Reading an article on weird questions that some employers in the United States have asked at interviews, reminded me that some of our employers, here in NZ have been known to do the same.  So have you been asked a ‘quirky’ question that made you feel like a rabbit mesmerised by car headlights? Let me know what your ‘stunning’ question was.

So why is it that a small number of employers ask questions like ‘why are manhole covers usually round?’; this particular question is ‘an oldie’ generally credited to Microsoft. Sometimes a quirky question is official or unofficial company policy, or it may simply be a ‘pet question’ favoured by an individual manager or selector. Such questions would generally change regularly to maintain the element of surprise. In addition, for reasons of equity, some employers insist that interview candidates treat all aspects of the selection process, including the individual questions asked, as confidential.

Now back to those tricky questions. There is generally more to them than a ‘right’ answer; indeed sometimes there actually isn’t one. In general while a right answer, if there is one, will score you points, the interviewer is looking for more. Remember back in school when your Maths teacher asked you to ‘show your working out process’ as well as ‘your answer’?  Understanding your internal processes, how you verbalise these, how you identify and evaluate relevant information and how you arrive at an answer or solution and, very importantly, your demeanour during this process, is usually the main reason for such a question. The employer may also ask the question as a precursor to a more ‘case-based’ or discursive stage of the interview.  So how do you personally respond when faced with the unexpected? Would an interviewer see an obvious physical response; would you appear calm or agitated, amused or annoyed, curious or confused, excited or out of your depth? How quickly would you gather your thoughts and work out an approach to the question.  Would you seek further information; this may or may not be forthcoming?  Would you work with what you know; facts and reasonable assumptions? Would you look at the question from another angle; ask what problems are solved if man-hole covers are round and what problems are created if most man-hole covers are square?

So why are man-hole covers usually round? The ‘right’ answer is that a round cover won’t fall into a round hole as long as the cover is the same circumference or greater than the hole. But you can be a little clever and expand your answer…

  • Round covers don’t need to be rotated to align them.
  • Round openings will more comfortably accommodate our physical body shape.
  • A round manhole cover is cheapest to manufacture relative to other shapes because it requires the least amount of metal to cover an opening wide enough for a person.
  • A round manhole cover is more easily and quickly moved by being rolled on its edge and is safer to handle as there are no sharp edges.
  • Most manhole covers are manufactured by a few large companies. A different shape would have to be custom made.
  • Most of the information was taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhole_cover

To read about the questions US students and graduates were asked in 2010 read The 25 Weirdest Interview Questions of 2010 from bnet.com/

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