For a while, I thought this business of companies asking crazy, weird and sometimes just stupid-sounding interview questions was fading away. Unfortunately, it now seems to be alive and well. I just read an article by John Zappe, called “Can You Get an Elephant into a Refrigerator?,” that references information provided by Glassdoor.com on this topic. Apparently, Glassdoor listed 25 interview questions compiled from thousands posted on its site by job seekers over the past year, including the one about “How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?” (Supposedly, the answer was: “Open the door and tell it to go in.” Okay, in my book, the answer is as crazy as the question, unless you’re just trying to tell a joke.)
I’ve seen various theories on this. One is that they want to see how well you think on your feet, come up with creative responses to something that seems wildly off-base, and so on. Another is that the companies (or their interviewers) don’t know how to evaluate candidates effectively and just want to eliminate as many as possible! The first theory makes a little more sense to me than the second, but I suppose anything is possible. As Zappe points out, though, some of the questions do seem to have at least a bit of relevance to the job the person was interviewing for. For example, a demand planning analyst candidate was asked to determine how many planes were currently flying over Kansas. While not a clear situation, it could help test the individual’s ability to handle the kinds of things his position might require.
First, include this challenge in your interview preparation, before you ever get in front of the interviewer. You can’t possibly anticipate and rehearse answers for such questions. There are just too many possible oddball questions that could be asked. What you can and should do first of all is prepare yourself to respond to anything that seems to come from far out in left field. You won’t be thrown off by questions like that if you already have a plan for responding to the unexpected. One recommended technique is to use “the pause”–before you respond to or answer whatever it was, take a few seconds to gather your thoughts and loosely frame your response. Another technique is “the stall”–sometimes paired with “the pause.” It can involve a noncommittal comment or a return question, such as “That’s a very interesting question. I’m not quite clear on why you’re asking, but….” or “I’m not sure what you mean. Do you mean that…?”
Do your best with your answer(s), then make an effort to move forward with the interview and continue to emphasize the value you believe you can bring to the company and the position you are interviewing for. Try not to get sidetracked or bogged down by the crazy question and how you responded to it. If you did the important (and recommended) homework on the company as part of your interview preparation, reinforce your subsequent comments by basing them on that information. The goal is to make sure you deliver your value-added message clearly and compellingly at every opportunity.