Summer interns may be packing their bags right now, but fall internship season is nigh. College students across the country will be competing in the next few weeks for the paid and unpaid experiences that might shape their careers. And how do companies pick from their growing pool of applicants? Often by throwing tricky, quirky and riddle-y queries at their interviewees, to see who can think fast, and think well.
1. "What was your first AOL screen name?" – Asked at Red Frog Events, the unconventional race organizer.
2. "How do you rob a bank?" – Asked by Oliver Wyman in an interview for a financial services position.
3. "How many ping pong balls fit into Gampel Pavilion?" – Asked at the health insurance company Aetna.
4. "How much do women in America spend on haircuts each year?" – Asked by FindTheBest.com in an interview for a statistics internship.
5. "If you could have lunch with anybody, living or deceased, who would it be?" – Asked by IMG in an interview for a marketing internship.
6. "How much would you bet for your answers to be correct?" – Asked at Jane Street Capital, a quantitative proprietary trading firm.
7. "Describe what happened to cause the financial crisis, in a couple of minutes, as if you were telling it to, say, your grandmother." – Asked by Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group in an interview for a derivatives trading and structuring internship.
8. "Given 999 distinct numbers between 1 and 1,000, find one/two that is/are missing." – Asked by Salesforce.com in an interview for a software development position.
9. "Would you say you learn a lot about a little, or a little about a lot?" – Asked by Stryker Communications in an interview for an electrical engineering internship.
10. "How many people in this city do you know? – Asked at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance.
You might feel stumped reading some of these now. But there aren't really any right answers, according to Scott Dobroski, a spokesman for Glassdoor.
"They don't necessarily know what they're testing," he explained, "except for your character, your work ethic and your thought process."
For question 4, for example, Dobroski walked AOL Jobs through a good answer: "My mother is an average American woman, and this is how much my mother spends on a haircut. Then think how many times a month she gets a haircut, and then you'd look up how many women there are in America."
When answering these kinds of questions, Dobroski thinks it's important to know what your "core message" is: who you are and what you have to offer.
For question 5, you might answer Lady Gaga if you're applying for an internship in the music industry. "She's hip, she's relevant, she writes her own stuff," Dobroski said. "You want to relate it back to the job you're applying for."
In an interview with a financial firm, however, saying Lady Gaga might be less impressive, unless you explain your admiration for her business prowess.
Applicants should try to spin these open-ended questions to showcase their critical thinking, leadership and communication skills, Dobroski added, sprinkled with anecdotes when possible.
If you were asked question 10 in an interview for a communications position, you could tell your interviewer how many people you know in the city, as well as the number of contacts you have online, describing your fluency with various social networks.
You can also show your moral fiber.
Question 2 was asked by leading consulting firm, so in that case you want to give "a decent response about how someone could rob a bank, and acknowledge that everyone's thought about it," Dobroski explained. "But you could also give an answer about how you would prevent it. Because that [robbing a bank] would be really bad. You want to acknowledge that you don't want to promote that."
And while there may be no right answers, there are some wrong ones.
For the AOL screen name question, anything "rude, crude, or embarrassing," can be a deal-breaker. "Well, a little embarrassing is OK," Dobroski clarified. "It shows you have personality. It shows that you're human."
In general, applicants will be able to handle these questions if they're prepared for the interview. Dobroski advises applicants to research the company thoroughly beforehand, reading their press releases, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, and news coverage of both that firm and its competitors.
And when you're sweating in the waiting room, just breathe deep, he says, and think to yourself: Who am I? And what do I have to offer them?
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