Oddball Questions

By Bob Goldman

June 3, 2013 5 min read

Here's a question: A penguin walks through the door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say, and why is he here?

Don't have an answer? Then forget about getting hired for that great position at the Clark Construction Group, because this penguin puzzle is one of the questions asked to job applicants. Or so I learned from the annual report from the job site Glassdoor, on the "Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions for 2013."

Glassdoor, a site that offers insights into the hiring practices of companies where you might -- or might not -- want to work, collected these wacky questions from "tens of thousands of interview questions shared by job candidates over the past year." So, technically, these are the top 25 oddball interview questions from 2012. You can be sure that with their commitment to excellence, the HR teams at companies like Clark Construction Group are hard at work coming up with even odder oddball questions for 2013.

But back to that penguin. Because I'm a little too busy and far too lazy to learn anything about the Clark Group, I am going to guess that its construction activities are not located in the Antarctic. I say this because Clark's management clearly does not know very much about penguins that invariably wear berets. And the company's probably not doing a lot of business in Mexico, either, because it apparently doesn't know that there aren't penguins in Mexico, and there are darn few sombreros, as well.

Though this penguin question strikes me as the oddest of the oddball questions, it does have some real competition. For example, when you interview for a job at Amazon.com, expect to be asked how you would respond to this highly likely event: "Jeff Bezos walks into your office and says you can have a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea. What is it?"

Now, if Amazon.com is the type of company that is throwing around millions of dollars to finance its employees' harebrained schemes, made up on the spot, you definitely want that job. So your answer had better be right. Chances are that most employees come up with some boring idea involving social networking or payment systems or online pornography. Yes, they'll make money, but they don't show that creative spark a Jeff Bezos expects.

The right answer shows your honesty and your integrity. You say, "Jeff, I'm going to tell you that I'm going to use that million to set up a Sarajevo server farm, where proprietary algorithms will integrate data into a matrix of consumer preference modeling modules to maximize profits, but actually, I'm going to take every penny, deposit it in a Cayman Islands bank account and never work another day in my life."

And if you don't think this is exactly what Jeff Bezos dreams of doing with his millions, you're nuts.

"How many cows are in Canada?" That is a question du jour at Google. The right answer? There are no cows in Canada. They've been eaten by the penguins. (This "guess the number game" must come up frequently in HR brainstorming sessions. The heartless consultancy Bain & Co. wants you to "estimate how many windows there are in New York." At least this is useful information. No matter how much you'd like to be a Googler, you definitely don't want to milk cows. On the other hand, if you worked for Bain & Co., you'd definitely want plenty of windows available because you'd certainly want to leap out of one.

What Jiffy Software wants to know is, "Have you ever stolen a pen at work?" If you think this is a test of your honesty, you are not Jiffy Software material. The answer it wants is, "I would never risk my career for a 39-cent Bic, but if you come out to the parking lot, I can give you a deal on the high-end laptops I've pilfered from my co-workers."

Apparently, Bandwidth.com doesn't care who you are. What it really wants to know is, "What kitchen utensil would you be?" This is a great question because it gives you so many opportunities to suck up to the interviewer. You might answer, "I want to be a sponge so I can soak up all the brilliance there is in this company." Or, "I want to be a spatula so I can flip sales calls into profits." But these are obvious.

The best answer: "I would be a penguin because I look so good in a sombrero."

Bob Goldman's weekly column, "Work Daze," can be found at creators.com.

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