When it comes to hiring, more employers are going beyond standard questions such as asking candidates to list their biggest strengths and weaknesses.
Job applicants need to be prepared to answer a range of seemingly oddball questions, given that employers are increasingly throwing these zingers into their interviewing repertoire, according to employment site Glassdoor.
Think of it as the Google-ization of the interview process: The Internet giant has asked tough, open-ended interview questions for more than a decade as a way to sort the analytical thinkers from the chaff. And now the rest of corporate America is catching on, according to Glassdoor's analysis of 250,000 interview questions that its members have posted to its site.
"We're seeing tougher and more unexpected questions asked for a variety of positions and variety of industries," said Scott Dobroski, associate director of corporate communications at Glassdoor. "Employers are looking to test a candidate's critical thinking skills, as well as how they problem-solve on the spot and how they handle an unexpected challenge."
So how can interviewees avoid getting flummoxed by an unexpected question? First, be aware of the types of questions that are now asked by companies, such as whether it's analytical or trying to find out what type of worker you are. Secondly, ask friends or family to pose similar questions, and get used to answering them out loud and on the spot, Dobroski said.
There are also two faux pas that potential hires should avoid. Never answer one of these odd questions with a one-word response, Dobroski said. Interviewers want to hear that applicants can create a thoughtful response and rise to the challenge.
Lastly, avoid laughing or smirking at the question, even if it seems off-base. "Employers take these questions very seriously, and if you mock them it won't bode well for you," he added.
Below are the top 10 oddball interview questions for 2015, according to Glassdoor:
1. "What would you do if you were the one survivor in a plane crash?" -- This question was asked of an Airbnb trust and safety investigator job candidate.
As with all the oddball questions, interviewees should relate their answers back to the workplace, Dobroski noted. In this case, a potential response could include how to ensure the survivor's safety, as well as checking the rest of the plane to make sure there were no other survivors. Asking about nearby resources, such as radio or cell phone towers, could also help show the interviewer that the applicant can think ahead and plan for emergencies.
2. "What's your favorite '90s jam?" -- A Squarespace customer care job candidate.
While this might seem goofy, Dobroski notes that this open-ended question is a way for a candidate to show off their positive qualities. "I could answer, 'All Star' by Smash Mouth. This reminds me to keep reaching for the stars,'" Dobroski said. "These can be very short responses, as long as you relate it back to the workplace."
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 rotation program job candidate.
This is the type of situation that almost everyone deals with today, but it also allows the candidate to show how he or she would prioritize in a potentially stressful situation, Dobroski noted. Candidates could note that they'd search for names of people and subject line terms that would need attention first, for example.
4. "Who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman?" -- Stanford University medical simulationist job candidate.
This is a circumstantial type of question where a candidate could ask the interviewer for more information, such as whether the fight is in a cave (giving Batman an edge) or the top of a building (Spiderman). "This shows how you assess an unexpected challenge," Dobroski noted. Giving a one-word answer such as "Spiderman" isn't what employers want to hear (no matter how much you love Spidey.)
5. "If you had a machine that produced $100 dollars for life, what would you be willing to pay for it today?" -- Aksia research analyst job candidate.
Candidates could ask the interviewer for more information, such as whether there is only one of these machines available or if there's a glut. Asking about whether there is risk involved -- such as whether the owner could be targeted by criminals -- could also help show analytic skills, Dobroski noted.
6. "What did you have for breakfast?" -- Banana Republic sales associate job candidate.
This sounds like small talk, but it allows the interviewer to gauge whether the candidate is an upbeat person and can relate to other people. Sales associates are asked questions all day long by customers, and keeping upbeat energy is important.
7. "Describe the color yellow to somebody who's blind." -- Spirit Airlines flight attendant job candidate.
This question tests a candidate's sensitivity and how they gather information. An applicant could ask whether the person is partially blind and when they became blind, helping to formulate an answer and deal with someone's disability. "There are times when they have to work with passengers with special needs," Dobroski noted.
8. "If you were asked to unload a 747 full of jellybeans, what would you do?" -- Bose IT support manager job candidate.
Unloading a plane full of jellybeans is no small task, so this allows a candidate to show off their project management skills. An interviewee could ask what the budget is, when the deadline is for unloading the plane, and whether they have machinery or staff to work with. That will help demonstrate the candidate's ability to think through all the possible dimensions of the challenge.
9. "How many people flew out of Chicago last year?" -- Redbox software engineer II job candidate.
This question for an entry-level engineering job is, not surprisingly, geared toward assessing a candidate's analytic skills. The interviewee could walk through their thinking, such as how many flights go in and out of Chicago each day, how traffic surges at the holidays, and come up with an answer. The interviewer isn't interested in the correct answer, Dobroski noted. Rather, it's all about how a candidate handles such problems.
10. "What's your favorite Disney Princess?" -- Coldstone Creamery crew member job candidate.
This question is all about getting a candidate to show off their personality. Responses should link back to the business, Dobroski noted. "You might say, 'I like Cinderella. She epitomizes someone who works hard, is well liked and has overcome some challenges. That's how I approach work,'" he said.