Are crazy questions actually useful?

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What vegetable would you be? Why are manholes round? Teach me something I don’t know. There are all kinds of tactics for getting to the heart of your candidates knowledge, creativity and problem solving skills, but is asking something that open-ended and high-pressure, especially in an interview setting, really useful?

Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway says no – it just causes stress and confusion. The final question, routinely asked by Google CEO Larry Page, was asked at the Hay Festival and a panel of writers struggled, with one saying they didn’t know anything other people didn’t know and whatever he used to know he’d forgotten.

“Listening to this, I changed my mind,” Kellaway said. “Mr. Page’s question isn’t great at all. It is as hopeless as all the other things people ask applicants.”

The theory goes that by asking a question the applicant isn’t prepared for, the answer will carry more meaning compared to things like “Tell me about a time you showed courage.”

Kellaway lists some of the oddball offerings collected by Glassdoor.com, including these gems:
 

  • If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender how would you get out? (Goldman Sachs)
     
  • What do you think of garden gnomes? (Trader Joe’s)
     
  • If you were a Microsoft Office program, which would it be? (an unnamed auto repair shop)
     

As fun as these might be to ask – especially if you enjoy making interviewees sweat – studies show the results are little better than picking people at random.

The question “What is 37 times 37?” might show some useful information about a candidate, Kellowar added, but she suggested interviewers ditch the off-the-wall approach if they want to get more than a look of terror from candidates.

What are the strangest interview questions you’ve ever asked or been asked? Do you see redeeming factors in this kind of approach?

 

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