Can You Get an Elephant Into a Refrigerator?

Dec 29, 2011
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?

Think that’s an odd question? How about this one: What do you think of garden gnomes?

Glassdoor has 23 more questions just like those, compiled from thousands of interview questions posted to the employer review site during the last year by job seekers, some charmed, others perplexed, and some completely flummoxed by these kinds of oddball questions.

Pity the poor job seeker who did just what all the advice books and columnists advise — researched the company, read up on the industry, prepared for the inevitable “Tell me about your weaknesses” — only to be asked, “Please spell diverticulitis.”

The candidate didn’t get the job, but rated the interview “easy.” The relevance of the spelling test to the position as an Engineering Account Manager is hard to fathom.

However, more than a few of the questions that made the Glassdoor list evidence some connection with the underlying job. There’s the engineering candidate asked to solve this puzzle: “Given 20 “destructible” light bulbs (which break at a certain height), and a building with 100 floors, how do you determine the height that the light bulbs break?” And the candidate for a position as a demand planning analyst who was asked, “How many planes are currently flying over Kansas?”

Like Google’s famous (infamous?) interview questions, which are intended to elicit a candidate’s analytical skills, some of the Glassdoor questions fall into that category. What’s more, these kinds of oddball questions are becoming more common.

The Wall Street Journal says,Weird interview questions have become a meme, like a joke or a viral video. It’s catchiness, rather than proof of their effectiveness, that keeps them in circulation at many companies.”

The notion, though, that the traditional interview doesn’t really yield a whole lot, is gaining mainstream currency. The Journal article describes a Harvard experiment in which observers who viewed 10 seconds of an interview had similar views of the candidate as did the interviewer themselves. Thus the effort to find alternatives.

In the Glassdoor collection, the planes over Kansas question seems intended to see how well a candidate for a job planning for consumer demand can analyze fuzzy situations. The breakable light bulb test tests both math skills and a candidate’s skill at engineering simplicity. (Incidentally, here’s a solution that takes only 14 bulbs.)

While questions like these have a connection to the jobs, and others are intended to test for fit, more than a few give every sign of being conjured by interviewers for no obvious good reason. The candidate with the garden gnome question described it, and others, during two days of interviews for a clerk position with Trader Joe’s as “bizarre.”

Even so, it wasn’t the questions that left the candidate with a sour taste for the experience. Instead, it was the classic case of failing to communicate. According to the review, even though promised a response, and even after repeated contacts, it wasn’t until weeks later that the candidate learned from an employee at the store that the position had been filled.

About that elephant, “open the door and tell it to go in.”

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.
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