See If You Can Answer This Insanely Difficult Question Goldman Sachs Has Asked in Job Interviews

Preparing smoothies with fruit and yogurt

By Rachel Gillett

When interviewing on Wall Street, job seekers often come up against questions that could send even the calmest candidate into a tailspin.

One such question comes from Goldman Sachs and was asked a few years ago of an analyst candidate:

"If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?"The good news about such brain-teasing questions, according to Susan Sandler Brennan, executive director of Career Services at Bentley University, is that they are increasingly falling out of favor in the most competitive banks, consulting companies, and tech firms.

"As a career adviser to thousands of business students, I personally cheered when Laszlo Bock from Google declared the technique a waste of time and endorsed the time-tested behavioral interview," she said. "Nonetheless, candidates do need to be prepared to encounter these riddles in the interview mix."

Big banks sometimes pose "these seemingly silly, impractical, or outright useless questions" because your response may indicate your critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, your ability to think on your feet, and your ability to have fun in the process. Simply, interviewers are less interested in your answer than in how you approach the question, Brennan says.

Another reason she says top employers ask these types of questions: because they can.

"In an uber-competitive environment, the nature and spontaneity of these questions may be enough to weed out the pretenders from the stars," Brennan says. "They may reveal a candidate's intellectual ability while providing the interviewer with a cadre of follow-up questions that truly track your analytic skills."

Interviewers will be looking to see whether your answer is unique and your reasoning sound, whether you think before you speak, whether you master "the tenuous balance between confidence and humility," and whether you seem to enjoy the overall process.

"If you want to nail the interview and get the offer, never underestimate the question behind the question, especially when the employer knows that if you don't enjoy the delicate dance, the next candidate just might," Brennan says.

And there may be a moral in this specific blender/pencil question, says Vicky Oliver, author of "301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions" and "Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots:" "If you feel shrunken and are told to 'blend in,' the important thing is to find a way to distinguish yourself!"

For possible answers, we sifted through suggestions on Glassdoor and found a few creative approaches:
  • "I'd write 'help me' on the side of the container, sit down, and wait (for) the waitress."
  • "I would just erase the blender!"
  • "If I am the size of pencil, I can easily stick to the side of the container or just stay above the blade. Just wait till the outlet is open and slip out of it."
  • "I would be concerned as to who shrank me and why they wished to blend me."
How would you answer?
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