Who would be the victor in a battle between Spider-Man and Batman? Who would ask such a question? A job interviewer, that’s who. More and more job interviewers are asking weird questions like this.
Interviewers know that job hunters have prepared responses for common questions such as, “What’s your biggest weakness?” So interviewers sometimes ask unexpected questions in hopes of blindsiding applicants and seeing how their minds work under pressure.
Here’s a look at some odd interview questions asked by real employers…and smart responses to each.* Even if you don’t hear these exact questions, they give you an idea of how to answer similarly odd ones.
How lucky are you, and why? Airbnb asked this question—probably to gauge applicants’ attitudes. Upbeat people tend to consider themselves lucky. Employers want to hire upbeat people because their positive attitudes can boost the mood of the whole workplace.
Potential response: “I am very lucky. Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate to work with some wonderful people at some wonderful companies. I’m fortunate to have a loving family and supportive friends…”
How many quarters would you need to reach the height of the Empire State Building? JetBlue asked this question to see how applicants think through difficult analytical problems. What assumptions do they make? Do they see that the question has multiple interpretations?
Potential response: “I will have to make some assumptions to answer. First, I’ll assume that we’re talking about stacking quarters one on top of another, not standing them on their ends…and not using quarters to pay for a trip up to the building’s observation deck. I’ll also assume that the quarters can be piled in a single stack without toppling over. Given these assumptions, I’ll need to know the thickness of a quarter and the height of the Empire State Building. I could obtain precise information online, of course, but I’ll assume you don’t want me to do that. I know that the Empire State Building is around 100 stories tall and a roll of 40 quarters is around three inches long. Do you want me to keep going and give you an actual numerical estimate?”
Similar interview questions….
• How many people flew out of Chicago last year?
• How many square feet of pizza are eaten in the US each year?
•How many cows are in Australia?
The idea here is to test analytical problem-solving ability—you don’t need to come up with the answer, just how you would get to the answer.
What would you do if you were the one survivor in a plane crash? Airbnb asked this to find out how well applicants establish priorities under pressure.
Potential response: “First, I’d assess the immediate dangers. Is the plane sinking in water? Is it on fire? How badly am I hurt? You can’t respond intelligently without some understanding of what the situation is. Second, I would confirm that I truly was the only survivor—someone might be injured and in need of my help. Once I have myself—and any other survivors—clear of immediate danger, I’d consider whether help is likely to reach me soon. If not, my next priority might be finding shelter or water to drink.”
Other similar questions…
• If you were asked to unload a 747 full of jelly beans, what would you do?
• It’s Thursday, and we’re staffing you on a project in Canada on Monday. Your flight and hotel are booked…your visa is ready. What are the top five things you do before you leave?
• You are a head chef at a restaurant, and your team has been chosen to be on the Iron Chef America TV show. How do you prepare your team and beat the competition?
Interviewers are interested in how you would set priorities under pressure—what would you do first and why?
On a scale of one to 10, rate me as an interviewer. Kraft Foods interviewers didn’t ask this question because they wanted to know how they were doing—they did so to test candidates’ ability to communicate their opinions. Obviously you do not want to disparage your interviewer—but answering “10” makes you look like someone who evades difficult conversations.
Potential response: “I’d say you’ve done very well. The questions you’ve asked thus far have given me an opportunity to show that I could make a contribution to your company. I hope I’ve done just as well with my answers. There are topics that we have not yet covered, such as my background with [mention a skill that you would like to discuss], but I am sure there’s a good chance you will get to them before the end of the interview.”
Describe the color yellow to somebody who’s blind. Spirit Airlines asked this question to test candidates’ creativity…and also to test their ability to understand other people’s perspectives. Some candidates no doubt leapt to the conclusion that a blind person would have no experience with colors, but that is not necessarily so.
Potential response: “First, I’d want to know if the person has always been blind. If not, I’d ask what he or she remembers about colors and start from there. If he has always been blind, I would describe yellow using senses other than sight. I’d say yellow is warm, like the sun on your skin on a pleasant day.”
Other similar questions…
• If you were a pizza deliveryman, how would you benefit from scissors?
• A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say, and why is he here?
Interviewers look for creative answers that show you can look at the world through another perspective.
Who would win a fight between Spider-Man and Batman? A Stanford University interviewer asked this to evaluate candidates’ ability to make decisions without having all the information.
Potential response: “It depends on a number of factors. What weapons and tools does each have? Batman, in particular, seems to depend on his gadgets. And where is this fight taking place? If it’s on top of a tall building, Spider-Man would have a big advantage. If we assume that they each have their usual equipment and the battleground is neutral, I’d choose…”
Then pick one of the superheroes—it doesn’t matter which. Defend your choice using whatever knowledge you have about these characters. In the real world, people often must make decisions based on imperfect information. Failing to choose a superhero would make you appear indecisive.
If you were a Muppet, which Muppet would you be? An interviewer at a cyber-security company asked my wife this question during a job interview. He was trying to get a sense of how she—and other candidates—saw themselves. What was most important was not which Muppets they chose, but how well they linked the choices to positive workplace traits. But candidates can score bonus points on questions such as this one by coming up with creative responses. My wife picked a Muppet that the interviewer had not previously even considered a Muppet…and she got the job.
Her response: “Yoda. He is intelligent, patient, thoughtful and willing to share his knowledge.” Other candidates likely named Muppets on The Muppet Show—but those Muppets are goofy, not the image job hunters hope to project. Yoda, a Muppet created for the Star Wars movies, has a far more positive image.
Other similar questions…
• If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why?
• If you were a new crayon, what color would you be and why?
• If there were a movie about your life, who would play you and why?
The interviewer is looking for creative responses that give insight into who you are and that show your positive view of the world.
*The odd interview questions in this article were collected by employer-analysis and career-guidance company Glassdoor (Glassdoor.com), except as noted.
Michael R. Neece, president and CEO of Interview Mastery, the world’s most widely used job-interview-preparation software, Boston. He previously was “Interview Master” for career website Monster.com and vice president and director of recruiting for companies including Hewlett Packard and Fidelity Investments. InterviewMastery.comDate: May 15, 2015 Publication: Bottom Line Personal