not getting the job done- & it’s often because of this sort of airy-fairy thinking that billable work is not being successfully generated (as they’re either not doing it, or impeding the progress of those who would!)

    I know that I’d end up (as the work horse that I am) carrying these losers, often while they throw roadblocks in my way while I’m doing so.
    Been there, done that, NO THANKS!

    Truly: it is better to be under/unemployed than the stress of THAT work environment! – it’s ultimately a pyrric victory if you do. Any money you make from the situation will likely be spent in mopping up collateral damage generated BY the situation.

    Stay out of the frying pans, people- and recognize them BEFORE you jump in!

  7. Interviewees who like challenges and derive amusement in puzzles will always welcome such questions. Interviewees who take themselves too seriously will resent facing such questions. The intentions as revealed in the article are noble. Thanks for enlightment.

    • People who enjoy playing mindgames like this are the reason why employers wonder why their productivity is so low. If you staff your company with people who enjoy these kinds of silly word games and don’t take themselves and their work seriously, then you are likely to get a lot of Facebook-prowling, Twitter-sending, lazy twits.

      You will also get a lot of Generation Y-er’s who will make your life miserable if you are actually trying to get them to, you know, work?

      But, mind games and word games and silly interpersonal activities–oh, yes, they excel at those!

  8. Stupid questions or solving puzzles is nothing but childish, narcissitic power plays on the behalf of the employer. The questions are insulting and demeaning. If I were faced with any of those ridiculous questions, I would probably stand up, shake the hand of the interviewer and say, “I thought I was interviewing for a job not providing entertainment…good luck with your search for a trained monkey.” And would promptly leave the premises.

    • Niko,
      Bless you, bless you, bless you. I’m too old to put up with this bull, and you’re apparently too smart to put up with this bull. Good for you, and good luck with your future endeavors.

  9. Do they really want to hire somone who can bulls*%t their way through that interview? Those people are usually immature and will treat that opportunity like a “springboard” job. Or do they want someone who will stay and give 110%?

  10. I’m a recruiter at a staffing firm and while I’ve never asked questions this strange, I understand their intent. It’s amazing how many people who seem perfectly presentable during a standard 30 minute interview will soon reveal their true colors when placed in even moderately stressful work situations.

    These days, I would say that half the resumes I receive are from people that have no experience relevant to the position for which I’m hiring. Another quarter are either so littered with typos and misspellings or so incredibly vague that I rule them our immediately. By the time I get down to the people I’m actually going to call, the playing field is pretty much level in regard to skills. Personality is the one thing that is going to set you apart from the other applicants.

    Unfortunately, experience will only get you so far in an interview. Asking questions that differ from the norm and shake up expectations a bit can be very useful when trying to gauge someone’s personality. If you get that pissed off about an out of the ordinary interview question, what’s going to happen when you’re faced with an out of the ordinary work situation? I’ve had people whom I adored during interviews throw tantrums in training, threaten to sue clients over humidity levels, show up to work drunk, etc. It’s amazing how well people can hide their crazy when they’re trying to land a job.

    Everyone I place on assignment is a direct reflection of me and my abilities. So like it or not, at least 50% of what I’m looking for in an interview is how well you’ll present to the client.

    • Most recruiters have no clue, as well depicted in this post. Ive seen qualified applicants turned away because they do not meet paper “qualifications” – and as listed here, those who seemingly have the qualifications cant handle the job or environment.

      Instead of considering someone who has trumped up quals, try interviewing someone who is qualified to work – learning the job is always needed regardless of one’s experience.

      My experience is that people want to work with people who they are comfortable with, regardless if they can perform. No recruiter can anticipate those needs no matter what questions they ask.

      Get a clue!

      • I’ve only had about six jobs in my 40+ years of work history, and I’ve never been “quailfied” for any of them (I went to my first interview just to see what the whole “job interview” process was like, and got the job). But I’ve never had a job I didn’t excel at, and usually get promoted past the point where I felt comfortable. I’ve also been interviewed for several jobs that I could easily have handled, but lost because an interviewer did not understand the real requirements of the job.

    • Kelly, the reason that interviewees with experience get hacked off over your clever surprise questions is that it shows that you’re are just a marginally clever corporate pissant with no clue what you’re doing.

  11. How about when they ask illegal questions? When I was unemployed, it took me a year-and-a-half to find something. In that time I was asked if I was married, if I had kids, and what religion I was. But as other posters have said, this is useful in screening the company out.

    That last question (religion) was on a phone interview. I answered that I was Catholic just to see what would happen. This produced a long monologue about how the company had strong moral values, a prayer meeting every Wednesday at the office (Really? On company time?), and “Oh we have a Catholic lady in the office, she is fine with it.” I thanked them, said I didn’t think the job was for me and hung up.

    Then I called the local EEOC office and reported them. The lady said, “Oh yeah, THAT GUY!” I’m so very glad I didn’t take any offers from that place. Religion doesn’t belong at work unless you work in a church. This was a title office!

    • wow, I think you interviewed where I did! In the 2nd interview I asked if the employees did any activities together after work, what type of relationship they had, etc. they told me everyone got together every Wednesday night and Sunday and went out. didnt tell me it was to church! found out 2 years later, right after I left there, that the girl I replaced was suing them for firing her for being Jewish and requesting they not send religious propaganda through her work email.

      • This has to be located in the Bible Belt. I’m not from the deep south, but I live there, and this sounds like something that would go on here. Two words for it: holy crap!

  12. Maybe the point of silly questions is to gauge how seriously you take yourself (ie. how far that stick goes up the backside), and how much of a fuss you make over tiny, insigificant events.

  13. For a period of time, I was responsible for pre-interviewing candidates for a few positions in a law office. It is amazing to me that neither of the two factors we stressed were even mentioned in this article or the comments.

    Those factors: 1) English proficiency and 2) teeth. If a person cannot speak without serious grammatical errors (double negatives, beginning sentences with the objective (“Me and my friend we . . . “), 3) mispronounced common words “axed” insteadof “asked,” “wit” instead of “with,” and “udder” for “other,” and 4) the obvious, “like” this and “like” that — How do we even consider hiring a person to speak on the phone with our clients and other attorneys — and sometimes a judge or two? Sorry. They went to school, they had the same English book as everyone else, but they chose the lazy track.

  14. Jumped the gun. Sorry. Regarding teeth. If an interviewee is more concerned with jewelry, expensive clothing yet his or her teeth have big spaces or look rotted, and they are not willling to purchase good dentistry to enhance their appearance and health, this speaks volumes about their priorities.

        • I have met many people with summer teeth (some are there and some are not). Never have they been able to afford expensive jewelry or designer original clothes. They surely aren’t front desk people, but if they have what it takes to get the job done, I’d hire them.

      • It’s NOT a stereotype, speaking proper English is important not matter what job your going for. Unless you are referring to the stereotype of one who didn’t want to take the time to learn to speak PROPERLY! “Ghetto-talk” should never be acceptable in a professional environment, unless the job requires one to speak with bad English.

        • I think the writer was responding to the “teeth” requirement; and I agree with the comment. In this econimy, qualified people are sometimes long-term unemployed. Bridges fall out, teeth break, etc. and these things may fall prey to other small priorities…like, oh, keeping a roof over your head (fyi, there’s a foreclosure crisis), or feeding your family with no regular income. Perhaps when they are offered a job with decent benefits, they can return to the dentist to meet the cosmetic requirements of this law firm. Would like to know the name of the law firm that is relying on this guy for its talent so I know where NOT to go when I need a lawyer.

  15. Gee, could those questions, answers and ultimate decisions cause disparate impact, be questioned for job relavence, and possibly become a lawsuit?

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  23. I avoid recruiters like the plague, but that doesn’t stop them from asking dumb questions:

    I once had a male president of a branch of an internationally known NGO 5 states away from me ask me right off the bat if I was willing to earn entry level despite having a degree and experience, because it was an issue for their previous employee who left said position By entry level he meant $20,000. I told him he was interviewing the wrong person.

    Another time, a rather “crunchy” nonprofit HR person asked me to describe my Meyers-Briggs personality type and how it would help me “create” my ideal work temperament. I didn’t get that job despite a more “normal” followup interview.

  24. Most HR people are sociopaths anyway. These kinds of questions are just a waste of time and indicative of the fact that the interviewer doesn’t really know what they are doing. If someone admits that they don’t even know the answer to these stupid questions, than they aren’t in a position to evaluate the answers anyway. What a stupid waste of time! However, if we want the job we have to answer the stupid questions along with the pertinent quewstions. I am a career counselor and I instruct my clients to say as an answer to stupid questions, “Hey, that’s a thought provoking and challenging question. I’m not sure what you are really looking for on that, but I can tell you that I am ready to meet the challenge that you have posed with this job offer. My major areas of expertise are _________ and __________. ” etc. To the question, “What are your future goals?” The answer should be, “Everyone has dreams and goals, but my primary goal is that when I start working here on Monday, I will be excellent on the first task that I’m presented, and I know that if I do well you’ll reward me in the future.” BTW, real trained interviewers don’t waste time with these “just want to see how you react” idiocies.

    • After just being hired with a company, I asked the manager why questions like “What is your biggest weakness?” are asked. She told me that it was surprising how many people answered the question with “I always am late.” “I hate answering phones.”, etc. But some of the questions already noted by other posts are absolutely ridiculous! I haven’t seen anything regarding the number of times you are asked to return for more interviews. You have to take time off from your current job, and explain why you are missing work, traveling, etc. The interviews were weak, making me think that all this was already covered and/or they were not related to skills or expectations. Once I was interviewed 5 times for a job, was offered the job, and was later told that management wanted to make sure I wanted the job. I have a feeling it was because I am a woman interviewing for a male dominated field. Within 2 months I left, the management was poor at best.

  25. During a tough interview for a parts counterman, being conducted by the CEO of an automotive dealership group (the HR director was ill that day), he asked me “What would you do to make this dealership more marketable and profitable while increasing customer loyalty and cusomer positive feedback?”

    I focused on rapid response to customer needs while maintaining a positive and helpful relationship with the customer or the technician working on the customers vehicle. A week later I was hired as the Parts Dept Manager…not just a counterperson. I used my quick thought of ideas to formulate a plan and within a year our sales had almost tripled, profitability and increase nearly 7% and our customer loyalty response had increased from 70.9% to the upper 90s. Technicians increased their “flag” time to over 100%. Everybody made more money!
    He made me think..I got an oppurtunity & made an action plan and initiated it with his blessings. He shared in the success and it soon became a model for for the other 5 dealerships! Thanks to his question, it worked well for EVERYBODY!

  26. I recall reporting to an interview for a marketing position within a large hospitality company. When I checked in, the receptionist insisted there were no marketing positions open and there must have been a mistake. At which time, she called two managers to see if she had missed something. Well, evidently someone goofed because I ended up in a group interview for hourly jobs and during the interview, the group was asked to stand up and dance. That’s right, DANCE. I walked out.

  27. I interviewed with an airline company. They had lots of these types of questions in a group interview. Mine was “A newspaper is writing a front-page article on your life, what would the title be, and why?” other people got, what breakfast cereal would you be, what super hero would you be and what special powers would you have. It is all about thinking on your feet. Like the article said, most of the interviewers won’t know the answer, they just want you to think through it and give an answer.

  28. During my work career I was on both ends of the interview/interviewee process numerous times. It amazed me at the responses I received when inquiring (in either role) as to why others involved in the process decided to reject/cull out applicants. Sometimes they could not even tell me why (or perhaps were unwilling to admit to). One of my “favorites,” reflects the stupidity of even some of the “rules of the road/eliminators” listed in these articles: A consultant revealed to me that I was eliminated from a university vice presidency because during a final two hour interview with the president, while sitting at an office table, at one or two points I had crossed my arms on my chest. What does that indicate about anything? (Was I supposed to sit with my hands on the table for two hours? That could not possibly have been the reason for my rejection; was I supposed to sit on my hands if they weren’t on the table? I and other persons frequently sit with arms crossed while talking to people; no one I know of ever recommended to me that I or others were somehow reflecting social mal-adjusted or incapable of dealing well with other individuals, or perform job tasks well, because of the habit of crossing one’s arms. As a matter of fact, people frequently mentioned my ability to get along with difficult people
    The bottom line is that an interview consists of a number of things (professional qualifications, ability to interaxct well with others, dressing adequately within certain profesional norms, etc.) No one factor should eliminate any candidate, particularly if (within legal norms) the interviewer finds the job applicant meets all the other qualifications and reponds well to the suggestion that the “annoying/unprofessional” quality diplayed might adversely impact their candidacy. In other words, many of even the five, eight, ten “absolute no-no’s” of interviewing indicate something very shallow about the interviewing organizations (i.e. probably not very creative, employee friendly and possibly with micro-managing management; i.e., it would be distressing to work for them).

    • Wow. You sound angry. Two hours for an interview is a long time, but not uncommon for a position of that nature. The president who interviewed you is paying top dollar for the head hunters to find exactly the right person for the vice presidency. You sound like you had every right to be a serious contender for that position. You are the type of person who possesses stellar qualifications and delivers solid proof of same in the interview process. However, something in that interview didn’t set right with you. You crossed your arms. The body language associated with crossing your arms across your chest indicates closed-mindedness, defensiveness, arrogance and impatience. I don’t know what the president said, but he interpreted your body language negatively. Had you been hired, you probably would not have been happy working at that institution, so crossing your arms over your chest during the interview was the best thing you could have done for yourself and that university.

    • “You crossed your arms. The body language associated with crossing your arms across your chest indicates closed-mindedness, defensiveness, arrogance and impatience.”

      Bad move, perfect analysis. People read body language subliminally, they have no idea they’re even doing it.

  29. I am reading a lot of negative comments about Human Resource administrators. Prior to early retirement, I was an HR director for 15 years. Any question I asked that was somewhat atypical was to get a handle on something very subjective–personality traits.

    Nothing is worse than hiring a chronic malcontent or someone who thinks they are above the duties called for in the job description. If hired, they would negatively impact overall morale.

    One of my favorite questions that might be considered out of the ordinary was as follows: If you could be any one of the following people, who would you choose: Hillary Clinton, Rosa Parks or Donald Trump?

    I never had an interview where the applicant felt ill at ease, and turnover rate at the facility decreased by approximately 30% during my first two years of employment. My M.O. was to make each applicant not selected realize that they had impressive qualifications, but not in the not for profit, or whatever other area the deficiency existed. The “stroking” would vary in accordance with the position applied for. I would make suggestions as to more suitable industries or career choices, and if possible, provide contact people.

    I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’ve been a malcontent and an elitist. I’ve worked for excellent supervisors and supervisors who were a waste of skin. Job rejection can do a number on one’s psyche and unless the applicant was a total jackass, he or she would leave my office feeling confident in their abilities to secure a job and maybe ace the next interview. That’s how HR recruitment is done. Very time consuming, especially since an HR Director has an entire litany of responsibilities. However, if the correct people are in place, this portion of work effort is greatly decreased, leaving more time to concentrate on keeping the current staff happy, thereby reducing turnover and keeping overhead costs under control. The higher-ups love that since H.R. is typically considered an overhead expense rather than a department that is revenue producing. Hope I made my case for HR people.

      • Yes, you did make your case for HR people. “HR people” are just like employees in every other position – most are good – some are jerks. Before they became HR, they interviewed just like everyone else.
        Yes, I think a “manners” class needs to be taught to many HR departments. Items such as proplery responding to applicants, consideration in scheduling interviews, and timeliness and manner of notifying unsuccessful candidates.
        I am an HR Director, so I know what I am talking about. I tried to learn from the applicant processes my husband & I had gone through and use that to make me a better HR professional.

  30. I agree they’re ridiculous questions, but here are possible answers:
    “Approximately how many garbage men are there in California?” (Apple)
    First, it’s not politically correct to call sanitation workers garbage men. After being amused by the dumbfounded look on the interviewer’s face, say that you assume the population of CA is 20 million, of which half are adults and have addresses which require garbage pickup. Also assume that half of the adults live together (total of 7,500,000 households). Also assume that a sanitation truck can do 500 stops/day. That means that 15,000 trucks are required. Each truck has two sanitation workers: one driver and one spotter. Therefore, there are approximately 30,000 sanitation workers working the sanitation trucks in CA. However, since it’s CA we must triple that number to include management and others who push papers. So, the total number of sanitation workers in CA is about 90,000.
    “Given an array of integers, find the maximum number that can be reached by summing the best possible consecutive subsequence of the array.” (Facebook)
    This is the most nonsensical question of the four and reflects, in my opinion, the true uselessness of a company like Facebook that produces no product. Mark Zuckerberg stole the idea and software from his college colleagues. What else would you expect from Facebook?
    “Estimate the volume of water on the Earth.” (Yahoo)
    The oceans have an average depth of about 1 mile (I read that somewhere) and cover about 75% of the Earth’s surface. There are at least two ways to derive the volume: (1) calculate the surface area of the Earth and then multiply by 1 mile and then by 0.75, and (2) calculate the volume of the Earth (4/3*Pi*4,000 cubed), calculate the volume using the radius of the average bottom of the oceans (4/3*Pi*3,999 cubed), and then subtract the two results and multiply by 0.75. (Answer is about 150 million cubic miles)
    “Find the anagrams in a dictionary.” (Microsoft)
    This is the second most ridiculous question of the four. Since Microsoft asked it, I suspect they were looking for the interviewee to say he/she would use Microsoft’s Bing (which is mostly useless and far inferior to Google) to look up the answer.
    About the orange question, I’d say that it’s the only fruit with a color that rhymes with no other word in the English language and then watch the look on the interviewer’s face as they try to figure out my answer.

    • Why assume refuse is collected every day? Maybe that is why CA is bankrupt! I had always been told water as percent of surface was 0,66bar to 0,70 not 0,75. Again, I could be wrong as any Hollywood environmental disaster movie has the entire world being flooded by mile+ high waves due to global warming…and we all know Hollywood and Government people are smarter than the rest of us nonIvy Leaguers in flyover country.

      • Dan – I was just making a semi-educated guesstimate, but I do appreciate your humor. My guesstimate of the number of sanitation workers is independent of how many days/week trash is collected. It’s based solely on households.

  31. My former employer always said his “favorite” interview question was, What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?” which supposedly can tell you something about a person’s personality and ability to function as part of a team. I call bullsh*t.

  32. I was once (2009)asked asked a question similar to “how would you describe an orange”. I stood up, extended my hand and said, “I appreciate the opportunity to interview with XXXXX. However, when your company is ready to do a serious interview related to my qualifications pertaining to the open position, feel free to call me, you have my number” and walked out. I got a call from them offering me the job two days later. I passed.

  33. I have been on both sides of the issue. First as a job seeker and now as a Human Resources Director. Trust me, there are idiots and “shining stars” on both sides of the table.
    Many of our jobs are governed by civil service, so we are required to hold competitive testing. A great deal of effort is put into selecting the test to ensure it is applicable to the position. After the applicants have been narrowed down to either the top 3 or 5, we have them complete an online personality assessment. It is not a “graded” evaluation. However, it provides us with an analysis of preselected personality strengths. They are selected based upon the qualities that are vital to successful performance of the position. The online assesment is administered and analyzed by an outside very reputable company. We utilize the analysis when developing interview questions – and no – we do not use weird “off beat” quesiton. The whole purpose of the interview is to get to know the applicant. We also conduct background and reference checks.
    I know it seems like a lot, but you have to understand that it is a huge investment when you hire a new employee. The laws are very scewed to protect the employee (even a bad one), especially if there is a Union involved so you must be very prudent in hiring. I have a responsibility to not only management, but to the other current employees to not hire someone that will make their lives miserable. The most important thing is to be yourself in an interview. If you can’t be yourself and get the job, then you would just be miserable in it anyway.

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  40. The question of the orange. If described from a technical viewpoint, ( a sectioned fruit grown in semi-tropical regions having an abundance of juice and a tough skin making it suitable for shipment and containing vitamin C) or a more aesthetic answer, ( it’s an orange fruit that’s really sweet and juicy with orange colored flesh that’s rather meaty) would tell me the mindset of the person answering. If hiring for a tech position it may influence my decision. the type of answer is important, not the correctness of it. PC disclaimer…Please excuse the generalization. It’s used only for illustrative purposes and brevity.

    • Chris, what you described is also rooted in the person’s personality trait. The “sensor” that individual that is factual and in the moment would actually describe the orange (as you did in your second example). Your first example would be from an individual that was intuitive (imaginative, aware of possibilities) and more suited for a career that is creative and enjoys concepts rather than facts.

  41. After 33+ years working, I would say to just be yourself. If things don’t work out, you weren’t meant for that particular job/company anyway. You will find your niche. I do agree with the honesty many writers expressed. Also, be willing to take responsibilty and to show loyality.

  42. Now all I can think about is how to describe an orange (lol)! I think that whatever questions an interviewer asks are asked for a reason. I don’t think they necessarily want you to know the answer, but want to know your thought process as you work out the problem.

    I would have a complete blank face if a company asked me the integer question.

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