You’ve probably heard of an interviewing technique that Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, has used to spot if an applicant is telling the truth.
For those who haven’t, Musk asks about a difficult problem the applicant has solved in the past.
He then follows up with a few particular questions about how they did it, asking them to explain their process step by step.
The premise is that “the people who have solved the problem know exactly how they solved it. They know and can describe the little details,” Musk said.
But to be sure, there are plenty more examples of clever interviewing questions and techniques you can learn and exploit in your hiring process.
Here is what the CEOs and decision-makers of other top tech companies are known for asking while searching for the best employees.
#1 – The Search For Common Sense At Microsoft
As one of the world’s leading tech companies, Microsoft is known for coming up with some truly odd and unusual interview techniques.
One of the most famous questions they’ve asked during interviews is: “How would you test an elevator?”
As you might guess, this question has nothing to do with the job the interviewee is applying for.
What the question does is determine how the interviewee reacts to unexpected problems, such as might be encountered when developing new and emerging products for one of the world’s leading software developers.
If a candidate starts talking about the inner workings of the elevator or performing in-depth mechanical tests, it is believed that they’re prone to overthinking.
Almost anyone looking for a job at Microsoft would likely take this route, thinking the interviewer is looking for a show of in-depth problem-solving skills.
However, in reality, the interviewer who asks this question is looking for a much simpler, common sense answer that demonstrates logical thinking, such as: “I’d start by pressing the button to call the elevator.”
#2 – Counting Cars With Facebook (Now Meta)
Another of the world’s leading tech giants, Facebook, is also known for asking strange, unexpected questions during interviews.
Another of the world’s leading tech giants, Facebook also asks strange, unexpected questions during interviews.
One of its most famous interview questions is: “How would you find out the number of cars passing through a busy bridge?”
To solve this problem, there are dozens of factors that a candidate would need to know, including how long the bridge is, how many lanes there are, how fast the cars are moving, what time of day it is, and how busy the road is, etc.
Therefore, without knowing pretty much all of these factors, there’s no logical way to come up with a precise answer.
However, the interviewer isn’t likely looking for an exact answer.
Rather, they’re assessing the candidate’s technical, mathematical, and observational skills.
Candidates who immediately start developing a complex equation show a great deal of ambition.
But without the observational skills to realize the problem is impossible to solve without the other variables, they might just be digging themselves into a mathematical hole.
#3 – Classifying Fruit Alongside Apple
While some might argue that Apple is a strange name for a tech company, it can also be argued that asking job applicants whether or not coconut is a fruit is even stranger.
However, according to Inc.com, that’s precisely one of the interviewing strategies used by Apple in the past.
Like other interview questions we’ve discussed so far, asking “Is coconut a fruit?” might seem irrelevant at first glance. But upon deeper inspection, it’s part of truly a genius strategy to reveal important character information about a candidate.
At first, being asked such a question is likely to throw the interviewee off, leading them to believe that their chances of landing the job are slim to none.
But for individuals that can maintain their composure, focus, and proceed professionally to such a curveball question, they might just have a fighting chance.
According to Apple, interviewees who embraced the random question, rather than being dismissive about it, displayed patience and a calm demeanor, which are traits that every tech company needs in its employees.
Furthermore, being able to get the conversation back on track after being thrown off by such a question can show a great deal of focus and concentration.
Two character traits that are major assets when working for a big tech company like Apple.
#4 – Getting Whacky With Amazon
Amazon, one of the world’s leading e-commerce companies, is known as one of the most influential economic and cultural forces the world has ever seen.
And like other tech leaders, they’re also on board with asking zany, unexpected questions during job interviews, such as: “On a scale of one to ten, how whacky can you be?”
Once again, this question likely has virtually nothing to do with the job itself. But instead, it is used to determine how honest a candidate is when talking about themselves.
After all, whenever we’re asked to assess ourselves on a scale of one to ten, we’re tempted to answer slightly higher, especially if a higher rating will paint us in a positive light.
In the case of being “whacky” in the workplace, candidates are most likely to answer on the lower end of the scale, fearing that being too whacky might be frowned upon.
However, if the position is something that requires a great deal of creativity or playfulness, possibly as an advertising expert or copywriter, answering on the higher end of the spectrum might be the better option.
#5 – Round Manhole Covers From Google
While Google is known for asking this next question during its interviews, I was once asked this question during an interview: “Why are manhole covers round?”
My first thought was that this was a very weird question to be asked, especially when the position I’d applied for was as a copywriter and had nothing to do with civil engineering.
But I immediately understood why my interviewer was asking such a question:
They wanted to see how I might respond to unexpected problems. They were assessing my problem-solving skills and how creative I could be.
With this type of unusual question, if a candidate can’t come up with an answer, it might be a good indication that they’re not the most creative candidate on your roster. Or, it might imply a lack of problem-solving skills that are essential to the job.
Alternatively, if the interviewee comes up with an answer, even if it’s not the correct answer, it can show both creativity and good problem-solving abilities when under pressure.
My answer to the question was that if manhole covers were any other shape than round, they wouldn’t fit into round holes.
To this day, I’m still not sure if this is the correct answer. But the one thing I do know is that I was offered the job.
Other Unusual Interviewing Strategies
With questions such as these, interviewers get a much better idea of the true character of a potential employee than when asking them about their past work experience.
Instead of receiving rehearsed, generic answers, these types of left-field questions force the interviewee to come up with an answer on the spot, leveraging the depths of their creativity, rather than any pre-programmed answers that might have been memorized ahead of time.
Let’s look at a few other odd and unusual interview techniques and tips that we’ve heard of.
The Poker Test
Have you ever been asked to play a hand of poker during a job interview?
In the world of finance, quick decision-making skills, problem-solving skills, and risk management are some of the most important traits an employee needs to have.
And that’s precisely why hedge funds, investment banks, and proprietary trading firms often seek to recruit poker players into their ranks.
They might even ask candidates to sit down for a quick hand of poker as part of the interview process.
The goal isn’t to see if the candidate can win.
Instead, watching a candidate play poker can reveal a great deal of insight regarding their thinking process, patience, risk management, problem-solving, and decision-making skills, especially when taking place under the pressure of a job interview.
The Pen Drop Test
One of the primary reasons employers sometimes have trouble gauging a candidate’s personality is that interviewees often practice their answers beforehand.
But one thing a candidate can’t rehearse is how they’ll react to an utterly unexpected situation.
The so-called “pen drop” test is one way in which interviewers can gain some insight into the empathy and helpfulness of a potential worker.
For the test itself, the interviewer drops a pen or some other office implement on the floor in front of the interviewee.
The idea here is to see how quickly the interviewee reacts and bends down to help pick up the mess.
Those who react immediately and offer to pick it up can be said to have higher empathy and levels of helpfulness than those who stand still and watch while the interviewer picks it up themselves.
The Heineken Test
When interviewing candidates for its UEFA Champions League Sponsorship, Heineken created a very unusual interview process to judge the true character of its interviewees.
The first part of the test was an uncomfortable handshake.
Upon their initial meeting, the interviewer shook hands with the applicant. But rather than lasting only a few seconds, the interviewer continued to hold the interviewee’s hand while they walked into the interview room, making an already uncomfortable situation even stranger.
For the second part of the test, the interviewer collapsed to the floor, simulating a sudden fainting spell.
And lastly, an emergency took place, where the fire alarms went off and emergency services were called upon to rescue another employee from the rooftop.
While this was all part of a much larger marketing campaign by the famous beer producer, the idea was to assess how friendly, empathetic, helpful, and courageous the candidates were.
Hopefully, you won’t put your candidates through this type of rigamarole.
But either way, this is a prime example of an employer thinking of an unusual way to assess the skills and abilities of its applicants.
Why Do Companies Use Unusual Questions And Techniques During Interviews?
As business owners, managers, heads of human resources, and other types of corporate decision-makers, the more often we conduct job interviews, the more we start to see patterns emerge in the people we encounter.
Over time, we start to see candidates that have the same polished answers to the same questions that we’ve asked dozens of times before.
This leaves us frustrated, wondering if the questions we’re asking and the generic answers we’re getting reveal the genuine character of our interviewees.
And that’s precisely why many companies in today’s business landscape are turning to unusual interview questions and techniques:
To get a better idea of the character and personality of who they’re interviewing.
After all, the idea behind an interview is to help decision-makers determine if a candidate is a good fit for the company’s culture.
So, to truly reveal a candidate’s personality, interviewers need to step out of the traditional mold of basic, boring, and predictable job interviews.
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com