SELECT PERSPECTIVES BLOG

Do bizarre interview questions really find the best candidate?

Posted by  Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D.

Imagine that you’re interviewing for a job and the interviewer asks you, “If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?”  How would you answer?  What is the right answer?  Have you ever thought about being the size of a pencil?  Why are you in a blender, anyway? 

According to glassdoor.com, that is the number one oddball interview question.  Number two is, “How many ridges are there on a quarter?”  Do these seem odd questions for someone to ask you during an interview?  They should.  They are odd.  That’s probably the point.These types of questions are designed to see how well you can think on your feet.  There isn’t necessarily a right answer to these types of questions. But there is definitely a wrong answer.  It goes something like, “Uh… I don’t know.”  If you’re faced with one of these questions the first thing you should do is relax and think it through.  I don’t know how many ridges are on a quarter, and anyone who does has been focusing on the wrong things in life.  But, I would probably try to reason it through by looking at the size of a ridge, the diameter of a quarter and hope that I recall the formula for circumference of a circle (it’s π*D just for reference).  The key here is to: (a) not get flustered; and (b) try and think logically and come up with a reasonable answer.

I guess the real question here is the usefulness of such questions.  They probably are pretty good at seeing how someone responds to an uncomfortable situation and how quick they are on their feet.  After that, I think they are potentially worthless and maybe worse.   There are a lot of very smart people who aren’t particularly quick on their feet.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t excellent when faced with a difficult problem and some time to think about it.  There are also some people who aren’t particularly good at in-depth analysis but who are good at coming up with pithy responses to weird questions.

There are many jobs that require someone to think quickly and handle themselves with aplomb in stressful situations.  Salespeople have to do this every day.   But there are many that don’t.  Many brilliant engineers and scientists aren’t particularly glib or even quick on their feet.  They don’t really need to be.  You don’t solve complex problems in 30 seconds.  In any case, it’s only one aspect of performance and shouldn’t overly influence your decision on the quality of that candidate.  It’s one factor.  Take it for what it is and then move forward.  For interviewees, the lesson is to try and remain calm and understand that the reason they are asking you crazy questions isn’t to see if you know the answer, it’s to see how well you handle yourself.

Interviewer Tips

Tags:   hiring, interview, talent management, Talent Strategy, legally defensible

Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D.

Matthew is the Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Select International. For more than 20 years, he has been a driving force when it comes to designing, evaluating and integrating selection tools into systems that meet the specific needs of Global 2000 organizations. He is the co-author of the business bestselling book, Hiring Great People.

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