I interviewed recently for a new position. I’d been in the same spot for a few years now and was looking for a new challenge (and a promotion never hurts either!). A good opportunity came along in our outsourcing group so I threw my name in the hat. After making it past the hiring manager and VP, it was time to meet with our company’s chief procurement officer. I’d heard he was very intense and could ask some really tough and uncomfortable questions. After answering some typical questions about my experience, why I felt this was the right job for me and I was the right candidate for the job and some other business acumen type questions, he popped this one:
If You Could Meet Any 3 Famous People, Dead or Alive, Who Would You Want To Meet and Why
This is the type of question you kind of hear about at other firms like tech companies, etc. but I never thought I’d have to answer anything that wasn’t directly related to the job or my experience. I paused for just a second because this one really threw me for a loop, but as I started reeling off my answer for the first person, I then thought up the next two. Without the whole explanation, my replies were:
1. Our company’s founder – I explained that while it may be cliche, coincidentally, I just happened to be talking to a “company historian” about our firm the other day and it stoked my interest. The timing was impeccable since I had just learned a lot about our company’s early days, old mergers, initial inventions, etc. So I looped back as to why it wasn’t in fact a cliche answer and that I had some legitimate questions for the founder about the early days and how he grew the firm to what it is today.
2. Bill Gates – I didn’t touch the whole Microsoft/business founder thing but instead focused on all his philanthropic work and inventions he’s progressing to save lives. If you haven’t followed what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been doing since he left Microsoft, it’s really quite remarkable. He runs philanthropy like he ran his business. Ideas are generated, pitched, ranked and either accepted or tossed. If something isn’t working, he kills it. That’s how business works, but it’s rarely how non-profits work. He’s responsible for saving probably more lives than anyone else in recent history.
3. Warren Buffett – While Warren doesn’t have much to do with our business, I just shared how he’s a down to earth guy that tells it like it is and has always had a knack for picking the right direction ranging from everything from stocks to the fact that the US could come out of the great recession and he made a killing on investments he made during that period.
Afterword, I was like, “Damn, everyone probably says Steve Jobs, how did I forget him!?” But then again, maybe it’s good that I didn’t give the same answer everyone under 40 gives.
In retrospect, I know why he asked it. Many people can be polished and prepare for an interview with canned responses. If you interview enough internally, you start to learn all the typical HR questions anyway, like how you view collaboration, diversity, employee engagement and the like. But this was forced to make me think on my feet. I think he wanted to see how I’d react to an unexecpted situation, like the type I might face when trying to negotiate an important deal with a third party, or when something unexpected pops up and I’m on someone else’s turf. That’s when you have to react and think on your feet.
There’s no overarching lesson here and it’s doubtful you’ll ever be asked the same question, but just food for thought. Or if you’re a hiring manager, maybe you want to think about some unorthodox questions you could pose to see how your candidates perform.
If you’re in the market for a 6 Figure Job yourself, make sure to check out TheLadders. I get weekly updates on jobs in my area that are screened for my specific preferences (including salary!). It’s a great service and they have a Free option which I use. Make sure to check out the Career Section for more topics like this.
What’s the Craziest Question You’ve Ever Been Asked in an Interview?