The most unusual job interview questions of 2011

December 29, 2011: 11:40 AM ET

As if job hunting weren't stressful enough, some employers like to throw curve-ball questions at candidates. Here are some of the trickiest.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- For most of us, coming up with dazzling replies to the perennial standard interview queries -- say, "What's your greatest weakness?" or "Where do you see yourself in five years?" -- is plenty challenging. But what would you say if a hiring manager asked you, "What do you think of garden gnomes?" Or how about: "Would Mahatma Gandhi have made a good software engineer?"

To find the year's most unusual questions, researchers at career site Glassdoor combed through job seekers' reviews of about 115,000 interviews at more than 26,000 companies. Here is a sampling of what they found:

  • "How many people are using Facebook in San Francisco at 2:30 on a Friday?" — Google (GOOG) (vendor relations manager)
  • "Just entertain me for five minutes. I'm not going to talk." — Acosta (leadership development program associate)
  • "If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?" — Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) (product marketing manager)
  • "Given 20 'destructible' light bulbs (which break at a certain height), and a building with 100 floors, how would you determine the height where the light bulbs break?" — Qualcomm (QCOM) (engineer)
  • "What do you think of garden gnomes?" — Trader Joe's (team member)
  • "Would Mahatma Gandhi have made a good software engineer?" — Deloitte (analyst)
  • "If you could be the #1 employee but have all your coworkers dislike you, or be ranked #15 and have all your coworkers like you, which would you choose?" — ADP (inside sales associate)
  • "How would you cure world hunger?" — (AMZN) (software developer)
  • "Does life fascinate you?" — Ernst & Young (tax analyst)
  • "Please spell 'diverticulitis'." — EMSI Engineering (account manager)
  • "Name five uses of a stapler without staples." — EvaluServe (business analyst)
  • "How much money did residents of Dallas/Fort Worth spend on gasoline in 2008?" — American Airlines (AMR) (revenue manager)
  • "How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator?" — Horizon Group Properties (office manager)
  • "How many planes are currently flying over Kansas?" — Best Buy (BBY) (demand planning analyst)
  • "How many different ways can you get water from a lake at the foot of a mountain, up to the top of the mountain?" — Disney Parks & Resorts (DIS) (project engineering intern)
  • "Pepsi or Coke?" — United Health Group (associate project manager)
  • "Are you exhaling warm air?" — Walker Marketing (client manager)
  • "If you were a Microsoft Office program, which one would you be?" — Summit Racing Equipment (e-commerce manager)
  • "How do you feel about those jokers in Congress?" — Consolidated Electrical (management trainee)

Even if you never get any of these thrown at you, the Glassdoor report notes, the list "serves as a reminder to expect the unexpected." Too true.

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About This Author
Anne Fisher
Anne Fisher
Contributor, Fortune

Anne Fisher has been writing "Ask Annie," a column on careers, for Fortune since 1996, helping readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what's appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). Anne is the author of two books, Wall Street Women (Knopf, 1990) and If My Career's on the Fast Track, Where Do I Get a Road Map? (William Morrow, 2001).

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