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Thursday, July 9, 2009

stupid interview questions (and win a free office chair!)

If you could be a tree, what tree would you be?

What type of animal are you most like?

What would I find in your refrigerator right now?

Who the hell is asking these sorts of interview questions? Apparently someone is, because complaints about them abound. But they're lame, and more than being lame, they're useless. People who defend them say that they're supposed to show how creative the candidate is, or how able to think on her feet. I say there there are plenty of other ways to determine that, while still being actually related to the job.

Recently, a friend and I were debating how we'd respond if we were asked any of these in an interview. Our conclusion: not in a way the interviewer would like.

Have you ever been asked these sorts of questions? How did you answer? How would you answer if someone were so lame as to pull this on you?

Leave your answer in the comments section. The best answer will win a free office chair for your home office or any other office furniture of your choice, generously donated by CSN Office Furniture. The winner can pick any item from their site, with a retail value of up to $125.

44 comments:

Anonymous said...

Although I've never asked or been asked what kind of tree I would be - I'd love that question. I'd respond with: "I'd much rather be on the other end. You know, a lumberjack." Then I'd sing the Monty Python lumberjack song...

If that doesn't get me the job, it'll at least end that interviewers lame questions for a while.

Nadine said...

I was asked to name the three people, alive or dead, I would like to have lunch with and why. I said Bill Clinton, Paul Newman and Roger Angell. I guess the hiring manager was a Republican because I got two interviews, but no job.

Angela Risner said...

I was just asked yesterday if the interviewer (my potential boss) was out drinking with my former bosses and lips started getting loose, what would they say about me. I should note that this was a high-ranking government position in an office that was just riddled with scandal due to - drumroll - drinkng.

dschmi38 said...

Q. What kind of tree would you be?
A. Deadwood.

Adri said...

Me: 10 years ago - newly degreed MLIS -- at my very first "professional" interview. I was asked: "Why did you choose to become a librarian?"

My answer:
Well, I didn't want to coach football with my history undergrad and librarianship seemed the only other option.

...a few weeks later they hired me...

jinnan-tonnyx said...

I've never been asked a question like this but once a college classmate asked one of the art professors what his favorite color was - he replied, "Shiner Bock".

I was asked by an interviewer one time if I could send a transcript and have one of my non-major professors talk to him about me because he just couldn't believe that a person with an art degree could possibly be organized enough for an administrative position. Despite the fact that I already had experience doing the same job and excellent reviews. I was naive and laid off at the time so I did what he asked but later realized I was better off not to have gotten that job.

Rebecca said...

I got a plant question once, "which plant in the forest would you be and why?" I answered that I would be a fern because they were my favorite and they are pretty. I always felt like that question was the reason I didn't get the job.

Tim said...

I was looking for a new job when I was about 25, and the interviewer told me quite a bit about himself along the way. When he asked me why it was that I hadn't gotten married yet, I asked him why he was divorced. I got an offer, but chose to keep looking.
I did get married when I was 32, but it amazed me what a curiosity I seemed to be along the way. I was never asked the question again directly, but I got asked a lot of questions around that.

Aswin Kini said...

Well, when I completed by graduation and was looking out for a jobs, I happened to attend a lot of interviews (approximately 30 in number). Fortunately, there were only a few interviewers who asked me stupid questions, some of them were quite annoying infact. I am listing a few below:

Interviewer: "Where do you live?"
Aswin: "I live in area called Chrompet, 5 kms from the Airport".
Interviewer: "How long have you been there?"
Aswin: "We just moved to Chrompet a few months ago, to be frank I have very little idea about that place?"
Interviewer: "Ok, tell me how many street lights are there in your street?"
Aswin: "????????? Have no idea, may 120+"


This is another stupid question from another interviewer:

Interviewer2: "Our office seems to be quite far from your residence. How would you commute"?
Aswin: That's no problem, the locality where I live is connected to the city by local trains. Commuting won't be a problem.
Interviewer2: Local Train yeah??? Ok, tell me, do you travel everyday via train.
Aswin: "Yes, I do. why?"
Interviewer: "How many people do you think the local train can accommodate"
Aswin (surprised): "Well, frankly I have no idea"
Interviewer: "Ok, how many seats are there in the local train"
Aswin (quite annoyed): "Approximately 52 per compartment, so 468 overall, I am not sure".


These were some of the questions which I found very weird and pointless. Maybe they wanted to test my patience.

Aseem Kumar said...

Question: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Answer: In the same office, asking the same question to you.

--------- From an advertisement of something I don't remember

Rachel said...

"If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?"

"Hmmm... probably a weeping willow? Everyone's always saying that I cry at the drop of a hat. It's not true! Just because I cry when I'm really happy... and sad. Also, when I get angry, I sometimes cry. Plus, if I'm frustrated, I find that a good cry can be cathartic. Also, at sad movie trailers. And when I see babies. And old people. And watermelon. But that's about all.

Oh, that's all the questions you have for me? You'll call me, you say?"

MsPinkSlip said...

What would I find in your refrigerator right now?

You would find several boxes of leftovers. I typically work very long days so I typically pick dinner up. I bring the leftovers to work because I don't typically take a lunch so those leftovers come in handy for lunch.

I have an answer for every question that somehow comes back to me being a hard worker.

ReviewSNAP said...

In college I was interviewing for an internship and I got asked a couple of crazy questions. First, they asked "tell me 5 things you can do with a paper clip, other than clip papers together" and second, they asked "if you were part of a pizza, what part would you be?"

Judging by the questions you'd think I was interviewing for some creative type of job, but I'm not sure that I would call a Data Research Analyst position real creative.

CindyB said...

I was once asked "If you were a pair of shoes, what style would you be?". This was from a professional recruiter - what was he thinking?? My answer was equally lame - I'd be a pair of comfy flat shoes.

Can I vote for Rachel, the weeping willow, to win the chair? What she wrote made me laugh out loud - which was a great way to end a stressful week!

Susan said...

I love reading about other stupid interview questions. They're so annoying when you are the one being interviewed, but they make for great entertainment at other times.

I once interviewed for an engineering job at a shipyard. The first question one of the interviewers asked me was:
"Why are you here in my office?"
My reply:
I'm here at your request to interview for the open engineering position that I applied for through your company website.

Later, this same interviewer was looking over my resume while thinking of things to ask me. Listed at the top of my resume are my education credentials and dates they were earned.
The interviewer asked:
"So, I see you'll graduate with a physics degree in 2006. What do you plan to do after graduation?"
This question might not seem all that odd except I was interviewing for this particular position in May of 2008. I gently reminded the interviewer that I had already graduated two years before our interview. Of course I was planning to work while I was in college earning my degree as evidenced by my having been employed at the time of the interview for this position. I went on to explain how my experience and degree could be useful to his company.

I was offered the job 1.5 months later, but I declined the offer. Maybe the interviewer had a bad day, but he really scared me away from my desire to work for that company by his lack of even knowing the year of our interview and his negative outlook on his own employer (different story).

HRD said...

A manager once informed me that they had a killer question that they always use.

"Thinking for a moment about biscuits. If you were a biscuit, what sort of biscuit would you be?"

They were not long for the recruiting world.

But the stupidest question that is used has to be,

"Where do you see yourself in ten years time?"

And the stupidest answer,

"In your seat"

Grrrrr.

DJ Jenobi said...

While on my THIRD interview for a position waiting tables at a newly built, trendy chain restaurant I was asked the following question:

"You have just arrived to your shift and are still tying your apron when you see that the hostess has simultaneously seated all four of the tables in your section. One table is a family of 5 with 3 small kids, one table is a pair of Swedish models who do not speak English. The third table is a group of 4 businessmen who appear to be in a rush, and you also have a table seated with an older couple who are your "regulars"--they have just returned from vacation and have tons of pictures to show you....
What do you do and first, second and third, fourth and fifth...and why?"

I'm pretty sure I sat there stunned for a few minutes, while my brain was still trying to process everything he had just said. Finally I gathered my thoughts and said, "I'd kill the hostess!" Haha we both laughed and I then proceeded to answer the question to the best of my ability-- I got the job but to this day that was the most intense interview question I've ever been asked!

DJ Jenobi said...

While on my THIRD interview for a position waiting tables at a newly built, trendy chain restaurant I was asked the following question:

"You have just arrived to your shift and are still tying your apron when you see that the hostess has simultaneously seated all four of the tables in your section. One table is a family of 5 with 3 small kids, one table is a pair of Swedish models who do not speak English. The third table is a group of 4 businessmen who appear to be in a rush, and you also have a table seated with an older couple who are your "regulars"--they have just returned from vacation and have tons of pictures to show you....
What do you do and first, second and third, fourth and fifth...and why?"

I'm pretty sure I sat there stunned for a few minutes, while my brain was still trying to process everything he had just said. Finally I gathered my thoughts and said, "I'd kill the hostess!" Haha we both laughed and I then proceeded to answer the question to the best of my ability-- I got the job but to this day that was the most intense interview question I've ever been asked!

GeekChic said...

While interviewing for my current job (as a sys. admin.) I was asked the following:

Interviewer: "What's your favourite TV show?"

Me: "Star Trek Original Series"

Interviewer: "That's cool. So, which character are you from the show?"

Me: ... "Scotty"

Interviewer: "That's a good choice for someone who works with back end systems."

Me: "Plus he's always telling the Captain no to the latest crazy idea he has to push the Enterprise past the breaking point."

Both: *laughs*

I've also been asked the tree question before. My answer at the time was that I was far too mobile to be any sort of tree (don't think they liked that very much).

Mindy said...

Q: How was your drive here this morning?

A: Fine. You weren't hard to find at all.

Q: How long did it take you?

A: 32 minutes w. minimal traffic

Q: How would you handle that EVERY day?

A: I don't think it would be an issue. Most people have a lengthy commute to their office and I would make the proper adjustments.

Q: With traffic, that will be quite the commute...

A: ...awkward pause...

Anonymous said...

Once I was asked where my flashlights were located and how long it would take me to get to one if the power went out at home. I guess the interviewer was trying to see how prepared I was, but I told her where all of my flashlights were (even though emergency preparedness didn't directly relate to the job), and she seemed satisfied.

Taria Shadow said...

Thankfully, I've never been asked questions that stupid. Although I can never seem to get around the "where do you see yourself in 5 years" question... since the answer is usually "not here". (I've been either in college or trying to break into a different field for quite some time, but I have to pay the bills in the meantime.)

If you could be a tree, what tree would you be?
"One that hangs over a steam, maybe a willow, so that I can look down and relax and watch the water pass by and just sit there and..."

What type of animal are you most like?
"A jungle cat, that lays around most of the time, only stirring to eat, play, and occasionally rip something to shreds. You know, trees, plants, other animals..."

What would I find in your refrigerator right now?
*blink* *blink*
"Mold."

I think that would pretty much guarantee that I wouldn't be offered a job... which I wouldn't take, if it was I don’t know that I would want to work for a company that thought there were relevant interview questions.

Kimberley said...

I was once asked this: "if we talk to your mother, how would she describe you?"

I responded and said "she'd probably call me a smart ass."

I got the job.

Anonymous said...

I guess these questions don't so *stupid* to me. Just a different style of going about an interview. Are there other, and in certain situations, better ways to do this? If the questions are within bounds in a legal sense, what's the harm? If the interviewer feels this is a way to get a handle on the "fit" of a person for their company why is that so terrible? If someone who asks these questions is met with attitude from the interviewer then perhaps its a bad match.

I just don't ascribe to the notion that there is one and only one way to go about hiring, managing and running a business...

George Guajardo said...

Thanks for all the chuckles. I especially like the Shiner Boch response.

I didn't realize the "where do you find yourself in 5 -10 years" question was considered stupid. I am now dismayed because I think I have fielded that one for every single interview I have ever had. Ever.

I usually suspect they don't want to hear that I want to be at a much better company than this one, or that I want to be their boss's boss... so I make up some stuff about growing in that position, yadda, yadda, yadda.

class-factotum said...

I didn't get asked one of these questions, but I had heard about them when I was looking for a job years ago after my stint in the Peace Corps. I thought this ad agency might appreciate some creativity, so the 10-year-old daughter of a friend and I made a video of her interviewing me and asking just stupid questions: "If you were an animal?" "If you were a pizza topping?"

I sent the video, a cover letter and a resume to the company, but shockingly, never got a call.

Rebecca said...

"What type of animal are you most like?"

"An E. Coli bacterium. Most people think I'm evil and I stink, but I'm actually an extremely hard worker and very efficient. In fact, once you have me, you won't be able to function all that well without me. I'm perfectly happy doing a job no one else wants to do. And I'm only a troublemaker when I get outside my area. Really. ... and I only stink when I get excited."

Yossi said...

My answer: "I would be the kind of tree who asks, 'can I please go back to being a human again? I really don't feel that I am contributing at the level I can as a tree.'"

Sue said...

I was once asked if I liked the smell of dead fish. I was working in a swine immunology lab so I replied that it couldn't be any worse than spending my entire day surrounded by pig s**t. I got the job.

I didn't know it at the time but the company next door to the one I was interviewing with was a fish rendering plant. They didn't want someone who would quit due to the odor from the neighbors.

Charles said...

Actually, I have been asked silly questions:

Q; What kind of tree would you be?
A: a willow - strong, yet flexible.

Q: What kind of person are you, a cat person or a dog person?
A: What kind of pet do I need to get the job? an iguana?

Q: What zodiac sign are you?
A: I don't know. I don't believe in that nonsense. How is it related to the job?

These questions came from the following, in order of the asking: A software developer in Maryland, a well-known private college in central New Jersey (and yes, you have heard of it), a top-20 law firm in New York City. Not exactly unprofessional organizations.

Needless to say, I did not get any of these job. Not that I really wanted them at that point.

Another question that I thought was rather odd at the time of the interview was:

Q: Okay, you are designing a cash change machine, tell me some of the things that you will put into the design.

A: To make sure that it reads the bill correctly. You don't want someone to put in a five or ten-dollar bill and only get four quarters back. To make sure that it reads that the whole bill has been inserted and not just half of a one-dollar bill. You don't want to give someone four quarters for only half of a dollar.

Surprisingly, I got the job. What threw me off was that I was applying for a software trainer position. This question, as was later explained to me by the interviewer, was to see how software developers think. She said that if their answer doesn't include something about what to do when the machine is out of change she will not hire them. Something that I didn't include in my answer. So, I asked her why she hired me anyway. She said that I was hired because my answer included things that she hadn't considered.

Kerry said...

"Why aren't you married yet? You like guys, don't you?"

shortly followed by,

"So, if you marry this guy, are you going to get pregnant right away or what?"

But the really stupid part is that when they offered me the job, I took it. So, actually, the idiot in this story is me.

This was a long time ago, when I was young and stupid and thought I could change people like that. I'm over that now.

Anonymous said...

Well, on one application I was asked to 'Describe a personal situation where you were irresponsible, and what was the outcome?" I immediately thought of all the times I had to sneak back in the house when I was a teenager. How do they want you to respond to that?

LisaMeece said...

I was once asked in great detail about what my parents did for a living - which I found entirely irrelevant.

My favorite bad questions, though, come from my experience teaching interview skills to classes full of nursing managers. They all had favorite "psychological" questions, including

"What is your favorite type of candy bar and why?"
"What television shows do you watch?"
"What is your favorite movie?"

Every time I ran the class, we got into the same argument about how they knew how to read people based on these answers, and they got great information from the answers. Every time, I asked if they could identify an instance where their question led them to hire someone who ended up not working out very well...which generally won me the argument.

Taria Shadow said...

To George Guajardo

"I didn't realize the "where do you find yourself in 5 -10 years" question was considered stupid. I am now dismayed because I think I have fielded that one for every single interview I have ever had. Ever."

I don't know if this is in response to my post where I mentioned that question or not, but I thought I would comment....

I don't find those questions stupid in professional organizations. In fact, they are very smart to ask in professional organizations, i.e. office work, IT work, etc.

I admit, I do have issues with them being asked for, say, a retail position, where turnover is incredibly high and you are lucky to have an employee last 6 months. At that point, there is no point in answering the question.

However, my biggest issue is simply not knowing how to answer it. If I say truthfully "Well, in 5 years I plan to have my degree and be in a successful IT company as a programmer" when I am applying for an administrative assistant position at a real estate company... yeah, not a good idea.

Anonymous said...

If I get to vote, Rebecca, Ms. E. Coli Bacterium has the best answer. She should get the prize. Rebecca - thanks for the chuckle.

Ask a Manager said...

I agree! Rebecca it is. But many of you were a close second.

Anonymous said...

Bacteria are NOT animals. Rebecca loses.

Lise said...

One of my friends was interviewing for his current job, and apparently the team interviewing got it into their head that it would be funny if every single team member asked him, "If you were a fruit, what kind of fruit would you be?" I think he glommed on that it was a joke, because he answered with a different fruit every time.

Finally, when he got to his current team lead, and replied "Kiwi," the team lead said, "I'm sorry, we already have a kiwi."

Anonymous said...

What is 17x18?

Not even kidding.

This was right after he finished explaining that this wasn't going to be a stressful interview and that they were mostly looking for "fit".

Well I answered the question right off the bat because I happen to be able to do math in my head, but his comments about fit were dead on. From that moment onward, I had intention of working for them.

I understand trying to see how someone works under pressure, but if they put interviewees through petty mind games (there were many other brainteaser questions afterward), I'd hate to see how they treat their employees once they're hired. Wouldn't references or "describe a situation" questions be a better way to assess this?

Anonymous said...

Sorry "*no intention of working for them"

Anonymous said...

I think the "where do you find yourself in 5 -10 years" question is considered stupid because it requires the applicant to lie in nearly all cases. Most people simply don't expect to stay with a company that long whether they want to or not. Unless your plan is to get higher than middle management the correct answer is, "Not here".

However, I've always wanted the opportunity to answer that question with, "Not dead. Everything else is negotiable." or "That's a secret.".

"Anonymous said...

I just don't ascribe to the notion that there is one and only one way to go about hiring, managing and running a business..."

That is a false dilemma. It is possible to ask a unique questions without resorting to ones that have absolutely nothing to do with the job and irritate the applicants. DJ Jenobi's restaurant question and Charles' cash drawer questions are good examples. Finding out how someone would handle a difficult situation or solve a problem is much more useful than finding out their taste in movies.

Anonymous said...

my answer, "i guess it does not really matter since eventually i would be board."

Macey said...

I was once asked, "What's your favorite tree and why?"

I guess I could have answered with the truth: "None of them, because I have allergies, and trees bother me." Which probably wouldn't have gotten me the job,...

...But I was caught totally offguard by the question. I just didn't expect to be asked something so irrelevant (It was a QA position). So I ended up saying the first thing that popped into my head: "Dogwoods, because they're pretty, and because I like dogs."

Needless to say, I didn't get the job and ended up being mercilessly teased by most of the family members and friends to whom I disclosed the story. Except for one of my brothers-in-law, who said, "I wouldn't have even answered the question. I would have just got up and walked out." We concurred that a stupid question merits a stupid answer, and people who waste their time and ours with stupid questions probably aren't good people to work for anyway.

Anonymous said...

I was asked what my favourite restaurant was? Not only was this a strange question, my answer would surely not give away anything useful to an employer. She may as well have asked what my favourite colour was.