More Weird and wonderful interview questions

  | James Innes


In “The Interview Book” and “The Interview Question & Answer Book”, best-selling author and founder of "The CV Centre" and "The Resume Center" James Innes, discusses the oddball questions that some organisations, like Google, Apple, Facebook, and major investment banks, have thrown at candidates to test their ability to think on their feet.

He also makes clear that there no right or wrong answers to many of these questions, and suggests, while you cannot predict what will be asked in advance, you can still prepare how you might respond if such a curveball is thrown your way.

Here are three more examples.

Question: Why don’t polar bears eat penguins? (alternative and related questions: Why do butterflies generally come out during the day and moths generally come out at night? Is a tomato a vegetable?)

The meaning behind the question

Technically this is a general knowledge question. Polar bears don’t eat penguins because polar bears live in the Arctic and penguins live in the Antarctic – a very long way away. However, in asking this sort of question, the interviewer doesn’t really expect many people to get the right answer – and they don’t necessarily care too much if they do. They’re more interested in how you think your answer through.

Your answer

If you live in the UK you might choose a humorous answer like “Because they can’t get the wrappers off!”(Penguin is a well-known brand of biscuit, similar to Tim Tams in Australia).However, assuming you don’t know the correct answer, the best way to respond to this question is to demonstrate your ability to analyse the situation and identify possible theories.


While I’ll admit that biology isn’t one of my strong points, I can think of a number of possible hypotheses – maybe penguins are too small for a polar bear to bother with and they stick to larger prey, maybe polar bears aren’t fast enough to catch a penguin, perhaps there’s something toxic about penguins – some form of defence mechanism, maybe polar bears live and hunt inland but penguins spend most of their time in the water or at the water’s edge. I obviously don’t know for sure – but these would be my possible ideas. Am I close?


Question: How much water would it take to fill St Paul’s Cathedral? (alternative and related questions: How many bottles of red wine are drunk in France on Christmas Day? How many basketballs can you fit in this room? How many planes fly over New York every day?)

The meaning behind the question

This is definitely not a general knowledge question. It is a question specifically designed to test your reasoning skills. The interviewer wants to see how you approach the problem, how able you are to identify the relevant factors and, having identified the relevant factors, how you use them to calculate your answer. They’re not expecting you to be able to give them a precise figure. They’re mainly looking to see how you rise to the challenge of attempting to formulate an answer.

Your answer

You’d be forgiven for pausing for a second to think your answer through. This is most definitely not an easy question. Try to keep a clear head and identify what factors will lead you to an answer. You’re not expected to be an expert on St Paul’s Cathedral – nor on French wine-drinking habits. The key is to try to think through the question logically and to convey your thoughts to the interviewer in an ordered fashion.


That’s a difficult question. If we assume that we have already plugged up any potential leaks then the answer primarily hinges on a precise calculation of the internal volume of St Paul’s Cathedral. I don’t know St Paul’s Cathedral very well but I know it’s a complicated piece of architecture. In order to answer the question reasonably precisely, I’d need to see plans of the building so that I could break it up into a number of different shapes, measure them and calculate their volumes accordingly. I’d also have to make a deduction for interior furniture, etc., although I would expect that to be fairly minor.

If your work involves having to handle complex calculations of this nature then you might want to take your answer to the next level by actually having a stab at the correct figure:

At a guess, I’d say St Paul’s is roughly 200 m long, 50 m wide and 50 m high – making a total of half a million cubic metres. Features such as the dome will add to this figure but, likewise, internal furnishings, pillars and walls will reduce it. With 1,000 litres in a cubic metre, half a million cubic metres equates to 500 million litres. Without more precise data that would be my best estimate. Seeing the plans for the building would be useful but another technique would be to buy a scale model from a souvenir shop or suchlike. I could then determine an upper limit by plugging any leaks, placing it in water, measuring how much water it displaced and then scaling this figure up.


Question: Who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman? (alternative and related question: Who would you rather be locked in a small room with Darth Vader or Hannibal Lecter?!)

The meaning behind the question

In common with many of these sorts of question, the interviewer may have just decided to throw one weird one in there to see how you react. It is just possible that your answer might allow your personality under stress to come through so do be aware of that.

Your answer

The answer is unlikely to make a difference to whether you get the job or not unless you really mess it up completely! So stay calm and give yourself a little time by repeating the question back. If you have an opinion then calmly state that. If, on the other hand, you haven’t a clue then explain that your usual approach, when faced with something you don't know the answer to, is to take some time to think about it so you can come back with a properly thought through answer rather than a knee-jerk one which might be the wrong one. And remember to smile – or the interviewer will think you have absolutely no sense of humour!


That’s a good question. Who would win in a fight between Superman and Batman? I think Batman as, although Superman has superhuman powers and can overcome many challenges, I remember watching Batman’s fighting skills – and they’re really rather impressive. Where he lacks in strength he makes up for with technique! Then, of course, Superman can fly… It’s a tough one. I guess I’ll just have to watch the film!

If you find yourself asked a weird and wonderful question during an interview, stay calm and don’t panic. Take a moment and try to understand what the interviewer is asking and why. There is no right or wrong answer so your response should show your ability to think on your feet and react to the unexpected. If you prepare properly and take your sense of humour with you, there is every chance you can come out of the interview on top.

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