Job interview questions: If a penguin walked through that door …

Silicon Valley companies are notorious for testing job candidates with difficult or off-the-wall questions – such as “Why are manhole covers round?” or “How many garbage men are there in California?”  But a new survey from the online job-hunters’ site,, has turned up some real gems.

And they’re not all from tech companies, although Google, Amazon and made it onto Glassdoor’s new list of “Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions” from firms around the country, released Friday.

Counting problems are common:  “How many cows are in Canada?” was asked of one job candidate at Google.  “Estimate how many windows are in New York” was posed to an applicant at Bain & Company, the management consulting firm.

These are all purportedly real questions that various companies asked of job candidates, who reported them to Sausalito-based Glassdoor, which also compiles information on company salaries and other useful data for prospective employees, such as the CEO’s internal approval ratings.  While some of the queries are clearly intended to gauge the applicant’s problem-solving abilities, others seem like clumsy attempts to plumb the candidate’s personality – or maybe just weed out the psychos.

The full list is posted on the Glassdoor site. But here are a few more of our favorites:

D’uh:  “How would you rate your memory?” – asked by an interviewer at Marriott.

Huh?  “If you were to get rid of one state in the U.S., which would it be and why?” – asked of a job candidate at Forrester Research.

What the?  “What kitchen utensil would you be?” – asked at

Ok, please stop:  “What’s your favorite song? Perform it for us now.” – posed to an applicant at LivingSocial.

Oh, and the penguin question – “A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?” – was asked at Clark Construction Group of Bethesda, Md.



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  • Interviewers ask those questions because they don’t know what to ask. It’s a sign of failure. It’s not a way to uncover your personality (you’re not being hired for personality) or your problem-solving skills (if so, then ask about a real situation that’s relevant to the job). Interviewers have heard about these crazy questions, so they ask them, without any idea why.

    The correct answer to all of these? Give a short reply and then take over the interview. Turn the tables. Start asking them about the size of the team, the budget, how decisions are made, which problems can’t be solved, and so on. Have a list of questions like this. It’s totally okay to have them on a memo pad in your hand.