Weird interview questions that work

by HCA22 May 2012

HR directors at the world’s biggest firms are using left-of-centre tactics in the interview room by asking simple questions about the company and its business.

According to the Wall Street Journal, interviewers for investment banking and securities firm Goldman Sachs ask candidates the firm's stock price; and financial services firm Morgan Stanley asks interviewees to name a recent story they've read in the Financial Times (a lot can't).

These simple questions can be the undoing of many hopeful candidates and have sparked numerous websites dedicated to recording interview questions and stories of defeat. One organisation that regularly pops up on these websites is Google.

The search engine/ global behemoth continues to dominate ‘best employer’ and ‘most desirable places to work’ lists, and despite a reputation for a brutal approach to recruitment, it’s clear that they’re getting their people and culture right.

Google receives a million job applications a year, and understandably for those in HR, there has to be stringent selection criteria and a way of separating not just the wheat, but the truly brilliant wheat, from the chaff.

Although Google doesn’t comment on the specifics of its hiring process, former and current HR specialists spoke candidly to the Wall Street Journal on the methods behind the ‘what-colour-best-represents-you?’ style questions. And while most organisations don’t receive the volume of applications that Google does, some techniques used by former and current HR specialists at Google are relevant to the hiring process generally.

Looking at it simply, Google doesn’t look to hire ‘The Smartest’ and ‘The Most Technically Capable’, but those who will best fit their organisation and culture. Getting it wrong comes at a high price, and can end in absenteeism, inability to complete tasks, team conflicts, low morale, performance issues, client issues, a risk to the brand reputation and dysfunction that causes tension and stress.

Rachel Clements, psychologist and director of psychological services at the Centre for Corporate Health, said all parties suffer damaging consequences when an employee is not a good fit.

Organisations including Whole Foods and Expedia both now ask questions of their candidates which they say are a quick way of gauging an applicant’s knowledge and passion for the area of business – for example, “What would be your perfect meal?”, and “If you could go camping anywhere, where would you put your tent?”

Left-of-centre interview questions used by major corporates

  • If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?" — Asked at Hewlett-Packard, product marketing manager candidate
  • "How would you cure world hunger?" — Asked at, software developer candidate
  • "Please spell 'diverticulitis'." — Asked at EMSI Engineering, account manager candidate
  • "How do you feel about those jokers at Congress?" — Asked at Consolidated Electrical, management trainee candidate
  • "If you were a Microsoft Office program, which one would you be?" — Asked at Summit Racing Equipment, e-commerce candidate



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  • by Denis Hitchens 22/05/2012 3:00:04 PM

    When I used to recruit Sandwich Year marketing students from Swinburne (as they were called at the time) I became tired of every applicant claiming to be 'creative'; so I started to ask "What is the most creative thing you have done?" Oh Bother!

    In fact it entered urban legend at we had a 'killer question' and as we used to get our current student(s) to conduct the selection they would vie for the right to ask this killer question.

    Amazing answers included one bright young social butterfly telling us designing a dress with music notes on it! Killer indeed

  • by Christy 31/05/2012 11:03:31 PM

    I was once asked, "if you could be anyone who would you be."

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