Garden gnomes and elephants: How would you answer these 25 oddball interview questions?

Garden gnome. Photo: Emerson12

The tech economy is firing on all cylinders, but that doesn’t mean it is any easier to get a job at Google or Facebook or Amazon. In fact, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Google, for example, hires just one out of every 130 applicants.

In that same story, the Journal details some of the quirky interview questions that Google recruiters often ask of potential employees, including challenging brain teasers like: “A book has N pages, numbered the usual way, from 1 to N. The total number of digits in the page numbers is 1,095. How many pages does the book have?”

Now, Glassdoor has compiled its own list of the top oddball interview questions of the year Here’s a look. Which one would you prefer to get in your interview?

1. “How many people are using Facebook in San Francisco at 2:30 p.m. on a Friday?” – Asked at Google, Vendor Relations Manager candidate.

2. “Just entertain me for five minutes; I’m not going to talk.” – Asked at Acosta, Leadership Development Program Associate candidate.

Light bulbs. Photo: Andre Mouraux

3. “If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?” – Asked at Hewlett-Packard, Product Marketing Manager candidate.

4. “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?” – Asked at QUALCOMM, Engineering candidate.

5. “What do you think of garden gnomes?” – Asked at Trader Joe’s, Team Member candidate.

6. “Is your college GPA reflective of your potential?” – Asked at the Advisory Board, Strategic Marketing Associate candidate.

Would Ghandi be a good software engineer? Photo: Wikipedia

7. “Would Mahatma Gandhi have made a good software engineer?” – Asked at Deloitte, Analyst candidate.

8. “If you could be #1 employee but have all your coworkers dislike you or you could be #15 employee and have all your coworkers like you, which would you choose?” – Asked at ADP, Inside Sales Associate candidate.

9. “How would you cure world hunger?” – Asked at Amazon.com, Software Developer candidate.

10. “Room, desk and car – which do you clean first?” – Asked at Pinkberry, Shift Lead candidate.

11. “Does life fascinate you?” – Asked at Ernst & Young, Tax Analyst candidate.

12. “Please spell ‘diverticulitis’.” – Asked at EMSI Engineering, Account Manager candidate.

13. “Name 5 uses of a stapler without staple pins.” – Asked at EvaluServe, Business Analyst candidate.

14. “How much money did residents of Dallas/Ft. Worth spend on gasoline in 2008?” – Asked at American Airlines, Revenue Management candidate.

How would you get this elephant in a fridge? Photo: William Warby

15. “You’re in a row boat, which is in a large tank filled with water. You have an anchor on board, which you throw overboard (the chain is long enough so the anchor rests completely on the bottom of the tank). Does the water level in the tank rise or fall?” – Asked at Tesla Motors, Mechanical Engineer candidate.

16. “How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?” – Asked at Horizon Group Properties, Office Assistant candidate.

17. “You have a bouquet of flowers. All but two are roses, all but two are daisies, and all but two are tulips. How many flowers do you have?” – Asked at Epic Systems, Corporation Project Manager/Implementation Consultant candidate.

Alpine Lake. Photo: Tom Hilton

18. “How many planes are currently flying over Kansas?” – Asked at Best Buy, Demand Planning Analyst candidate.

19. “How many different ways can you get water from a lake at the foot of a mountain, up to the top of the mountain?” – Asked at Disney Parks & Resorts, Project Engineering Intern candidate.

20. “What is 37 times 37?” – Asked at Jane Street Capital, Assistant Trader candidate.

21. “If you could be a superhero, what power would you possess?” – Asked at Rain and Hail Insurance, Claim Auditor candidate.

22. “If you were a Microsoft Office program, which one would you be?” – Asked at Summit Racing Equipment, Ecommerce candidate.

23. “Pepsi or Coke?” – Asked at United Health Group, Associate Project Manager candidate.

24. “Are you exhaling warm air?” – Asked at Walker Marketing, Client Manager candidate.

25. “How do you feel about those jokers at Congress?” – Asked at Consolidated Electrical, Management Trainee candidate.

  • Guest

    Kudos to Google, Acosta, Hewlett-Packard, QUALCOMM, Trader Joe’s, the Advisory Board, Deloitte, ADP, Amazon, Pinkberry, Ernst & Young, EMSI Engineering, EvaluServe,  American Airlines, Tesla Motors, Horizon Group Properties, Epic Systems, Best Buy, Disney Parks & Resorts, Jane Street Capital, Rain and Hail Insurance, Summit Racing Equipment, United Health Group, Walker Marketing, and Consolidated Electrical for thinking outside the box!

  • Peter

    @Guest:twitter: and which box would that be? The silly questions box? With a few exceptions these are typical HR questions from HR people who are totally clueless about the job and skill set required for the job. These kind of questions come directly from training sessions and conferences from the likes of Mercer. Or did you think they came up themselves with gems like “how to put an elephant in a fridge”? For some reason those self proclaimed HR-magicians were able to sell the idea to General Management that HR is something the organization would benefit from. Unfortunately for those to be interviewed by an HR person the opposite is true. HR people are annoying, ask stupid questions, ask the wrong questions, and if by chance they ask the right question they don’t understand your answer. How can they? A 101-howto-become-an-HR-magician is not going to cut it when a rocket scientist talks about his PhD. Maybe HR has some uses but in the past year I have seen most HR responsibilities diverted back to managers and many HR people are let go. Asking around it is quite difficult to find someone who has to say anything positive about HR. So apparently HR’s added value is negligible or maybe even negative.

    Also did anyone ever notice that in times when “talented resources” are scarce that HR is just not in the picture other than going through the job boards and cold calling to beg people to come in for an interview? They just can’t deliver when the going gets tough. For the employer that is. Now that the economy has tanked you see HR pop up everywhere. For those who are looking for a new job, I hope the economy improves quickly so you don’t have to deal with them.

  • http://hrnasty.com/ HRNasty

    I understand where some of these questions come from and can use my imagination to link the question to how they are relevant to the job. As an HR person, I don’t care for them, but I see their place.  Whatever information we are trying to get from these questions, I believe can come from other questions.  As someone that is recruiting technologists, I would urge interviewers to reveal WHAT the purpose of some of these questions are at the end of the interview (or right there on the spot).  Obviously candidates should be prepared enough to understand WHY these questions are being asked, but I believe that in addition to being potential employee, candidates are customers and potential recruiters.  As a candidate, even if I am not hired, I can be an evangelist and a customer for the company, and taking a few minutes to explain the philosophy behind the question can go a long way to easing frustration.  I don’t want any one leaving our interview loop pissed off at the team or the company because they didn’t understand how getting an elephant in a refrigerator is relevant to the position.  Taking a few minutes to explain “we wanted to see how you would react to an impossible question” can go a long way to giving insight to the candidate.  Right now the market in Seattle is very competitive and interviews can be as much of a selling tool as they can be a filter to potential candidates.

    HRNasty @bdd403e43d684fa0f94bba27ff0e3432:disqus 

    • Larry McKeogh

      You are assuming that the questioners are as astute as you are in understanding what an answer may reveal. More than likely they are asked by someone looking to trip up a candidate. 

      Either way, why not just be up front in what you are trying to assess.

  • SmartAss

    Here’s how you make sure you don’t get the job — say, “Please detail your training to correctly interpret my answer to that question?”

    • Anonymous

      you’re right.  anyone that attacks the interviewer will probably be disruptive.

  • Anonymous

    This reflects an age old argument about how you determine the suitability of a candidate to a given position.

    The “collegial” school thinks that the person’s resume and experience should be sufficient and that it is insulting to “test” the individual.  The “realist” school believes that understanding the way a person thinks and solves problems is the best.

    I fall squarely in the realist camp.  A resume is basically marketing.  Weakness is underplayed and strength is over reported.  How do you unmask the puffed resume?  By making the candidate prove their assertions.  I love these open ended and vague questions. They serve multiple purposes.  First, they force the candidate to disambiguate and clarify the question.  If they don’t, they are going to be a mere functionary.  Secondly, you get to see how they think.  Are they a creative problem solver or brute force one?  Are they organized and have a methodical thought process?  Do they relish or shrink from a challenge?  Great questions have multiple solutions and the answer is a small part of what I am looking for.

    I would never want to work for a company that didn’t try their utmost to select smart and creative candidates.  I wouldn’t want to work with some one that was insulted by these kinds of questions.  

  • Anonymous

    What would you put for the San Francisco Facebook one? I’m estimating (order of magnitude) maybe 100000?

  • Luisigno1

    I just want a job for crying out loud.  Would any answer give me the job?  If so, tell me what it is?  I have some doozies I would like to tell them just for asking.