As if being interviewed for a new job wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, lately the trend seems to be to throw complete non sequitur questions into the mix of mostly straightforward, canned response questions. These head-scratchers, for the most part, have little to do with a person’s knowledge of the company. Rather, they are designed to assess a potential employee’s ability to think on his feet and weather any sort of odd occurrence that may come his way. They also may be used to gauge an interviewee’s personality to see if he’s a good fit for the company, outside of his skills and abilities. While some of these certainly have one correct answer, most of them are open-ended and allow for discussion, explanation, and extended responses. Before we get started, full disclosure: I have absolutely no idea how successful I would be if I were to give the following hypothetical responses, so don’t, under any circumstances, use this as a guide to killing it at your next job interview.
1. "What Would You Do If You Were the One Survivor in a Plane Crash?" (Airbnb)
At first glance, you might imagine this question would be asked to assess a person’s survival skills. You might respond with “Scrounge up any food I can find” or “Start building a shelter out of twigs and scraps of metal”. This sort of canned response is too expected for such an oddball question, though.
Think about the information the question doesn’t give you. It didn’t say anything about where you crashed. You’re not necessarily on a deserted island. Maybe you “lucked out” and you’re less than a mile from a major city. Or maybe you’re in the middle of the ocean. This question just begs the interviewee to ask for more clarifying information, which shows he’s an outside-the-box thinker. Airbnb also might just be trying to weed out the people whose immediate response is “Eat all the people!”
2. "What's Your Favorite 90s Jam?" (Squarespace)
Assuming you don’t answer “Big Poppa”, the interview won’t be immediately terminated and won’t be sent on your way. But really, your taste in music can say a lot about your personality. The more mainstream person would probably answer “Wannabe” or something incredibly popular from Top 40 radio, whereas the actual wannabe might pretend to be all deep and artistic by saying “Anything by Nirvana…You know, the one song that goes…” This question might just be to see if you and the interviewer would get along on a personal level. I mean, if you both know all the words to “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies, then that certainly can’t hurt your chances, right?
3. "If You Woke Up and Had 2,000 Unread Emails and Could Only Answer 300 of Them, How Would You Choose Which Ones to Answer?" (Dropbox)
Coming from a company that deals mainly in online storage, this question seems less hypothetical and more along the lines of: “This is going to happen to you five days a week for 50 weeks out of the year”. Obviously, they’re looking to see what information you prioritize, and how you prioritize it. Would you look for the little exclamation point that marks an email as urgent? You probably shouldn’t! How many of those do you really think are actually urgent? Come to think of it, how many of those 2,000 emails will you actually need to reply to in the first place? Ugh, so much to think of. If something’s that important, your boss would have told you personally, right? Right…?
4. "Who Would Win in a Fight Between Spiderman and Batman?" (Stanford University)
Anyway, not being a huge comic book buff, I’d probably try to fake some knowledge about their abilities and come off looking like a huge phony. For an in-depth explanation of the many ways this question could be answered, click here and scroll down until a specific post sticks out (don’t worry—you’ll see it). In a nutshell, the question might be to probe your attention to detail (it’s “Spider-Man, not Spiderman”—I at least know that much), or it might be to assess your analytical thinking skills. Or, it might just be to see how much of a nerd you really are (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
5. "If You Had a Machine That Produced $100 for Life, What Would You Be Willing to Pay for It Today?" (Aksia)
Ugh, is this a math question? Or… wait—this is a trick question, isn’t it?! It doesn’t say “unlimited $100 bills”, it just says “$100”! Thought you had me, didn’t you, Aksia? I guess I’d be willing to pay $99 since I’d end up at least making a dollar off of the deal. This is another question that seems to be assessing your attention to detail which, in today’s world, is absolutely everything. One small miscalculation or assumption can lead to the downfall of an entire company. Good thing I’m skeptical about pretty much every piece of information I come across, huh?
6. "What Did You Have for Breakfast?" (Banana Republic)
I’d imagine they immediately screen out the obvious trolls who answer “A banana”. If you think this is a silly question, you might not be thinking deeply enough to get hired. Think of the information the company can glean about you from your answer to this question. If you say “I grabbed a muffin on my way out,” that tells them you were probably in a hurry because you woke up late and didn’t have time to eat a full meal. And you probably will be the person who ducks out early for lunch because he’s starving, having not eaten a hearty breakfast. On the other hand, if you’ve eaten a full balanced breakfast, it’ll be clear to them you have your priorities straight, are able to sacrifice 10 extra minutes of sleep for overall wellbeing throughout the day, and will come to work ready to hit the ground running every single day.
7. "Describe the Color Yellow to Somebody Who's Blind." (Spirit Airlines)
This seems to be another outside-the-box thought experiment. And it also has to do with your explanation of how you would describe the color. For example, you might just be tempted to say something like “It’s like the warmth of the sun”. Without any context, that’s meaningless. But you could explain that we all tend to relate certain feelings and external stimuli to some other sense, and to answer this question you have to realize not everyone relates to these feelings in the same way. While it’s impossible to actually describe a color to a person who can’t see, you can instill in them the feeling you get when you see yellow. They feel the same warmth from the sun that you do, and even if they’ll never actually see the color yellow, they can experience the feeling others get when they see it.
8. "What's Your Favorite Disney Princess?" (Cold Stone Creamery)
Shouldn’t it be “Who’s your favorite Disney princess?” Unless that’s the point. Are they asking if my favorite Disney princess is a mermaid, or if she’s the daughter of a Shah? (Team Jasmine, by the way). So, first you want to get semantics out of the way, and clarify exactly what the question is asking.
This might seem like a throwaway question like the one about your favorite 90s jam, but you’ll give a lot of information about your personality by describing why a certain Disney character is your favorite. Exactly what it says about you, I don’t know… and frankly, I don’t want to know.
Well, this was a fun little thought-experiment. I feel like I should try to tackle Einstein’s puzzle or something now.
Have you come across any oddball interview questions while on a job hunt? How did you answer them? Did it work out for you? Let us know in the comments section below!