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Google, Apple and Facebook are notorious for asking interview questions that are, well, far off the beaten path.

  • Google often asks, “Why are manhole covers round?” of applicants.
  • Apple historically asks, “If you were a pizza delivery person, how would you benefit from scissors?” of prospective employees.
  • Facebook doesn’t so much ask a question as give a math problem: “25 racehorses, no stopwatch. 5 tracks. Figure out the top three fastest horses in the fewest number of races.”

Why do these innovative and market-leading companies ask questions that, at first glance, seem to have nothing to do with the job, or with standard interview questions?

Simple. The questions are designed to elicit how employees approach situations. How they think on their feet when thrown an unexpected ball. And how they respond to questions that can’t be prepared for and don’t depend on their experience. (Unless they’ve been a delivery pizza person and used scissors, of course.)

A Way to Find Out Candidate’s Approach to Difficult Problems

There are no right answers to these questions. But for companies looking for openness and innovation, there may be wrong answers, or wrong approaches.

Say, for example, you are interviewing someone and ask them one of these questions. What if they simply say “I have no idea”? What if they say “I have no idea” and seem flustered or angry?

What if they say “I can’t answer that question” or “that’s impossible to answer”?

It tells you volumes about their approach to the unexpected and unusual. Some of the hypothetical answers above indicate a lack of willingness to try a new or unexpected approach. They indicate a tendency to give up on a solution if things aren’t clear.

A right answer will try to give a logical reason. It doesn’t matter so much what the answer is, as long as the interviewees show a reasonable thought process.

Many times in business, the right approach isn’t clear. But people who can figure out a logical approach are likely to do the best. People who will take a swing at a ball, even if they don’t immediately understand the reason, are often good, flexible employees.

That’s why these companies ask nontraditional questions. It’s why you should too.

If you need to assess and hire qualified people, we can help. Contact us today and our recruiters will address the time sensitivity of your specific staffing needs.