Weird Interview Questions: Why Are They Asked & How Should You Ask Them?
“How many square feet of pizza are eaten in the U.S. each year?”
“Who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman?”
“How much would you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?”
“If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why?”
“A man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened?” (Huh?)
These questions are not asked by mom and pops organizations but by major hedge funds, retailers and internet giants. A couple of the questions above have since been banned by the company that asked them as they were deemed ridiculous and useless.
So why are these questions asked? Some will say that the hiring manager wants to determine if the candidate can think on their feet. Other questions are asked to determine if the candidate is a fit culturally. This makes sense of course right? If you are a Count Chocula type of organization and the candidate declares when asked the “box of cereal” question that they would be Fruity Pebbles, clearly you can’t hire them. Fruity and chocolaty aren’t the same flavors never minding the fact that Pebbles and marshmallows are two different types of cereals. However if the candidate chose Cocoa Pebbles then at least the interviewer could sense there will be cultural synergy between the hiring company and the candidate. Why? Because cocoa and chocolate are related flavors of course! We all know the importance of hiring for culture over skill, so tell those Trix and Lucky Charms MBAs to hit the road!
All kidding aside, are interviewers really trained to interpret the responses to these types of bizarre and almost pointless questions? Of course they aren’t! “How many golf balls fit in a school bus?” is a question once asked by Google. Does the interviewer even know the answer to this question?
Lazlo Bock, the Senior VP of People Operations at Google, said this in regards to the head scratching questions Google formerly asked of their job candidates. “We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time. They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”
I think he summed up these questions quite well. More often than not they serve only to make the candidates squirm and probably do not determine culture or success very well.
Perhaps the answer provided by the candidates is not as important as to how they responded to the question. If the candidate blows off the Spiderman/Batman question the interviewer might understandably be turned off. If on the other hand the candidate answers the question with humor despite who they think will win (Spider-man of course) at least attempting a response may reveal much about the candidate’s personality. How though is one interviewer to interpret the response and adequately convey it to other decision makers?
If you’re intent on using questions like these, why not just ask them in a virtual interview? Upload your cereal and superhero inquiries in advance and allow the job candidates to answer them on their time. Since the interview is recorded you can compare all your candidates’ responses against one another and share their interviews with the people who can properly interpret their responses. Grape Nuts, nope, Crackling Oat Bran, no way, ooh we’ve got a Peanut Butter Captain Crunch, intriguing!
In the end ridiculous interview questions might be a huge waste of time but at least with video interviewing you can waste as little of your precious time as possible.