The French have a term – esprit d'escalier – that loosely translates into “staircase wit” or rather, coming up with your retort to an earlier comment a little too late. But you don’t need to be French to appreciate that all-too-universal feeling of realizing how you should have responded to a job interview question on the way out of the building.
Of course, some questions seem designed to inspire a little esprit d’escalier if the latest collection of oddball interview questions from Glassdoor, a website which lets job hunters rate and share insights, is any indicator.
“Job candidates have to be aware that any question in this day and age could be asked, from the most common to the most bizarre,” says Scott Dobroski, associate director of corporate communications at Glassdoor.
Yes, even: ‘Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?’ which is number seven on Glassdoor’s list.
Bubbly teens raised on a healthy diet of Katy Perry will get this one. Which fits, given that it was asked of candidates applying to become a costumed Monster at the Canada’s Wonderland amusement park in Toronto where pop hits like the one this lyric is from ping-pong near constantly from loudspeakers around the park.
But you don’t need to be a KatyCat to tackle an oddity like this in an interview.
“Smart job candidates are going to be the ones who research and prepare ahead of time,” says Dobroski. “With this one, it’s okay to chuckle and laugh, maybe say ‘that’s a very interesting question, why are you asking me this?’ ”
Dobroski points out that a response like that will show you’re curious even when you don’t know the answer.
Ultimately, that’s the goal of questions like: ‘What was the last thing you Googled?’ asked of candidates applying for a leadership development program job at Tim Hortons; ‘Which Game of Thrones character do you like most?’ for accounting associate job candidates at Bench; and ‘If you were a utensil, which one would you be and why?’ fielded by those applying for a job as a cocktail server at a Jack Astor’s restaurant in Kingston.
“They’re testing how the candidate is thinking critically and learning a little bit about them [in the process],” he says. “Just answering the question or guessing at an answer is not what these questions are about – you’ve got to relate it back to the job… how it relates back to employment at the company.”
In a sense, these sorts of left-field questions give the interviewee a chance to get to know a candidate in a short period of time while sussing out those who look good on paper but may lack the real world skillset to tackle the sort of logistical challenges that pop up on the fly.
“You can go to ten interviews and be asked zero of these questions, however it’s likely that you will be asked questions that are brain teasers and challenging,” says Dobroski.
He says getting warmed up for an interview by practicing these questions and reading some of the other questions asked at a prospective workplace can help put you in the right head space.
“Do it in the mirror, practice with a family member or a friend,” he says. “And when you’re asked these questions, you do not have to reply right away – pause, take one to three seconds to breathe and think through a response.”
Here is the list of oddball questions in its entirety:
1. “What was the last thing you Googled?” – Tim Hortons Leadership Development Program job candidate (Oakville, Ont.)
2. “Which Game of Thrones character do you like most?” – Bench Accounting Associate job candidate (Toronto, Ont.)
3. “If you could sit next to one person on a transcontinental flight, who would it be?” – Salesforce Sales Representative job candidate (Toronto, Ont.)
4. “How do you calculate the number of red cars in a city?” – Manulife Actuarial Associate job candidate (Toronto, Ont.)
5. “If you were a utensil, which one would you be and why?“ – Jack Astor’s Cocktail Server job candidate (Kingston, Ont.)
6.“If you had only 24 hours left on planet Earth, how would you spend it?” – Iridia Medical Executive Assistant job candidate (Vancouver, B.C.)
7. “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?” – Canada’s Wonderland Monster job candidate (Toronto, Ont.)
8. “We meet on an elevator, and you have until we reach the 10th floor to convince me that you’re right for the job. Go!” – Sunwing Airlines Seasonal Flight Attendant job candidate (Calgary, Alta.)
9. “If you were a Prime Minister for a day, what one law would you change and why?” – Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg Student-at-Law job candidate (Montreal, Que.)
10. “How would you shuffle a deck of cards?“ – StackAdapt Software Engineer job candidate (Toronto, Ont.)