Ask a job seeker what his or her weaknesses are and chances are they will say they work too hard. Ask that same candidate what they would do if they won $20 million in the lottery and you’re not likely to get a canned or polished answer. While oddball questions may seem pointless, they can actually be more telling than the straight forward type of interview questions most employers use.
“Strange or oddball questions are not primarily asked to trick a person, but to uncover qualities about a candidate that can’t be determined from a resume or two-minute drill,” says Susan Ruhl, a managing partner at OI Partners – Innovative Career Consulting in Denver. ”They are designed to uncover how you think, handle unexpected problems and situations, whether you are a good fit for their culture, and how creative you are.”
Weird, funny and strange interview questions can be a powerful tool to glean information about a potential candidate as long as they are used correctly. If the interviewer doesn’t know what he or she is looking for, then throwing out a strange interview question just for the sake of doing it will be pointless and awkward. “It’s an excellent technique to get to know the real person, but you have to know what you are doing,” says Mark Jaffe, president of Wyatt & Jaffe, the executive search firm. “It won’t yield meaningful results if you don’t know what you are looking for.” According to Jaffe, if the employer is using oddball questions just to throw a candidate off their game or trick them, then it won’t be useful in trying to get them to share something beyond their prepared answers. “The idea is to get people to relax their defenses and to dredge up something that may not be in their immediate repertoire for an interview,” says Jaffe.
Career experts say interviewers have to go into the interview knowing the role they are aiming to fill and the type of person that is best suited for that role. For instance, if you are looking to hire an accountant and you ask what would you do with $20 million in lottery winnings, you’re going to want to hear they would put it in savings, pay off debt or increase their retirement nest egg, but if you are looking to hire a creative type you may want to hear they would spend the money traveling the world.
“The questions are designed to illicit atypical responses,” says Chuck Fried, president and chief executive of technology staffing company TxMQ. “If you asked what three things you would bring to a deserted island you are trying to figure out if the person is pragmatic or fantasy-oriented.” Does the person say he or she would bring a book of matches, a cellphone and water filtration system or do they say they would bring a bottle of wine, a great novel, and an iPod?
When it comes to weird interview questions they typically fall under the categories of problem solving, thought process and cultural fit, according to Ruhl. The problem solving ones are designed to see how quickly, accurately and creatively a person solves a problem and could include questions such as how many square feet of pizza are eaten in the U.S. each year? or how many snow shovels sold in the U.S. last year? Similar to problem solving questions are thought process questions which Ruhl says are designed to see how you think. Examples of thought process questions include describe to me the process and benefits of wearing a seatbelt and why is a tennis ball fuzzy? Cultural fit questions are employed to see if a candidate would fit well within a company. Questions could include if you could throw a parade of any caliber through the Zappos office, what type of parade would it be? and if you were on an island and could only bring three things, what would you bring?
Although weird and funny interview questions can catch job candidates off guard they can also demonstrate if a person can think on their feet. It’s not the job of the interviewer or the interviewee to actually know how many gas stations there are in the U.S., but Fried says it’s a great tool to see how someone thinks through the problem. “I don’t care about the right answer I care about the logic someone used to arrive at the answer,” says Fried.
Check out our complete list of Weird, Funny and Strange Interview Questions:
Strange and Weird Interview Questions
- How many cows are in Canada?
- How many people are using Facebook in San Francisco at 2:30pm on a Friday?
- What would the name of your debut album be?
- If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?
- Does life fascinate you?
- Please spell ‘diverticulitis’.
- How much money did residents of Dallas/Ft. Worth spend on gasoline in 2008?
- How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?
- How many planes are currently flying over Kansas?
- How many different ways can you get water from a lake at the foot of a mountain, up to the top of the mountain?
- If you were a Microsoft Office program, which one would you be?
- If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?
- How many ridges [are there] around a quarter?
- What is the philosophy of Martial Arts?
- Explain [to] me what has happened in this country during the last 10 years.
- Tell me how you would determine how many house painters there are in the United States?
- Out of 25 horses, pick the fastest 3 horses. In each race, only 5 horses can run at the same time. What is the minimum number of races required?
- An apple costs 20 cents, an orange costs 40 cents, and a grapefruit costs 60 cents, how much is a pear?
- How many traffic lights in Manhattan?
- What do wood and alcohol have in common?
- How do you weigh an elephant without using a weigh machine?
- You are in charge of 20 people, organize them to figure out how many bicycles were sold in your area last year.
- If you were a brick in a wall which brick would you be and why?
- How would you move Mount Fuji?
- How many hair salons are there in Japan?
- If both a taxi and a limo were priced the exact same, which one would you choose?
- Given a dictionary of words, how do you calculate the anagrams for a new word?
- How many lightbulbs are in this building?
- Room, desk and car – which do you clean first?
- Just entertain me for five minutes, I’m not going to talk.
- When a hot dog expands, in which direction does it split and why?
- How many basketballs would fit in this room?
- How many quarters would you need to reach the height of the Empire State building?
- Given 20 ‘destructible’ light bulbs (which breaks at certain height), and a building with 100 floors, how do you determine the height that the light bulb breaks?
- Would Mahatma Gandhi have made a good software engineer?
- You have a bouquet of flowers. All but two are roses, all but two are daisies, and all but two are tulips. How many flowers do you have?
- If you could be a superhero, what power would you possess?
- 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?
- Name 5 uses of a stapler without staple pins
- If you could be any superhero, who would it be?
- How many bottles of beer are drank in the city over the week.
- Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 how weird you are
- What should it cost to rent Central Park for commercial purposes?
- If I put you in a sealed room with a phone that had no dial tone, how would you fix it?
- If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
- What are 5 uncommon uses of a brick, not including building, layering, or a paper-weight?
- What is your favorite food?
- How would you sell me eggnog in Florida in the summer?
- If you saw someone steal a quarter. Would you report it?
- What songs best describes your work ethic
- Would you rather fight 1 horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?
- What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer?
- What do you think of garden gnomes?
- Pepsi or Coke?
- Are you exhaling warm air?
- How do you feel about those jokers at Congress?
- How are M&M’s made?
- What would you do if you just inherit a pizzeria from your uncle?
- What was your best McGuyver moment?
- Are your parents disappointed with your career aspirations?
- If you’re the CEO, what are the first three things you check about the business when you wake up?
- How would you sell hot coco in Florida?
- If I gave you $40,000 to start a business, what would you start?
- If you were a brand, what would be your motto?
- If you had $2,000, how would you double it in 24 hours?
- Is your college GPA reflective of your potential?
- If you could be #1 employee but have all your coworkers dislike you or you could be #15 employee and have all your coworkers like you, which would you choose?
- How would you cure world hunger?
- What is 37 times 37?
- Given the numbers 1 to 1000, what is the minimum numbers guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint “higher” or “lower” for each guess you make.
- If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?
- You are in a dark room with no light. You need matching socks for your interview and you have 19 gray socks and 25 black socks. What are the chances you will get a matching pair?
- You have a birthday cake and have exactly 3 slices to cut it into 8 equal pieces. How do you do it?
- You have 8 pennies, 7 weight the same, one weighs less. You also have a judges scale. Find the one that weighs less in less than 3 steps.
- Why do you think only a small percentage of the population makes over $150K?
- Say you are dead- what do you think your eulogy would say about you.