Interviewers often struggle with what questions to ask job candidates as they try to rapidly understand the skill sets and work styles of applicants they have just met. It's not easy to predict someone's future job performance in a 45-minute interview. Hiring managers need specific information about the candidate's talents, but they often don't know how to conduct an
interview or what to ask.
Some interviewers are very skilled and well trained, but the vast majority are not. This results in some fairly creative, yet rather stupid, interview questions.
Here's a list of five really stupid questions from interviewers and how you can handle them:
1. If you could be any type of Muppet character, which one would you be?
(Variations of this type of question include "What is your favorite color? Favorite TV show? Animal? etc.)
The interviewer is under the illusion that he or she can gain insight into your personality by asking a question like this. Whatever your answer is, be sure to explain the reasons why you like a particular Muppet, TV show, color, or animal the best. Highlight the qualities that support your answer. Do not leave it up to the interviewer to interpret your answer. Use the question to communicate the talents and qualities you feel best represent your abilities for the position.
If you don't have a response, just ask the interviewer the following. "That's an interesting question. Why do you ask?" Your intent with this response is to modify the focus of the conversation and steer it back toward things that are relevant to the job: your experience and talents.
2. How many gas stations are in the USA?
(Similar question: "How many airplanes are in the skies over the USA?")
The intent of this question is to see how you approach solving a problem, not if you know some obscure bit of trivia. In reality, there's no way to know for certain whether a calculation is accurate or not. The interviewer is looking to have you think through - aloud - your approach to solving the problem.
One approach to solving this problem goes like this: "To begin, we could look up the total membership list for professional associations of gas station owners. We could also estimate the number of gas stations by researching gasoline sales tax filings for every state. Gas stations are also under the control of the Department of Environmental Protection and most likely have to file an annual report of the condition of this gasoline storage tanks. We could research these figures by state or at the federal level."
If you get stuck, just say, as in the question above: "That's an interesting question. Why do you ask?" While this may help steer the focus of the interview back to your experience and talents, it can also give you a little time to formulate your response.
3. Where do you see yourself in five years?
This dumb question falls into the same category as "What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What would your boss say about you? Even though these questions are frequently asked, it doesn't make them any less irrelevant. Such questions have no value in predicting future job performance. Interviewers really don't want the truth; they're only interested in seeing how you respond. They really want to hear that you're committed to your career, constantly improving your value to the organization and seeking to do an excellent job in whatever role you're assigned. They don't really want to hear about your personal goals or aspirations beyond the open position for which you're being interviewed. Of these five stupid interview questions, this one is the most likely to be asked. And let's face it: How many people can see how their lives are going to turn out five years into the future?
4. How does your family or partner feel about you working long hours?
This question is not only a stupid one to ask, it's illegal. It suggests the interviewer is trying to learn whether or not you're married or have a family. This information is irrelevant to the position's qualifications, but the interviewer's intent may be simpler: He or she may be trying to find out how supportive your family is of your working, or how flexible you can be with long working hours. Regardless, if you hear this question, use your response to communicate your work ethic and flexibility to achieve desired outcomes.
5. Why are manhole covers round?
This really stupid interview question was made famous by some knuckleheads at Microsoft. They somehow believed that a candidate's response indicated something about them. If you'd like to blow the interviewer's mind, you could approach the problem like a physicist as described on the HEBIG.Org blog, or one of the writers from Seinfeld. You can just hear the bass riff as you read it!
The key to answering a stupid interview question is to relate it directly to your experience, talents, and anything having to do with the job and working for the organization.
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