A website called Glassceiling.com has been collecting strange job interview questions, and Fortune has reprinted some of them, offering guidance to job interviewees who might panic when asked such questions as this one, apparently part of the Goldman Sachs interview process:
“If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?”
The trick, say the experts, is not to lose your cool. Such questions are asked, the experts explain, not to elicit a correct answer, but rather to gauge an applicant’s poise, grace, reaction to stress, creativity and humor.
I see. Well, I have some different advice. Any company who allows a job interviewer to ask such questions as….
“Given the numbers 1 to 1,000, what is the minimum number of guesses needed to find a specific number, if you are given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess you make?” — Facebook
“Explain quantum electrodynamics in two minutes, starting now.” — Intel (INTC)
“How many balloons would fit in this room?” — PricewaterhouseCoopers
“What is the philosophy of martial arts?” — Aflac
“How do you weigh an elephant without using a scale?” –– IBM (IBM)
“If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?” — Amazon
“How many bricks are there in Shanghai? Consider only residential buildings.” –Deloitte Consulting
“You have five bottles of pills. One bottle has 9 gram pills, the others have 10 gram pills. You have a scale that can be used only once. How can you find out which bottle contains the 9 gram pills?” –eBay
…. has little respect for those who aspire to work for them, for they think it is appropriate to treat job applicants like lab rats. All applicants want is a chance to be fairly judged on their abilities and qualifications, and they should be accorded that opportunity without gimmicks, distractions and psychological games. Asking absurd questions like these to nervous interviewees trying to endure one of professional life’s most stressful and unpleasant experiences–being examined and judged by a stranger with one’s future on the line—is sadistic, as well as an abuse of power and a breach of the Golden Rule.
If you are asked such a question, relax, have a good time answering it, and then excuse yourself from the interview, saying, “I’m sorry. I was under the impression that I was applying for a position with an organization that respected serious professionals, and that would never exploit the interview process for its own amusement at the discomfort of someone who expected fair and courteous treatment. I apparently was mistaken.”
I think the use of odd interview questions is a symptom of an arrogant and essentially untrustworthy corporate culture. There may exceptions, but I don’t believe it’s worth the gamble. If the interviewer starts messing with your emotions and confidence, tell him or her to cut it out, or better yet, leave.
I wish I had that speech ready when I got one of those questions over thirty years ago. I was interviewing for an executive director job with a small non-profit, and the question was, if I recall, “If you had to hire a bear for an executive position, what job would it be?” I responded, in deadly seriousness, with a lengthy stream of consciousness monologue about the differences in temperment among the various ursine species, their preferences for consensus rather than top down management, a brief foray into the executive potential, if any, of fictional bears like Yogi and Baloo, and the little known fact that Grizzly Adams trained bears to be proficient at delegating. I continued talking about bears and their business aspirations until the interviewer asked—begged, really— me to stop. Then I shook his hand, said I was no longer interested in working for the organization, and left.