Are crazy questions actually useful?

by Caitlin Nobes16 Oct 2012

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 question 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, 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.


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  • by Harley 16/10/2012 2:12:14 PM

    Like all questions in an interview, you need to place them in a way that they won't tarnish the rest of the results. If you are going to throw a curve ball during an interview, do it after the majority of questions are asked.

    My faviorite crazy question is 'if you were an animal, what animal would you be and why?', and I would ask it as the last question in an interview. It does test creativity, and it lead the interviewee to describe themselves without realising (or at least describing the attributes they like about themselves), but like all interactions you should be looking at more than just the question's answer. How do they go about answering the question? Do they approach an odd question with interest or dissaproval? Do they like answering the question? Sometimes how they answer the question is more telling to an interviewer than the actual answer, and crazy questions provide a great range of responses.

  • by rob wise 16/10/2012 2:21:51 PM

    a subject question can only elicit a subjective response. And such a response may be useful to someone who is trained to interpret the meaning behind them but for most of us, who are not formerly trained in this way, the best questions are Behavioural questions.

    That is ask a person to recall their [recent] behaviour during a circumstance which exemplifies a particular competency that you are trying to gain an insight into.

    If you keep in mind while they answer that you are looking for the circumstances of the example, the action that the candidate took and finally the result (or the CAR) of the answer. You will have a much more robust insight into that person's behaviour / competency.

    Boring I know - but effective and scientific - at least more scientific than " can you tell me about your strengths".

    Oh and a manhole is round so it can't fall into the hole no matter which way it is fitted. Not that I worked that answer out - I have read it recently and remembered the answer - I leveraged someone else's cleverness which talks to a different competency than the one for which that question was designed.

    Rob Wise
    Wise Recruitment
    Behaviourist Recruiter.

  • by Matthew Cummins 16/10/2012 3:30:50 PM

    I actually think the one "If you were a Microsoft Office program, which would it be?" is quite brilliant!

    If a person thinks about it - Outlook = a communicator/networker, Word = strong writter, Excel = strong mathematically/logically, Access - good at storing and using information etc.

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