Nightmare interview questions: Why you'll never work at Google

There are certain classic interview questions that we can expect to deal with, but every now and then an employer decides they want to be that bit cleverer by throwing out a downright strange question. According to consultancy firm, Michael Page, 2 out of 5 candidates will face such seemingly wacky puzzle questions (typically from big tech and financial firms like Google or Goldman Sachs). Although such questions can come across as nasty, most of the time employers are just trying to expose your problem-solving ability, critical thinking skills or creative ability. Here we list some of the strangest real-life questions ever asked and suggest some equally clever responses.


“If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?" What you need to remember for all these types of questions is there is no one right answer. The interviewer is just testing your creativity and how well you cope under a little pressure. A creative person might suggest unscrewing the nut at the bottom of the blender and slipping out the bottom. A more practical person might just reach into their pocket for their mobile phone and call for help.

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“If you could be any superhero, who would it be?” The most important thing to remember for any interview question is the "why" behind your response. Pick any superhero but give a reason why you want to be the Caped Crusader or Superwoman. Think of the super powers your hero possesses and explain why you would want them and what you would do with them. Choosing to be Batman for all Bruce Wayne’s cash might impress the boys in the Square Mile.

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"How many balloons can you fit in this room?” Given that this question was asked by an interviewer at Google it is probably a straight forward maths test which requires some basic visualisation and calculation skills. But remember to "think outside the box," because what the interviewer is really looking for is an original answer to problem solving. Instead of guesstimating how many average sized balloons could fit in a room ask the interviewer if they are deflated or inflated.

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"An apple costs 20 pence, an orange costs 40 pence, and a grapefruit costs 60 pence. How much is a pear?" This question is asking you how much you think a pear is worth in relation to an apple, orange or grapefruit. It is testing your ability to judge an item's value on any given market. Again, give reasons for your answer. If you say it is worth 30 pence then tell your interviewer (for example) that it's more expensive than an apple because it has been imported from a milder climate and less expensive than an orange given the latest increase in the price of oranges on the global market.

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"Why are manholes round and not square?" This is a classic puzzle question which seems strange but actually has a very simple and logical answer. If manholes were square not only would they not fit the dimension of a round sewer pipe but they could also fall through the manhole when turned diagonally. Case closed.

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"Why do human beings have two eyes?" This is another question which can be explored to show off your imagination and your grasp of the "basics." On the very basic level, having two eyes is extremely important for 3D vision. You could then take this to another level by explaining it in the context of the evolutionary necessity for two eyes as opposed to one...hint, so your great-great-great-great (x500) grandfather could see that cheetah running at him.

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"What do you think about garden gnomes?" This could well be a simple test of your sense of humour or testing your managerial strengths. Think about garden gnomes for a second. Each one gnome tends to have its own unique tools and can be allocated a job depending on their set of skills. You could also say that you think gnomes are reliable and grounded for extra brownie points.

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“Just entertain me for five minutes, I’m not going to talk.” Now, here's one that speaks volumes about the interviewer. He's either too lazy or unimaginative to come up with a puzzling question that makes sense so he just throws a red herring at you. You can choose to tell a few jokes or the history of your life in 350 seconds, but maybe it's time for you to ask a question: Do you really wanna work for this guy?

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"If you were a Microsoft Office program which one would you be?" This is a pretty cool one. Think about the job that you have gone for and the skill set it requires and then apply it to the relevant program. If it's a mathematical or tech job you might want to go for the obvious and say Excel or PowerPoint if you will be required to work with visual aids for a marketing job.

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“How would you cure world hunger?” This question is testing how well you see the "big picture" while applying specific measures for problem solving. Applying efficient farming technology and ridding the world of bureaucratic corruption are two simple suggestions. Alternatively you could approach the question from a utilitarian standpoint by telling the interviewer world hunger is a necessary evil to keep population under control...warning, you do risk coming across as a bit of a sociopath.

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“Name five uses of a stapler without staples.” Applying different uses for everyday items allows you to push yourself to go beyond your "safe-zone" and allocate jobs to people on a team. The most common responses include: Removing staple pins, paperweight, door stop, nutcracker or hammer. A smart ass answer might be using the stapler as collateral for a loan so you could buy more staples. Don't say "a weapon."

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"Pepsi or Coke?” Not a strange question among mates but when you're sitting in front of stern face in a stuffy interview room it might catch you off guard. Just remember to back this up with a decent reason instead of just saying that it tastes good. If it's a job interview with Pepsi then don't say Coke and vice-versa.

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“How are M&M’s made?” This is a notorious question among tech and design firms who want to test your ability to understand "how things are made" and the construction process. Tackle the level from square one and think about the factory process step-by-step. This question is probably not as strange as Ronald Regan's alleged obsession with offering Jelly Beans to unsuspecting guests in the Oval Office as a means of testing their personality traits.

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"If you were a brick in a wall which brick would you be and why?" Contrary to what Pink Floyd would have us believe, a potential employer is not looking for another brick in the wall. Each brick is different and what brick you choose to be can let the interviewer know if you would be a good fit for the company. Do you consider yourself a "cornerstone" and vital to the company's future? Are you ambitious and want to be a brick at the top?

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“Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 how weird you are.” Being weird may not be such a bad thing when we take the meaning of weird as unique. Your answer will depend on the company's corporate culture and whether they value the "weirdness" factor. Don't confuse being weird with being socially inept and make sure you let the interviewer know that you know the difference. A weird answer might be 8.6134 or, quoting Spinal Tap: "11, because it's one more."

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About the Author

Michael Keys has more than 10 years´ experience in online media and press journalism.