There are some questions you tend to expect when you walk into a job interview these days, things like "How would you deal with a difficult coworker?" and "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
And there are certain questions you shouldn't answer, like ones pertaining to race or age. But these days, companies are sprinkling in a few brain-teasers and technical problems that make "If you were an ice-cream flavor, which one would you be?" seem like nothing.
[InvestingAnswers feature: "How to Ace Any Interview."]
Question 1. Asked at Deloitte: "How many ridges are there around a quarter?"
Answer: There are 119 ridges around the outside edge of a quarter, but only two that go all the way around -- one on the face side, and the other on the tails.
Question 2. Asked at AT&T (NYSE: T): "If you could be any superhero, who would it be?"
Answer: Depending on the company's philosophies and the job description, pick the superhero that has most of the qualities that fit. If the interviewer looking for someone to run the show, pick Superman. If they want a tech guy, Iron Man may be your best choice. And you can't beat DC Comic's Plastic Man when it comes to flexibility.
Question 3. Asked at Blackrock: "You have a birthday cake and have exactly 3 slices to cut it into 8 equal pieces. How do you do it?"
Answer: Problem-solvers need to be able to think out of the box, and this question is a prime example of that. So how do you do it? Assuming the cake is round, make two cuts to slice it into quarters. Then stack the four quarters and slice them all in half using your last cut.
Question 4. Asked at Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL): "There are three boxes, one contains only apples, one contains only oranges, and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled such that no label identifies the actual contents of the box it labels. Opening just one box, and without looking in the box, you take out one piece of fruit. By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?"
Answer: The key to this one to listen to the instructions carefully -- and then think of what the interviewer didn't say. All of the boxes are labeled incorrectly, and you can't look into the box you open -- but no one said you couldn't feel around to determine that all of the fruit in the box is the same kind. Once you have the fruit in hand, look for the label that matches that fruit (or mix of fruits) and put it on the box you opened. Then swap the other two labels.
Question 5. Asked at Guardsmark: "What do wood and alcohol have in common?"
Answer: Methanol is a type of (undrinkable) alcohol that's made from wood. But one could also say that both wood and alcohol are flammable. The point is to take two seemingly unrelated ideas and find something in common.
Question 6. Asked at Eze Castle: "You are in a dark room with no light. You need matching socks for your interview and you have 19 gray socks and 25 black socks. What are the chances you will get a matching pair?"
Answer: A trick question. Rather than work out the exact chances mathematically (which you can do, if you're good at that sort of thing), just grab three socks and put them on in a well-lit room -- at least two of them will match.
Question 7. Asked at Volkswagen: "What would you do if you just inherit a pizzeria from your uncle?"
Answer: There's no single "right" answer to this one; companies that ask questions like these are trying to gauge your business abilities, including your ability to find out as much about a new company or product as possible.
Question 8. Asked at Capital One (NYSE: COF): "Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5 how weird you are."
Answer: Spin this question into a chance to highlight your best traits by redefining the word "weird." Can't come up with a better way to say "weird?" Say you're a 4 -- above average, but not extreme.
[InvestingAnswers Feature: "How to Fail a Job Interview."]
Question 9. Asked at IBM (NYSE: IBM): "How do you weigh a baby elephant without using a scale?"
Answer: They're looking for people who can solve problems and provide answers even with incomplete information. When it comes to weight, though, you can fall back on what you learned about in high school: Fill a vat of to the brim with a measured amount of water, add elephant, remove elephant, and see how much water was displaced (in theory, at least).
Question 10. Asked at Intel (NASDAQ: INTC): "You have eight pennies. Seven weigh the same, one weighs less. You also have a judges scale. Find the one that weighs less in fewer than three steps."
Answer: Your first instinct is probably to split the pennies into two groups of four, but then you couldn't solve the problem in less than three steps.
The trick: Split the pennies into three groups: 3, 3, and 2. Weigh the groups of 3 first; if they weigh the same, then weigh the two leftover pennies to find the lighter one. If one group of 3 weighs more than the other, take that group and weigh just two pennies from it; if those two pennies weigh the same, then the one penny you didn't weigh is the light one.
Did you face an interview question weirder than these? Share your story in the comments section below.