11

A friend of mine is interviewing at medical schools. After his latest round, he told me he was asked, "If you were a cookie, what kind would you be?" It threw him because it was completely out of place. I've gotten a question like, "If this organization is a crayon box, what color crayon would you be and why?"

It made me question how serious my interviewer was. I get that they're supposed to test your ability to "think on your feet", but I don't see how a question about cookies or crayons tells if you act with grace under pressure.

How should you answer these questions and what are they for?

This is a similar question: How should I respond to an inappropriate question in a job interview?

The difference between my question and this question is the reason why the questions are being asked and what they tell about you. If someone asks you, "Are you married?", they're trying to gauge some information about your home life. That's a question with a serious intent and a legal consequence. A frivolous question like mine isn't malicious, but it doesn't really reveal anything about me, so I don't think I can give a clipped answer like, "Let's move on" without seeming rude.

  • 1
  • 6
    I strongly disagree on the choice of duplicate. That question is about asking serious questions that should not be asked based on hiring rules. This one is about quirky questions which are not against any sort of rule. Maybe it's duplicate to something else but not that one. – Myles Feb 8 '17 at 16:45
  • 1
    What constitutes a good interview is subjective. Arguably (there's that subjectivity again), a good interview will demonstrate personality types which helps gauge whether the applicant will fit in with the culture and attitude of the organization (as well as the other way around). These types of questions also demonstrate an applicant's creativity. Sometimes that's important, even in scientifically-based roles. – Cypher Feb 8 '17 at 16:59
  • 1
    To me, this kind of question telegraphs that the interviewer will enjoy making you squirm in everyday work-related situations, and not just in interviews. – Roger Feb 8 '17 at 22:31
  • 3
    @HorusKol: "I haven't made my biggest mistake yet". – gnasher729 Feb 9 '17 at 1:05
27

There are a lot of reasons to ask these types of questions. Many will say "cultural fit" or "see how think on your feet" or even "get insight as to how you think and give you a chance to explain why to see your thought process.

I'm sure there are some who will disagree but I see this as a psychological power play, pure and simple.

Something I try to tell everyone looking for a job is to remember that you're approaching the company as equals. They want to make sure that you are suitable for the position and the company but so many forget that it is equally as important to make certain that the company and position is suitable for you as well.

Too many candidates treat an interview like it's an interrogation. They present themselves before an authority for questioning and then subject themselves to that questioning. Smart people encourage you to have questions for them to show you're interested in them but it's more than that. You are interviewing them too. Never forget that. And that's why I say that you're approaching prospective employers as equals because at that point, you are. You're trying to determine (at a minimum) whether they are deserving of you submitting yourself (to a large degree) to authority.

That's why I believe it is a psychological power play. They want to throw you off balance. It's manipulative and very one-sided but for some stupid reason, candidates accept this as, if not normal, allowed.

Still not convinced? Try doing it to them. Have a couple of "silly" questions prepared ahead of time and when it's your turn, pop one. If you're interviewing with someone who asked you something about what color of crayon you are, ask something equally silly:

  • If you could undo one event in history, what would it be?
  • You're the President and aliens have come to you saying they could cure one disease that isn't AIDS or Cancer. What disease do you cure?
  • You have 3 people who are equally qualified with the exact same seniority and only have budget for 2. Whom do you let go?

I'm certain there are some interviewers who will be amused and see it as "turnabout is fair play" and will try to answer it. Most won't. That's because they don't see you as equal in the process. They see you as someone to be tested and judged.

That is why I see it as a power play. They're putting you in a position that is completely one-sided. It's making you jump through hoops simply because they can without considering that they're being evaluated as well.

We have for some reason come to accept the notion that it's acceptable for a prospective employer to put us in a situation solely to see how we react under pressure. Why? In deciding on a physician should we fake a heart attack so see how they react? The only person who gets to put me in a high pressure situation is the person who's paying me.

If you ask me one of these silly questions in an interview, I'm leaving. If pressed I'd tell them that the interview process has told me all I need to know about the company and it wouldn't be a good fit.

  • 3
    I disagree that it is always a powerplay - sure, there are some people who are sociopaths and would do it for this reason, but there are plenty of others who are genuinely interested in the kind of response the candidates offer. The turnabout option should help distinguish between the two. – HorusKol Feb 8 '17 at 23:57
  • 4
    There is another reason this question is not a good sign. It's the fact that when there is plenty to talk about, there is usually no time to ask silly questions. And if you're asked a silly question, that usually means that your background, your past projects, or your personality didn't capture much of the interviewer's interest. Also along the same lines of a power play, some companies treat interviews like factory work, where all the questions are prepared in advance, the results are reported on a grid, and each candidate is reduced to a number of checkmarks and a computed numerical score. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 9 '17 at 0:11
  • 4
    Or... amateur and unprepared interviewer who did a quick internet search 10 minutes before the interview, so as to not look stupid. – Kent A. Feb 9 '17 at 1:12
  • There are perhaps different classifications of these frivolous questions (the infamous 'Google questions' come to mind, such as being asked to estimate the volume of the Mississippi river, which may be power plays, as you say), but the ones I've been asked have always been intended to be disarming -- i.e., to lower the interviewee's anxiety level before/during an interview. The OP's cited questions seem frivolous enough to be the latter, rather than the former. – bvoyelr Jun 26 '18 at 17:33
  • I like this "Try doing it to them" advice, but i would wait until towards the end of the interview, when they ask "do you have any questions for us" and throw their question back at them. "Going back to your crayon box question, I'd like to know what colour each of you would be and why, and how that is reflected in your relationships with each other and the wider department?" – gingerbreadboy Sep 27 at 13:42
5

The important part of these questions isn't the literal immediate answer, but the why that follows them. No-one is going to say "we can't hire Candidate #1, I mean really, purple? Who chooses purple?". But if Candidate 1 said "I'm purple because that's a vibrant bright colour that everyone notices. I never blend into the background and you always knows where I am," then depending on the job, that might mean a perfect fit or an immediate no-hire. A different candidate might say "I'm purple because I'm always a mix of two things - very technical but also a great communicator, for example," and again that might mean a perfect fit or a no-hire.

Why not just ask you to describe yourself? They want to get you out of your comfort zone and away from your memorized, optimized answers. And your actual choice of colour or cookie or whatnot will not be something you've prememorized. But your handful of nouns and adjectives (go getter, results-driven, team player, everyone loves me, fun, hardworking, reliable, secure, confident, brilliant, persistent, ...) should be very familiar to you and be on the tip of your tongue. When you get the weirdo question, take a minute to remind yourself how you want to present yourself, then choose the cookie, crayon, tree, musical genre or whatnot that you can describe with those adjectives and work in your nouns.

  • +1 for "They want to get you out of your comfort zone and away from your memorized, optimized answers." – HorusKol Feb 8 '17 at 22:09
  • 2
    Then I am puke green b/c I am a pro-active go-getting team player who gets things done. – emory Feb 9 '17 at 1:04
  • If I remember well, you can't use something like Mayers Briggs test to "discriminate" (the common word, not the legal one) people according to their psychological profil, yet asking a color and justify is pretty much the same isn't it ? If you want to know if someone is a great communicator, just ask hom proper question to evaluate that. – Walfrat Feb 9 '17 at 8:19
  • 1
    Whether these questions are actually useful in choosing good employees, @Walfrat, is an entirely different question. Some people will handle them better (because they do things like asking here, thinking about it, and preparing their self-descriptions) and some will not handle them well even though they would be terrific employees or medical students. That doesn't help you if someone asks you such a thing. You either present yourself in the best possible light or abandon the application because you object to being asked such a thing. I recommend the first option. – Kate Gregory Feb 9 '17 at 13:17
4

Companies are not just gauging your abilities during an interview - they are gauging your cultural fit.

Now, while some interviewers may be asking this because it's a "think on your feet" question, others (especially if the interviewer will be your team leadervir supervisor) will be using it to see if you have a similar humour to their team. Silly questions deserve silly answers - just don't get too silly (if this is a developer job, think of Monty Python as a bar).

The specific questions about cookies or crayons might not be so helpful, though, depending on context. There are much better questions that can get to the point much better with dropping the interview to the level of the Cheese Shop sketch.

Again, context is important: during Army officer selection, I had a mate who had to spend several minutes talking about a hole in the wall (to a group of other candidates). The topic had to stay relevant, not repeat, and minimum hesitation. That was certainly less of a cultural fit scenario (there's other points in selection to cover that) - but it's a look into how you deal with the unexpected. I guess the topic could easily have been cookies or crayons. In this case, the details of the response don't matter as long as there is a response.

It's also a different type of question to the regular problem solving and technical knowledge ones you should have also been asked - so, they already should be aware of your other abilities from those.

  • What if the culture was one where people are playful, creative, and professional? I'd much rather be in a place that has fun doing serious work than somewhere where it is a drudge doing "fun" work (and, yes, I've had people try and describe their work as fun rather than their work environment). – HorusKol Feb 8 '17 at 22:06
  • @JoeStrazzere I'm not saying that the cookie question itself is an ideal (something you seem to be stuck on) - but there are plenty of less childish style questions that could be used in its place - the ones on Christopher's answer are good ones. – HorusKol Feb 8 '17 at 23:50
  • 1
    If the questions are random, and irrelevant to the job being sought, they are more likely a characteristic of an amateur interviewer, or of an immature organization. There are plenty of questions that are relevant to the job domain (no matter the domain) that can be used to gauge a person's cultural fit. – Kent A. Feb 9 '17 at 1:17
4

Always answer a silly question with a silly answer:

"If you were a cookie, what kind would you be?"

"Probably I'd be a diabetes-friendly cookie so I wouldn't exclude anyone."

"If this organization is a crayon box, what color crayon would you be and why?"

"I'd be all the colors mixed together because someone left the box out in the sun".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.