Drunks, bizarre questions and other interview surprises

If you interview people, you will be surprised sometimes at what happens. From the odd things people do when they’re nervous and not thinking clearly, to the unexpected statements they can come out with.

Of course, some employers ask weird questions too, such as if you were a chocolate bar, what would you be? Or how many golf balls can you fit into a school bus? Microsoft and Google have become renowned for asking these kinds of questions and you can see examples if you click on their names.

Quick HR’s Brian Warren is among the contributors for a Brighton Argus article about memorable (for the wrong reasons) recruitment experiences including the drunk guy who came for a 10am interview. See the full article here.

Checking CVs and talking to candidates before any meeting is great, but you never really know who is going to walk through the door. As much as you can prepare to meet nervous people, try to help them relax and give them a chance to explain all about their skills and experience, there are the odd candidates who may as well jump through the door shouting “surprise”.

I once interviewed a great candidate and was starting to be sure we would hire him, but he lost confidence halfway through the interview and never recovered. He answered every subsequent question by saying he didn’t really have that kind of experience and probably wasn’t what we were looking for. At the opposite extreme, there was a candidate who thought he could do everything even if he had no experience – he would just learn. I tested that by asking if he would be willing to become a qualified accountant (it wasn’t a finance role) and when he agreed, I just gave up and wondered if he had a long journey back to his planet.

I don’t like to use daft questions, such as: “How many balls can you fit in a Tube train?” I would rather use questions to understand what they have worked on before and whether they are a good fit with the role and company involved, both short-term and over time. If a candidate uses a standard prepared line, such as that he or she is looking for a “new challenge” or career progression, I always push them to go into more detail. Often they say it to impress you and they’re really just bored with their current job and hoping a new role might be more interesting, with a chance of a pay rise too.

However, candidates can come up with questions that knock you sideways. My favourite was a guy who asked what the toilets were like. It seemed very important to him, so I just encouraged him to visit the toilet and then return to the interview. He seemed happy enough and I was left speculating why the state of the toilets seemed to be a deal-breaker for him (he didn’t get the job). The drunk candidate asked what the local pubs were like, which wasn’t surprising at that point.