Your Weirdest Interview Questions, Part Three

Last Updated Jan 12, 2011 10:45 AM EST

You've read the 25 weirdest interview questions of 2010, as reported by Glassdoor, along with advice from experts on how to answer some of them. Turns out those Glassdoor questions paled compared to these zingers asked of BNET's Leadership Lab readers.
  • Would you rather be a rock, a tree, or a stream?
  • If you were fired from this job, why would it be?
  • How much does the Washington Monument weigh?
So how do you actually respond to these? We set Michael Melcher, a partner at executive coaching company Next Step Partners, loose on the weirdest interview questions submitted in the comments of the Leadership Lab. He confirmed what you might have suspected: "These questions say more about the personality of the person designing the questions than what will actually be effective in finding good people," he says. "The types of questions they ask may reinforce their self-concept as creative, edgy, out-of-the-box, et cetera, but they are not necessarily meaningful."

Still, here's Melcher's advice about how to answer the unanswerable.

Would you rather be a stream, a rock, or a tree?

Melcher says the interviewer is looking to see 1) if you can think spontaneously, 2) if you can tell an interesting story, and how you do it, and 3) if you can be relaxed and fresh when asked about things that are out of your comfort zone. So don't just answer with one word-make up a rationale and elaborate on it, even if it seems kind of wacky. An oddball question may require an oddball answer.

Who is your hero?
Here, Melcher says, the interviewer probably wants to know how you define leadership. Name someone, come up with two or three reasons why they're a leader, and then talk about how you try to embody those qualities, at least a little, in your own life.

If you were fired from this job, why would it be?
The interviewer is looking for your passion, not your weakness. So don't say you are prone to commit fraud, come in late all the time, or take advantage of subordinates. If you're interviewing for a job as an engineer, you got fired because you spent too much time on your volunteer work teaching kids about math and science. Or something like that. Got it?

What is your most embarrassing moment?
Melcher says this is actually a good question. The interviewer wants to hear about your self-awareness, how you learn, and how you recover from uncomfortable situations. Tell them about an embarrassing moment that showed you your limits and made you a better person.

How much does the Washington Monument weigh?
Don't pull out your smartphone and start Googling, however tempting that may be. The interviewer doesn't care about the actual answer. This is about your ability to translate math problems into simple calculations. Break the question down to arrive at a reasonable back-of-the-envelope estimate.

Use the words "edge," "energy," "energize," "execute," and "passion" to make a sentence.
Melcher says this is decent question if your job would be to work with words-say, in media or advertising. But Ben, the commenter, says he was asked it during an interview for a technical position! You can be a little playful with this one. Act like this is fun.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
This is a boilerplate question that gets tricky if the job candidate is in his 60s, as was BNET commenter ibdense. Ibdense's answer was, "Alive, I hope." (And ibdense didn't get the job.)

Older job seekers need to communicate that they are passionate, serious, and committed, says Melcher, but they can also have some fun with the question. "I'm going to be the first-ever 70-year-old Olympian," works. So does, "In addition to my bestselling novel, I will have beaten all your sales records." Age discrimination is a real problem, but don't let this question throw you.

Peggy Klaus, a leadership coach in Berkeley, Calif., says that if you get more than one or two of these types of questions, you might ask, in a non-threatening way, what the interviewer is looking for. "I would try not to be snarky about it," she says. "Just say, 'Before we go on, I've never had these types of questions before, and I think it's kind of fun, but what are you looking for here? Is there a right or a wrong answer?'" If they can't give a satisfactory answer, you may not want to work for them.

What's your tolerance level for these types of questions? How have you answered these questions?

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Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant. Follow her ontwitter.com/weisul.
Image courtesy of flickr user Random Tree
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.