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Archived: Applicants, Companies Say the Darndest Things During Job Interviews

Posted on January 27, 2012


Job applicants say and do the darndest things during interviews.

Job interviewCome to think of it, so do companies.

The employment interview is a unique social kabuki dance that allows employers and prospective employees to learn about one another. It is also a serious business where funny things happen as applicants attempt to distinguish themselves and companies use baffling questions to find the most creative and intelligent people available.

The online job board surveyed hiring managers about their funniest experiences. The responses included:

  • The candidate who was fired from several jobs but included each one of them as a job reference.
  • The applicant who included her dog as a reference.
  • The candidate who had things a bit backward when he promised the more he was paid, the harder he would work.
  • The applicant whose email address on the résumé had “shakinmybootie” in it.
  • The applicant who insisted his time is valuable, so the company should pay him for his time spent interviewing with them.
  • The applicant who said he was arrested for assaulting his previous boss.
  • The candidate who only used his first name.
  • The resilient job applicant who bragged she survived a bite from a deadly aquatic animal.
  • The candidate who shipped a lemon with the résumé, to illustrate that “I am not a lemon.” Chances are the hiring employer quickly soured on this applicant.

But employers are not above adding their own brand of fun to the job interview.  William Poundstone’s recent book Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? documents the efforts of a growing number of companies to emulate the practice at Google of challenging applicants with brain teasers, logic puzzles and mind-bending riddles.

Here are some of the toughest and most off-beat questions, as compiled by

  • “How many people are using Facebook in San Francisco at 2:30 p.m. on a Friday?” – asked by Google Inc.
  • “If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?” – asked by Hewlett-Packard Co.
  • “How would you cure world hunger?” – asked by Inc.
  • “How many different ways can you get water from a lake at the foot of a mountain, up to the top of the mountain?” – asked by Walt Disney Co.

Other companies ask applicants how many ping-pong balls would fit in the Mediterrean Sea? Can you swim faster in water or syrup? When there’s a wind blowing, does a round-trip by plane take more time, less time, or the same time?

Technology companies such as IBM were the first to use logic puzzles in job interviews, but the trend has recently spread to companies in non-technical sectors of the economy.

The best thing that a job candidate or an employer can do when confronted with an unusual approach to the interview is not to rush or get flustered. Take your time, take a breath and concentrate on your objective or the answer.

What funny or unusual stories do you have from job interviews? We invite you to share them in the response area below.