Answers for oddball interview questions

Answers for oddball interview questions

An oddball interview question can be a more accurate indicator of a true personality trait because, by definition, the question was too odd for the candidate to provide a “canned” answer. Glassdoor compiles and publishes this Top Ten list every year.

I’m one of those people that thinks of something witty to say days later, which means it’s not witty at all. So I’m going to sound more witty in this blog post than I would ever be in person. The reality is that you answer the question in the moment and hope that your natural personality demonstrates the trait the interviewer is seeking. I thought it’d be fun to try five!

Interview Question: Who would win, Spiderman or Batman?“Who would win in a fight between Spiderman and Batman?” Stanford University

My three-year old son is a fan of both right now, so he might be disappointed to hear my answer. I have a rule that says superhuman pretty much always beats human. There’s nothing to suggest Spiderman is gullible enough to fall for any of Batman’s gadgetry, so he’d likely win without even breaking a sweat. Between his spidey sense and superhuman strength, this is a first round knockout.

If you could say this without insulting the interviewer or sounding like you still play with superheroes in the bathtub, I think the question would be more interesting if the superheroes were on the same playing field. What about Batman versus Captain America? Spiderman versus Thor?

“If you had a machine that produced $100 dollars for life what would you be willing to pay for it today?” Aksia

This is a softball for anyone who knows how to calculate present value. The present value is basically the sum of the future cash flows taking into account today’s interest rate. That’s all you really need to say in an interview, but I’ll follow it through to get a number.

Interview Question: What would you pay for a machine that produced $100/year for the rest of your life?where R is the cash flow, i is the interest rate, and t is the time interval. For example, the cash flow of $100 per year is discounted by an interest rate of 5%, calculated over 40 years (my life expectancy). When I plug that into Google Sheets, it says I should pay $1,716 for this hypothetical machine.

But because it’s an easy interview question for finance types, it’s more likely to come up in interviews for non-finance positions. I would be looking for people who could at least conceptually explain that a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow, but I’d also be hoping to hear some creativity. A candidate for a sales position, for example, might say she’d pay whatever it’s worth and then turn around and post it on eBay where many items are subject to bidding wars and sold for more than their present value.

“Describe the color yellow to somebody who’s blind.” Spirit Airlines

I love this interview question because I just saw a TedTalk about how some people are able to hear color. It prompts me to try answering this question in terms of what a blind person might hear instead of what they obviously cannot see. It doesn’t do any good, for example, to tell a blind person that yellow is the color of butter, or corn, or the sun!

Light has a frequency range just as sound has a frequency range. Light frequencies increase as you move across the color spectrum from red to violet (remember the acronym ROYGBIV for the colors of the rainbow?). Sound frequencies increase as you move across the musical scale from A to G. Miniature cameras can see color as light frequencies and play a corresponding tone, thus allowing people to “hear color.” That’s grossly over-simplified, but close enough for this blog post.

And so yellow is what you would hear about a third of the way through the spectrum, somewhere between pumpkins and grass!

“If you were asked to unload a 747 full of jelly beans, what would you do?” Bose

This is a tricky interview question because it’s not about the number of jelly beans. It’s about how to remove the jelly beans when it’s clear there are too many to remove manually. The candidate loses points if they say anything involving shovels or vacuum cleaners! I can think of two answers that are more likely to impress the interviewer.

  1. Fly the 747. Once you get to an altitude where the pressure outside the cabin is sufficiently below the pressure inside the cabin, open a hatch door and watch all the jelly beans get sucked out of the plane! Not exactly environmentally sound, but it would do the trick.
  2. Since the question came from Bose, I have to think that sound is part of the answer. The plane can stay on the ground for this, perhaps tilted a bit so that water would flow out one of the cabin doors. On your best Bose system, find the sound frequency that causes the jelly beans to jump and crank it up! The jelly beans will vibrate and bounce their way out of the plane.

Interview Question: How would you unload a 747 full of jelly beans?

“How many people flew out of Chicago last year?” Redbox

I got destroyed by interview questions like this when I was getting my MBA at the University of Michigan. How many cars did GM manufacture last year? How many boxes of cereal were sold last year? These are operations management questions that force you to think out loud. Generally, interviewers want to hear that you have a logical approach, are able to make reasonably sound assumptions on the fly, and do simple math without a calculator. Today, I might say something like this:

Well, I know O’Hare is the busiest airport in the world based on the number of takeoffs and landings. Takeoffs and landings are limited by the number of runways an airport has. For easy math, I’ll say that O’Hare has 10 runways handling a takeoff or landing once every six minutes. That’s 10 x 10 = 100 takeoffs or landings per hour, 2400 in a day, 72,000 in a month, and 864,000 in a year.

Of course, Midway Airport is also in Chicago. Let’s say it handles about 20% of the traffic, so O’Hare and Midway combined would be 864,000 x 1.2 = about 1 million takeoffs and landings. The question is about people flying out of Chicago, so we can ignore landings and assume 500,000 takeoffs.

So if each flight has an average of 100 passengers, then 100 x 500,000 = 50 million people flew out of Chicago last year!

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