‘What did you last Google?’ The Rise and Fall of Quirky Interview Questions

Quirky Interview Questions Often Aren't Logical

If you’ve had recent experience in recruitment, you might have noticed a strange trend:  Interview questions are getting weirder, particularly when it comes to jobs higher up the ladder.

“How many basketballs would fit in this room?”

In fact, Glassdoor has been keeping an eye on this trend. Glassdoor’s annual list publishes the year’s most bizarre and mind-bending interview questions reported by candidates. Top contenders range from what candidates might do with a penguin in a freezer to what they might choose to name their debut album.

Yet, not all quirky interview questions are asked for the sake of asking. These 17 CEOs and executives ask potential employees odd questions with purpose. A candidate’s answer may determine their curiosity, motivation, or self-awareness.

The Root of Quirky Interview Questions

There was a time when Google was one of the worst “quirky hiring habits” offenders. Candidates expected the onslaught of all sorts of out-of-the-box questions.

For example, when one candidate was applying for an account strategist position, they were prompted to answer how they would explain AdWords… to a 7-year-old. Another candidate claimed to that during their interview, the interviewer asked:

“What was the last thing you Googled?”

“You have a colony on Mars that you want to communicate with. How do you build a system to communicate with them?”

The company was so famous for its oblique approach to interviewing that it’s often blamed for igniting the trend of bizarre interview questions in the first place.

Discouraging Quirky Interview Questions

It’s ironic, then, that Google has also been one of the first organizations to effectively ban these questions during its hiring process. Laszlo Bock, head of People Operations at Google, recently published a book in which he admitted the questions weren’t an officially endorsed part of the hiring process anymore.

“How would you sell hot chocolate in Florida?”

“We do everything we can to discourage this,” Bock said, “as it’s really just a waste of everyone’s time.”

So why has the very company ostensibly responsible for starting this trend turned its back on the practice? According to Bock, the reason is simple: It doesn’t work.

The questions, he says, “have little, if any, ability to predict how candidates will perform in a job” and often “rely on some trivial bit of information or insight that’s withheld from the candidate, and serve primarily to make the interviewer feel clever.”

Some Quirky Interview Questions are Useful

Moving Towards Straightforward Methods

Google now bases its hiring practice on more straightforward methods. Specifically, they ask candidates to demonstrate their skills in their area of expertise. For example, by writing out some code on a whiteboard.

Candidates must then to respond to a series of carefully chosen questions. Each question has either:

  • A definitive correct answer
  • Is designed to assess a particular personal characteristic

Extensive research shows that structured interviews result in better hires than those featuring quirkier questions, or those without any specific structure.

“What kind of tree would you be?”

This doesn’t mean that, outside of Google, the quirky interview question is set to die anytime soon.

These interview questions come with a viral appeal. Likewise, many people have the lingering perception that they provide some kind of special insight. It could be quite a while before candidates can attend interviews without fear of not knowing how many golf balls they could fit into a jumbo jet.

Until then, enjoy some of the quirky interview questions that are actually not painful to answer!


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