The Interview Question That Threw Me For a Loop (and I Got the Job Anyway)

by Darwin on July 17, 2013


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?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

krantcents July 18, 2013 at 4:44 pm

It has been a very long time since I interviewed! The irony is I am interviewing tomorrow for a new assignment. As an interviewer, I used to ask some off the wall questions to see how the candidate reacted. I was more interested in how he/she thought than a particular answer. I think it is still true. Good luck!


Darwin July 18, 2013 at 11:01 pm

Good luck on your interview! You’ll have to report back if there are any crazy questions!


Sam Gill @ Digital Spikes July 19, 2013 at 3:04 pm

True in the interview usually one wants to know how person thinks and responds. I follow STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) technique to assess the candidate based on the response to the questions thrown in


JayCeezy July 20, 2013 at 2:03 pm

That was a great response! You stayed on point, and the ‘company founder’ answer was great. I had an interesting and unusual question posed at an interview recently: “What book are you reading, and/or what was the last book you read?” A simple question, and the answer is pretty revealing no matter what you reply.


John July 23, 2013 at 7:46 am

Tough question! I have never been asked that in an interview! But now I know who to say if I am!


Len July 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm

I was once asked in an interview: How many gas stations are there in the United States?

I knew right away what it was about and blurted out, “10,000”.

It was a trick to see how you react. Didn’t get the job. Didn’t want it after that stupid interview.


Larry July 27, 2013 at 10:57 pm


I’m soo beyond tired of gotcha questions. If the interviewer can’t keep it professional during the interview, how do I know they can do so during regular work hours.

Just because 8% of the population is unemployed does not give you a license to mess with people.


Foobar July 27, 2013 at 3:32 am

Jesus, einstein and his boss.
For the last question: too many…


Barbara Friedbergb August 2, 2013 at 7:49 pm

I love the question, although I have no idea why they would ask it. I caught myself thinking I would like to meet Ben Franklin. I guess the interviewer wanted to see how you think!


101centavos August 4, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Odd question.
As a frequent interviewer, I’m trying to guess at how the answer would have to be evaluated for “correctness”. Agreed, probably a plus that you didn’t go for Steve Jobs.
Hope it went well.


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