Interviews to attend Oxbridge (Oxford or Cambridge universities) are notoriously nerve-wracking affairs. Perhaps apocryphal, but two stories stick in my mind. At one interview, a candidate entered an ancient book-lined room, to be commanded by the crusty old don, who was reading a broadsheet newspaper to; “Entertain me.” Pausing briefly, the candidate produced a cigarette lighter and set fire to the don’s newspaper. Top marks.
Another interview, however, did not go so well. The professor chucked a rugby ball to the surprised candidate and said: “Throw this out of the window old chap.” The nervous interviewee proceeded to demonstrate his sporting prowess with a well-aimed, spin-pass of which any scrum half would be proud; the ball smashed satisfyingly through the closed window, leaving shards of glass all over the carpet. “Why didn’t you open the window first?” he was asked.
In job interviews, you may expect to be asked, perhaps, about your IT skills, or how you have dealt with a difficult colleague in the past, but unless you’re planning to go into sports logistics, the number of tennis balls used at Wimbledon is unlikely to be something you’ve researched in advance. Similarly, detailed knowledge of supermarkets’ product ranges and their calorific value might not be high on your list of revision subjects for an interview at Google.
But these are among the things candidates say they have been grilled on at interviews for unrelated jobs. The website Glassdoor has chosen 10 questions which it claims are the toughest asked of UK job-hunters over the past year. The questions were posted on the site by the candidates at the receiving end – only some of whom have explained how they answered.
Some of the questions have correct – if not easy-to-find answers – others clearly don’t. All are apparently designed to reveal a candidate’s thought process.
Joe Wiggins, Glassdoor career trends analyst said: “These interview questions may sound crazy and you could argue that very few people would actually know the answer. However, by throwing in such a wildcard, employers are testing strength of character, logical thinking and how the applicant responds under pressure.
“There may not be a correct answer but if you’re willing to explain how you get there, it speaks volumes.”