Absurd and silly interview questions

  • Reading time:6 mins read

If you were a doughnut, what kind would you be? Are you a nerd? Can you count to 50?

I couldn’t stop laughing when I recently read the list of naive and brainless interview questions that are used by insane HR departments around the world. The list was compiled by Anne Fisher, a contributor to Fortune magazine. But it gets worse:

  • Will you keep sober at the New Year Party?
  • What leadership skills are needed to cook a chicken?
  • Do you have a bird?
  • Do you believe in ghosts?
  • Would you go out with me?
  • What would make you leave your husband?
  • How much can you drink?
  • Discuss the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • How do you get along with your mother-in-law?

And here are some challenging questions included on Glassdoor’s Top 10 oddball question list:

  • Used by Cisco: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you want to have with you?
  • Used by Bloomberg: My clock is nine minutes slow every hour. At noon, it tells the correct time. After how many hours will it again tell the correct time?
  • Used by Goldman Sachs: If you have five red balls that contained four red balls. And those red balls contained the original five red balls, then how many sets of sets of balls would it take to have a double set of red balls of varying sizes inside each next largest red ball?

Continue reading and you will learn what questions professional interviewers use to assess candidate qualifications. But let me first start by killing the use of binary questions, binary is the response to a yes-no question.

Way too many people-turned-recruiters make it easy for candidates to guess what is the right answer. I mean, is it not obvious what you must answer to these questions, if you want to stand any chance of being considered for the job: can you sell, do you work well under pressure, are you a team player?

Industrial psychologists studying traditional interviews have concluded that traditional binary interview questions were not effective as they were often hypothetical or theoretical. Answers did not really represent what a candidate had actually done in real-life situations and what the candidate would most likely do again on the job.

Now, ladies and gentlemen: introducing behaviour-based interview questions.

Probably the most used question technique in job interviews, used by real professional recruiters, is known by the names behaviour-based interview or competency-based interview or even performance-based interview.

The technique is based on a simple premise: A look at the past provides a glimpse of the future. If you did it before, you’ll do it again. We say the past behaviour and performance is the best predictor of future behaviour and performance.

The basic idea calls for the interviewer to prompt or press the candidate to recall and describe in sometimes excruciating details real life incidents that provide evidence of a skill or experience relevant to the new job.

Here are some typical behaviour-based interview questions to use when you develop the questions to ask at the interview. The answers will reveal his or her true self by providing details of relevant real life experiences:

  • Can you give me an example of when you [insert].
  • Could you tell me about a time when you [insert].
  • Tell me more about when you [insert].
  • Have you ever had to [insert]? What was the situation, and what did you do?
  • Describe a situation where you [insert].
  • Let’s go back to that situation you just mentioned; can you elaborate a little more about how you [insert].
  • Your resume indicates that you [insert]. How exactly did you do that?
  • I hear what you’re saying, but I need a few more details to really understand what happened. Can you take me back to the point when you…
  • Have you ever had the experience of [insert]? Can you tell me about that?

Finishing off this month’s blog article, here are some great tips to make your next interview successful:

  • Use prepared questions: This will help you provide a structure, allow you to treat all fairly and to compare candidates with one another.
  • Get the full story. If you can’t get an answer at all, or it is vague, use different choice of words. Or come back to the question later in the interview.
  • Handling silence: Wait five to second seconds after asking your question, let the candidate have a little time to think about the answer.
  • Control the interview: The goal is to gather relevant job-related data in a short period of time. Be careful of too much soft talk.
  • Evaluate candidates after the interview: The interview is geared to gather facts and document those by taking notes. Do not make too early judgments but wait to after the interview.
  • Take notes: Listen carefully to the responses and stick to the facts. Don’t write your opinions or what you think was said.


Tom Sorensen

Tom Sorensen is an executive search veteran with over 25 years of experience recruiting in Asia, Europe, and Africa. He has worked in executive search in Thailand since 2003 and is recognized as one of the country’s top recruiters and most profiled headhunters.