11 interview questions from bosses like Elon Musk and Larry Ellison that seem to have nothing to do with the job
The last thing you want to deal with in your job interview is a curveball.
However, if you're interviewing with some of the most successful people in business today, you'd better come prepared for one.
That's because many top execs like to ask interviewees questions that seemingly have nothing to do with the job at hand.
There seems to be a simple reason behind this tactic:
If you've interviewed enough times, you've probably gotten pretty good at selling yourself. Questions like these force you to dig deeper and get honest, think creatively, or even display your logical prowess.
Here are 11 of those questions.
'Are you the smartest person you know?'
As Dartmouth business professor Sydney Finkelstein describes in his new book, "Superbosses," Oracle executive chairman and CTO Larry Ellison makes a point of only hiring exceptionally talented and extremely intelligent employees, and consequently coached his coached his recruiters to ask new college graduates this question.
If the candidate answered "yes," they'd get hired. If they answered "no," the recruiter would ask, "Who is?" Then they'd try to hire that other person instead, Business Insider previously reported.
According to Finkelstein, superbosses like Ellison are confident enough in their own abilities that they aren't worried about employees outshining them, and they aim to hire people who are more intelligent than they are because those employees will challenge them to come up with better ideas and solutions to problems.
'On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?'
One of Zappos' core values is to "create fun and a little weirdness," Tony Hsieh, CEO of the company, tells Business Insider.
To make sure he hires candidates with the right fit, Hsieh typically asks the question: "On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?" He says the number isn't too important, but it's more about how people answer the question. Nonetheless, if "you're a one, you probably are a little bit too straight-laced for the Zappos culture," he says. "If you're a 10, you might be too psychotic for us."
Another question Zappos usually asks candidates is: "On a scale of one to 10, how lucky are you in life?" Again, the number doesn't matter too much, but if you're a one, you don't know why bad things happen to you (and probably blame others a lot). And if you're a 10, you don't understand why good things always seem to happen to you (and probably lack confidence).
'You are standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?'
According to the biography "Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future," the Tesla and SpaceX CEO likes to ask candidates this riddle to test their intelligence.
There are multiple correct answers, and one is the North Pole.
'What was the last costume you wore?'
It doesn't matter so much what they wore, but why they wore it. If the candidate's reasoning matches Warby Parker's core value of injecting "fun and quirkiness into work, life, and everything they do," they might have a real shot at getting a job there.
"We find that people who are able to make the job environment fun build followership more easily," the company's cofounder and co-CEO David Gilboa tells Iris Mansour at Quartz. "If we hire the most technically skilled person in the world whose work style doesn't fit here, they won't be successful."
'If you were an animal, which animal would you be?'
"The animal kingdom is broad, and everyone can identify with a specific animal they think embodies their own personalities and characteristics," Stormy Simon, president of Overstock, tells Business Insider.
"There are so many different human traits, where in the animal kingdom they put themselves, and why, really gives insight to the person answering the question. For example, just because you love dogs doesn't mean you would identify yourself as a dog," she explains.
Good answers, she says, are where the candidate picks an animal that they think truly personifies the traits that set them apart. "People have often chosen the same animal as other candidates, but the traits they describe have never been the same," says Simon. But they're not all good answers.
"One time an interviewee said they identified with a red panda because everyone thinks they are so cute and approachable, but it turns out they're just really lazy. We hired the candidate anyway despite that answer, but we parted ways within three weeks. It just goes to show how important the question is."
HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes also likes to ask candidates, "What's your spirit animal?"
As he tells writer Jeff Haden, "During her interview, I asked my current executive assistant what was her favorite animal. She told me it was a duck, because ducks are calm on the surface and hustling like crazy getting things done under the surface," he says.
"I think this was an amazing response and a perfect description for the role of an EA. For the record, she's been working with us for over a year now and is amazing at her job," Holmes tells Haden.
'What would the closest person in your life say if I asked them, 'What is the one characteristic that they totally dig about you, and the one that drives them insane?''
Kat Cole, group president of FOCUS Brands, tells Adam Bryant in a New York Times interview that before asking questions, she likes to see how job candidates interact with people in the waiting area.
"I'll ask people to offer the candidate a drink to see if there's a general gratefulness there, and they'll send me notes," she tells Bryant. "Then, when someone walks into my office, I'll have a big wad of paper on my floor between the door and the table. I want to see if the person picks it up. I don't make huge judgments around it, but it does give me a sense of how detail-oriented they are."
After some conversation, she finally says: "Tell me about the closest person in your life who you're comfortable talking about. What would they say if I asked them, 'What is the one characteristic that they totally dig about you?'"
Then she'll say: "What is the one characteristic that drives them insane, and that they would love for you to do just a little bit less?"
"People are pretty comfortable talking about that because I've pinpointed a person and a point of view," she tells the Times.
'Tell me something that's true, that almost nobody agrees with you on.'
PayPal cofounder, managing partner of the Founders Fund, and president of Clarium Capital Peter Thiel always looks to hire people who aren't afraid to speak their minds, reports Business Insider's Aaron Taube.
To do this, he always gives job candidates and the founders of companies seeking an investment this interview prompt: "Tell me something that's true, that almost nobody agrees with you on."'
In a 2012 interview with Forbes, Thiel said the reason he loves this question is: "It sort of tests for originality of thinking, and to some extent, it tests for your courage in speaking up in a difficult interview context."
'What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?'
This seems like a ridiculous question to ask, but it's posed to every prospective employee at Capriotti's Sandwich Shop, a national restaurant franchise. Ashley Morris, the company's CEO, says it's the best way to learn how candidates react under pressure.
"There really is no right answer, so it's interesting to get someone's opinion and understand how they think on their feet," Morris explains. "The hope is that for us, we're going to find out who this person is on the inside and what's really important to him, what his morals really are, and if he'll fit on the cultural level."
'A hammer and a nail cost $1.10, and the hammer costs one dollar more than the nail. How much does the nail cost?'
Jeff Zwelling, COO of job search engine ZipRecruiter, says he often turns to tricky questions during job interviews to get a better sense of who the candidate is.
For example, in the middle of the conversation, he often throws in this curveball math question.
"Some candidates will instantly blurt out 10 cents, which is obviously wrong," he tells Business Insider. "They don't have to get the exact right answer, which is a nickel, but I want to see them at least have a thought process behind it."
Zwelling says he understands that math isn't everyone's forte, but he wants them to realize that "10 cents is too easy of an answer, and that if it was that easy, I wouldn't be asking it."
'What is your favorite quote?'
Karen Davis, senior vice president of Global Philanthropy and Social Impact at Hasbro, the toy and game giant, tells Business Insider her work is focused on giving back, so she's looking for candidates with "a true sense of passion and purpose." The quote question, she says, helps her figure out who applicants really are and what they truly care about.
While there's no right answer, Davis is looking specifically for candidates with an answer, reports Business Insider.
"You think about the great leaders in this world, and the ones that we remember most are the ones who have really put themselves out there, trying to invoke change," she says. She wants her would-be hires to be following in those footsteps. "I want to see that somebody has been looking for sources of inspiration."
'How would you make money from an ice-cream stand in Central Park?'
Yasmin Green, head of research and development at Jigsaw, Alphabet's tech incubator formerly known as Google Ideas, wants to hire creative, independent thinkers, so she gets candidates to think on their feet by asking them how they'd manage an imaginary ice-cream stand.
"I'm curious to see how people deal with ambiguity and whether they can have fun while thinking on their feet," she says.
Green says that to land a job at Google, you also need to "be prepared to challenge the premise of the question."
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