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Why are manhole covers round? Breaking out of the interview question norm

Why are manhole covers round?

As odd as it may seem, this is one of the questions asked by Google during second round interviews. They are not alone in this left-field approach. Other well-established brands have followed suit:

Facebook - “25 racehorses, no stopwatch, 5 tracks. Figure out the top three fastest horses in the fewest number of races.” Apple - “If you were a pizza deliverer, how would you benefit from scissors?” Amazon - “How would you solve problems if you were from Mars?”

Microsoft - “How would you test an elevator?” Uber - “How would you find the words that became obsolete in English language between 16th and 17th century? You may use a search engine.” Trader Joe’s - “What do you think of garden gnomes?” Living Social - “What’s your favorite song? Perform it for us now.” Urban Outfitters - “You’re a new addition to the crayon box, what color would you be and why?”

American Heart Association - “What’s the color of money?” PETCO - “How would you direct someone else on how to cook an omelet?” Kraft Foods - “On a scale from 1 to 10, rate me as an interviewer.” MasterCard - “Can you say ‘Peter Piper Picked a Pickled Pepper’ and cross-sell a washing machine at the same time?”

Weird? Absolutely! However, there is a method to this madness.

Weaving uncommon, unexpected interview questions among a list of structured interview questions have many benefits:

  1. Element of surprise - Testing whether candidates can keep their wits about them in uncomfortable, stress-inducing, out of the norm situations.

  2. Reduces the effect of coached or prepped answers (candidates have access to millions of structured, unstructured and behavioral interview questions and answers online).

  3. Deeper insights - Nontraditional questions may reveal more about personality traits such as humility, locus of control, and self-motivation than structured or behavioral questions.

  4. Testing the CLAMPS - Challenge, Location, Advancement, Money, People, and Stability. The real motivations for moving jobs are often hidden behind stock standard answers of "career growth," "time for a new challenge", or "I have always wanted to work for your company". Be reminded that this is probably not their first interview rodeo and candidates are highly adept at telling interviewers exactly what they want to hear.

  5. Breaking through facades: Disarming questions may induce body language such as eye-rolling, shoulder shrugging and smirking, that would immediately set off alarm bells regarding a potential culture fit "mismatch."

Unpredictable interview questions create dialogue and steer the candidate away from capitalizing on rehearsed responses, while simultaneously identifying issues that could have been missed or excused earlier on during the screening process.

In our next newsletter, we will provide an example template of non-traditional, customizable interview questions as to break away from the predictable, anticipated questions candidates would expect.

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