Careers

Make the most of the odd interview question

Man greets woman, interview
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With the economy recovering, more Americans may be feeling confident enough to change jobs. However, if you are thinking of hitting the job-interview circuit again, prepare yourself. You could be asked about your strengths and weaknesses, your career goals, even your hobbies. You may also need to know which direction a cooking hot dog splits when it expands. Um, lengthwise, right?

Glassdoor has compiled its annual list of the oddest job interview questions.

Job recruiting company Michael Page says the answers may not really matter. "Often these questions are designed to assess your ability to think on your feet, your analytical thinking skills, and your general way of viewing the world. In most cases, the process of getting to an answer is more important than the actual answer itself," as stated on its website.

Last year's list included doozies like a question from Bose asking, "If you were asked to unload a 747 full of jelly beans, what would you do?" ("Say no," one person suggested.)

This year's list gets even weirder.

WHOLE FOODS — DUCKS AND HORSES

While Whole Foods often asks potential employees in the meat department questions like, "Tell me about yourself," one was recently asked, "Would you rather fight 1 horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?"

What the what?

Here's my answer. Ducks can be nasty. Horses don't fight. They are skittish by nature and can be herded. Give me the 100 duck-sized horses. Whether that makes me a good candidate for separating a rib eye from a filet is beyond my analytical skills.


SPACEX — THE PHYSICS OF HOT DOGS

SpaceX fancies itself the place where all the cool rocket scientists work. Lockheed Martin might ask you, "Tell me about a time when you dealt with a complex problem, and what measures you took to come to a solution." However, Glassdoor reports SpaceX asked one structural analyst, "When a hot dog expands, in which direction does it split and why?"

Can we go back to horses versus ducks?

By the way, someone actually provided a suggested answer to the hotly contested frankfurter splitting conundrum. "The stress in the circumferential/tangential direction is always larger than the stress in the axial direction, so it splits in long seams down its length rather than in hoops around its circumference. The equation for hoop stress is pr/t, whereas the equation for axial stress is pr/2t. It is a good exercise to derive these equations yourself."

Exactly.


URBAN OUTFITTERS — MAKING MUSIC

When hiring in retail, employers often want to make sure candidates have a personal style which fits their brand. Usually that would mean looking at someone's clothes, hair, make-up. At Urban Outfitters, however, Glassdoor says one job candidate was asked, "What would the name of your debut album be?"

(Hint: tell them it'll be released on vinyl. They LOVE vinyl.)

TRADER JOE'S — DEEP FREEZE

"What would you do if you found a penguin the freezer?" was a question posed to one person applying for a job at Trader Joe's. My answer? 1) Leave the freezer. 2) Scream. WRONG ANSWER. "Call animal control," wrote someone on Glassdoor. "This shows responsibility and respect for the animal and fellow coworkers." I like my answer better.

There are other oddball questions like, "How would you sell hot coco (sic) in Florida?" from J.W. Business Acquisitions to a potential HR recruiter, or "How many basketballs would fit in this room?" Delta Airlines asked a financial management candidate ("a lot").

There were also dated questions like, "If you were a brand, what would be your motto?" which came from Boston Consulting Group. I call this the 2005 version of the 1990 interview question. "If you were a color, what would you be?"

The most interesting questions involved money, and they got me thinking.

Retailer Uniqlo asked a potential management trainee, "If you had $2,000, how would you double it in 24 hours?" Legally? Hmmm. Invest it in San Francisco real estate? How do you even double $2,000 in 24 hours unless you're a card counter in Vegas?

At least I had an answer to the question posed by marketing software company HubSpot: "If I gave you $40,000 to start a business, what would you start?"

I'd start a company coaching people on how to answer these questions so they could land better jobs with higher pay. Then I could finally afford to fund my debut album. On vinyl.