How would you get an elephant into a fridge?

This article appeared in HR magazine recently and made me pause and think, given I’m an advocate of competency based interviewing.

Two-thirds of candidates welcome obscure lines of questioning as part of the job interview process, giving businesses the opportunity to shake up their interview processes in the tight war for talent, according to recruitment consultancy, Michael Page.

The research questioned 1,000 people about the way they prepare for interviews and specifically asked how they might respond to a ‘weird’ interview question such as ‘how would you get an elephant into a fridge?’ or ‘which three non-essentials would you pack on a trip to Mars?’.

Two in five (41%) have been asked a strange interview question like this at some point in their job-seeking history but 54% of respondents said that they wouldn’t expect to be asked this kind of question in the interview.

While candidates may not expect this line of questioning, it seems that the majority of those surveyed (63%) would largely welcome a weird interview question as it would enable them to demonstrate their ability to think on their feet, show that their potential employer welcomes creativity and some simply welcomed interviews that were ‘a bit different’.

Two-thirds (66%) of candidates felt positive about their ability to respond to a weird interview question with 35% stating they would respond with one clear, confident response, while 31% said they would hedge their bets with a number of possible answers. However, a third (33%) of respondents said they would struggle with a weird interview question with some saying they would simply tell the interviewer ‘I don’t know’, some would try and change the subject and 13% would even be prepared to directly challenge the relevance of the question with the interviewer.

Dean Ball, regional managing director of Michael Page, said: “Weird interview questions can spark interesting reactions from candidates but they are also an extremely useful way for businesses to differentiate between candidates who have similar qualifications and experience on paper. They give candidates a chance to step outside the traditional boundaries of the interview process and really demonstrate their creativity, ability to apply logic and how they work under pressure. Such questions can also provide a light-hearted moment in what can be quite a formal situation, giving the employer a real chance to see a candidate’s personality and how they might fit into the company culture, so businesses shouldn’t shy away from them.”

Ball concludes: “If used correctly, obscure lines of questioning can really help employers to build a clear picture of a candidate’s potential, so it’s worth exploring how they might fit into your assessment processes. They can sometimes take candidates by surprise though so make sure you take time to think carefully about the questions and what kind of response you are hoping to achieve.”