Answering the Unanswerable: Wacky Job Interview Questions

Photograph by Ocean/Corbis

Career experts tend to wax philosophical about what business school students should be doing to win over interviewers. Rarely does anyone ever turn the tables and focus on the outrageousness of those making hiring decisions—until now. Glassdoor, the online community for job hunting and recruiting, scoured thousands of questions shared by job candidates last year to come up with the “Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions,” which was released on Monday.

Ranging from the somewhat expected (“How would you rate your memory?”) to downright zany (“A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?”), the complete list is worth checking out, for chuckles if nothing else. Still, if one supervisor asked such a question, others might be doing the same. So how would you respond? Here, an MBA administrator and students try their hand:

No. 5: What songs best describe your work ethic?

Asked: Interview for a consumer sales position at Dell

Answered: Brad Aspel, director of MBA career education and advising at Columbia Business School’s Career Management Center, who asked a group of students how they would answer the question

The Marine Corps Hymn, I Like It, I Love It (Tim McGraw), Girl on Fire (Alicia Keys), and Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger (Kanye West), which was the most popular, were among the answers my students gave. The trick is to think quickly in the moment but realize the company also wants to see your creativity and even your sense of fun. So, even if you answer Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, there should be a sense of fun in the way you answer, so you don’t come off trying too hard by driving the point that you are incredibly dedicated to never stop working until everything is perfect. They want to know you’d be an interesting person to have around, and that merely by asking this question there is a sense of creativity and fun in their culture.”

No. 14: My wife and I are going on a vacation, where would you recommend?

Asked: Interview for an advisory associate position at PricewaterhouseCoopers

Answered: Stephanie Dozier, MBA Class of 2013, Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management

“I would recommend a trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It’s a lovely, tropical area, and has a number of different activities that would interest both you and your wife. You can have a romantic dinner at the restaurant where the pina colada was invented, tour the historic city wall and fort, go shopping in Old San Juan, tour the Bacardi factory, or, for something more adventurous, you could take a rain forest tour and go zip-lining. The number of different activities all available in a relatively small area ensure that you’ll both have an enjoyable and memorable vacation.”

Answered: Shannon Lindgren, Owen MBA Class of 2013

“New Orleans because it is domestic yet exotic. The architecture, food, music, and people would all provide a draw individually, but together they make this city a fantastic destination for people of all ages and interests. Bonus: supporting an economy still recovering from Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon disaster.”

No. 16: Estimate how many windows are in New York.

Asked: Interview for an associate consultant position at Bain & Co.

Answered: Taylor Burroughs, MBA Class of 2013, University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business

“To estimate the number of windows in New York, I would first clarify if this was in relation to Manhattan, Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs, or the entire state. Assuming we were dealing exclusively with Manhattan, I recall the size of the island is about 200 blocks north-south by 10 avenues east-west. These avenues are longer than blocks; the ratio is maybe 4:1. At 200 blocks by 10 avenues, that gives us 2,000 square blocks. Including skyscrapers and walk-ups, perhaps, the average height of a building is 10 stories.

“I’ll further estimate 25 windows per floor each north-south block and thus 100 windows on an east-west avenue. The total perimeter of windows is thus 250 windows per floor per block. Given an average height of 10 stories, I calculate 2,500 windows per block. Multiplying by our 2,000 square blocks gives us 5 million windows. We’ll need to subtract for Central Park (which seemed sufficiently large enough when I tried to run around it). A discount of 500,000 windows seems fair given the park’s size in relation to the total island. Thus my final estimate is 4.5 million windows.”

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