Candidates Say Tough Interviews Can Still Be Positive

Are you one of those recruiters who asks off-the-wall questions to see how the candidate reacts?

Famously lampooned for it, Barbara Walters once asked Katherine Hepburn what kind of tree she wanted to be. (To be fair, Hepburn prompted it by declaring she wanted to be a tree.) Recruiters, however, have asked far more peculiar questions.

One job seeker reported being asked, “If you won the lottery tomorrow, how would you spend your free time?” (How would you answer? Personally, I’d first ask, “How much?” A mere million isn’t what it used to be.)

At the end of last year, Glassdoor offered a list of 25 of the weirdest interview questions of 2010 (and answers suggested by readers). Glassdoor is the website where job seekers, employees, and former employees rate companies and their management.

On the list was this one from Amazon: “If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?”

Another one, from Boston Consulting, asked the candidate to “Explain [to] me what has happened in this country during the last 10 years.”

Now, Glassdoor offers another view of the interview process, culling its thousands of company reviews for those rated by job seekers — successful or not — as the most difficult.

Both Amazon and Boston Consulting made the list of the top 25. Candidates who went through an interview with either company thought it tough, but few considered it negatively. And for those who landed a job, working there is at least an OK experience. (Glassdoor has reviewers rate a company numerically, from 1/very dissatisfied, to 5/very satisfied.)

Article Continues Below

McKinsey & Company, the global management consulting firm, was considered to have the toughest interview process of all of Glassdoor’s thousands of company ratings. Interviewers there typically throw candidates such curve balls as: “Tell me why the number of car accidents reported to insurance companies is declining.”

Yet, 64 percent of the candidates consider the experience positive. One candidate described it this way: “They are very thorough and put a variety of interesting and challenging scenarios forward for immediate response. If you’re not confident or comfortable with your skill sets and problem solving abilities, this is not the place for you.”

The most negative interviews, according to the reviewers, are at Cree, an LED development and manufacturing firm. It ranked third on the list for difficulty, but with 42 percent of the candidates calling it a negative experience, it topped the list for that category. Only 19 percent, the lowest of all 25 companies ranked, considered the interview experience positively.

Besides asking technical questions and others like “How many barbers do you need in a city of 1 million,” several reviewers — including some who got job offers — thought the interviewers rude, arrogant, or both.

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.


7 Comments on “Candidates Say Tough Interviews Can Still Be Positive

  1. John,

    Interesting article. I think there are a number of issues that you raise here.

    First, any recruiter (or hiring manager) who asks a question merely to see how a candidate reacts probably has some sort of issue of their own, e.g. self esteem, power trip, etc. If there’s actually a reason behind it, like wanting to see how someone would behave in a client/prospect meeting is reasonable. Seeing someone’s actual reaction may be more telling than asking them to describe how they’d handle a situation.

    I’m definitely an advocate of using BB Interviewing. The interviewer must ask the “right” types of questions depending on the position the person would hold. Asking, “How would you determine the number of fire hydrants in Douglas County, CO?” probably isn’t necessary if you’re interviewing someone for an Admin position. I think many people using BB techniques don’t know enough about how, why, and when it’s appropriate to use them to help determine future performance.

    Difficult interviews are appropriate. Negative ones are not. I’m not sure why any company would want to place such negativity on a possible hire…

  2. @ Maureen: “I suggest those who thought the interviewers “rude, arrogant or both” could use some brush-up on why critical thinking is so important.”
    Perhaps it might have been that the interviewers were ““rude, arrogant or both”.

    @Carol: “I’m not sure why any company would want to place such negativity on a possible hire…”
    Because they can….

  3. I’d like to see the job analysis used to establish content validity of the assessment (interview question) and the behaviorally anchored rating scale used to evaluate the responses.

    Challenging questions may increase bias and reduce fairness due to lack of relevance to job demands and inappropriate methods for discerning effective and ineffective responses.

    Face validity is a measure the candidate puts on the evaluation experience. Candidates perceiving a poor relationship between the evaluation and the job demands are often the ones who file complaints.

    Rude and arrogant are not candidate experience outcomes a company should strive for, regardless of the usefulness (or lack thereof) of their interview content.

    To read more about what candidates have to say

  4. In my opinion, I think tough/oddball questions are essential during an interview, especially if the candidate is applying for a position where they have to deal directly with costumers. When a candidate proves they are comfortable and collected during an interview scenario, odds are they can perform with customers. At the end of the day, how a business performs socially will determine whether it sinks or swims.

  5. @Nate: Can you show us objective, proven evidence that doing well in an interview correlates positively with doing well in a given position, and that being comfortable in an interview correlates with success with customers?


    Keith “Show Me the Evidence” Halperin

  6. its seems some recruiters have some strange ideas when interviewing candidates….. whats happened to understanding the person your interviewing and probing their long term potential along with cultural fit to the business.

    having “sport” with candidates in my view is only for the recruiters own ego and kicks…..

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *