Strange interview questions tech companies ask revealed

Summary:Glassdoor has released a number of strange questions tech companies ask at interview. Why are they asked, and what are the 'right' answers?

A new study of strange and disconcerting interview questions has been released by Glassdoor, a U.S recruitment company.

Glassdoor has released a list of 25 odd questions asked at interviews by corporations designed to catch potential employees off-guard. The company collated over 150,000 interview questions, and the ones that were considered the strangest or most confusing were made distinct in the top 25. Technology and I.T based companies claimed many places.

(Source: University of San Francisco School of Management)

Items in the list included:

  • "Would Mahatma Gandhi have made a good software engineer?" Deloitte
  • "How would you cure world hunger?" Amazon.com
  • "Please spell ‘diverticulitis’." EMSI Engineering
  • "How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?" Horizon Group Properties
  • "You’re in a row boat, which is in a large tank filled with water. You have an anchor on board, which you throw overboard (the chain is long enough so the anchor rests completely on the bottom of the tank). Does the water level in the tank rise or fall?" Tesla Motors
  • "How do you feel about those jokers at Congress?" Consolidated Electrical

But why do candidates have to answer confusing or strange questions at interviews?

Alison Nawoj, Corporate Communications director of CareerBuilder.com, suggested that strange interview questions appeared in the early 2000s when tech companies wanted to test the creativity and problem solving skills of developers after the dot-com bubble.

Jobs in technology, especially among the higher echelons, require creative thinking and high reasoning skills. This may explain the popularity of ways to try and rock a potential employee that has probably learnt answers to expected questions by rote if they are serious about an interview.

Or perhaps it is simply a way to disguise the fact the interviewer doesn't know what he actually wants.

Certain questions asked at interviews are designed to catch people out. The strangest question I recall ever being asked was: "If you had to be a type of soup, what would you be?". I was 13 years old and the question was asked by a pharmacy for a Saturday morning job. In reflection, this was purely for the amusement of a bored interviewer, rather than any attempt to gauge my problem-solving abilities or reasoning.

However, in order to secure jobs and potential careers with powerful brands, it isn't unexpected that unusual hiring practices may take place to separate the wheat from the chaff.

It's not necessarily about reaching the 'answer' to the question, but rather showing the interviewer the thought process behind it. An interesting but confusing question asked by Goldman Sachs last year is a great example: "If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?"

Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was said to have asked an interviewee: "Are you a virgin?". Although there are probably few organisations that would go that far and cross personal boundaries, unexpected questions are the tip of the iceberg in relation to unusual hiring practices.

The Cupertino-based company is known for its vigorous and tough application processes. Securing a job with the global brand is only the first step, and Apple can afford to thoroughly vet applicants for the qualities they seek, if they are going to spend the time and money training them.

Perhaps the only wrong answer to odd interview questions is 'I don't know'. Even if you think a question is completely absurd, by not trying to answer you may be portraying yourself as someone who is unable to be creative or unwilling to try and work through a problem -- not exactly enticing to future employers.

See also: Gallery: How to land your dream job: Nine inventive ways

Related:

Topics: CXO, IT Employment

About

Charlie Osborne, a medical anthropologist who studied at the University of Kent, UK, is a journalist, freelance photographer and former teacher. She has spent years travelling and working across Europe and the Middle East as a teacher, and has been involved in the running of businesses ranging from media and events to B2B sales. Charli... Full Bio

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