Can You Get an Elephant Into a Refrigerator?

How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?

Think that’s an odd question? How about this one: What do you think of garden gnomes?

Glassdoor has 23 more questions just like those, compiled from thousands of interview questions posted to the employer review site during the last year by job seekers, some charmed, others perplexed, and some completely flummoxed by these kinds of oddball questions.

Pity the poor job seeker who did just what all the advice books and columnists advise — researched the company, read up on the industry, prepared for the inevitable “Tell me about your weaknesses” — only to be asked, “Please spell diverticulitis.”

The candidate didn’t get the job, but rated the interview “easy.” The relevance of the spelling test to the position as an Engineering Account Manager is hard to fathom.

However, more than a few of the questions that made the Glassdoor list evidence some connection with the underlying job. There’s the engineering candidate asked to solve this puzzle: “Given 20 “destructible” light bulbs (which break at a certain height), and a building with 100 floors, how do you determine the height that the light bulbs break?” And the candidate for a position as a demand planning analyst who was asked, “How many planes are currently flying over Kansas?”

Like Google’s famous (infamous?) interview questions, which are intended to elicit a candidate’s analytical skills, some of the Glassdoor questions fall into that category. What’s more, these kinds of oddball questions are becoming more common.

The Wall Street Journal says,Weird interview questions have become a meme, like a joke or a viral video. It’s catchiness, rather than proof of their effectiveness, that keeps them in circulation at many companies.”

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The notion, though, that the traditional interview doesn’t really yield a whole lot, is gaining mainstream currency. The Journal article describes a Harvard experiment in which observers who viewed 10 seconds of an interview had similar views of the candidate as did the interviewer themselves. Thus the effort to find alternatives.

In the Glassdoor collection, the planes over Kansas question seems intended to see how well a candidate for a job planning for consumer demand can analyze fuzzy situations. The breakable light bulb test tests both math skills and a candidate’s skill at engineering simplicity. (Incidentally, here’s a solution that takes only 14 bulbs.)

While questions like these have a connection to the jobs, and others are intended to test for fit, more than a few give every sign of being conjured by interviewers for no obvious good reason. The candidate with the garden gnome question described it, and others, during two days of interviews for a clerk position with Trader Joe’s as “bizarre.”

Even so, it wasn’t the questions that left the candidate with a sour taste for the experience. Instead, it was the classic case of failing to communicate. According to the review, even though promised a response, and even after repeated contacts, it wasn’t until weeks later that the candidate learned from an employee at the store that the position had been filled.

About that elephant, “open the door and tell it to go in.”

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


9 Comments on “Can You Get an Elephant Into a Refrigerator?

  1. For those who seriously utilize these types of questions, the questions have relevance to the work and the interviewer is striving for original thought in the reply not a canned reply that has been prepped for and is what the interviewer is thought to be looking to hear.
    It also makes the interview a bit ‘lighter’ and encourages conversation not interogation.
    These kind of questions can give some insight to the company culture.
    As an interviewer you see how someone responds to the ‘unexpected’.

  2. This article is a classic example of why HR “don’t get no respect”…Of course, traditional interviews are generally worthless; they can be “gamed” and usually have nothing to do with job skills…it does not take a rocket scientist to figure that out…

    But, it is even more foolish for HR to pretend to be a psychoanalyst. Aside from asking analytical questions (which one could argue evaluate job-related problem solving skills) unless an organization actually manufactures concrete statues, asking garden-gnome questions is just plain silly. Of course, if the candidate reports having unnatural relationships with lawn ornaments, then you might want to “pass”.

    The only tried and true, research-backed interview technology I know of is “structured” behavioral event interviewing (i.e., gathering examples from past experiences))….It has objectives, interview tactics, and job relevancy…But it takes work, practice, and is not as much fun as pretending to be a shrink.

    Think it this way, after the get-acquainted chat, EVERY interviewer should be prepared to present a sound argument and show documented proof how each pecific question predicts job performance. After all, that is the goal of interviewing.

    As a final note, I would really like to see their correlation between gardengnomes and job performance. I’ll bet they also ask questions about what kind of color the candidate would prefer to smell like?

  3. @ Dr. Williams: Well said.
    IMHM, weird questions without clear purpose is just frakking with people’s heads, which (while I heartily practice here on ERE) I do not advocate during the interview process.



  4. Hi John, We haven’t spoken in a while but I flagged this article last week because it caught my attention. So, good job in getting my attention 🙂 I think everyone is drawn to stupid interview questions. I think a standup comic could make a good living on just this single theme. But the truth is that we have them because the interview concept gets flawed when we have the wrong person doing the interviewing. The person doing the interviewing with questions like these seems to me to get a little too much enjoyment out of surprising or embarrassing the candidate. I personally could never ask such a question and I am not known to be timid or shy. It is just a matter of respect for another human being.

  5. Although these types of questions have become increasingly popular I think it’d be worth pointing out that Lazlo Bock, senior vice president of Google, admitted that some of the questions only served to make the interviewer feel smart – Google have actively stopped using mind boggling riddles in favour of behavioural questions that actually tell interviewers something about thier candidates.

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