“Why are manhole covers round?” Have you heard this question before? Or perhaps you may have recently asked an interviewee this question. Reason being, this question is among a multitude of offbeat interview questions popping up in Human Resource departments, staffing agencies, books on interview styling, and companies around the globe.
So why are manhole covers round? Patty Inglish, the author of “Weird and Wacky Interview Questions and Answers” published on HubPages, “This question is looking for a creative or logical answer. For instance, a square manhole cover could fall through if placed on the diagonal, but a round cover would not.”
But I’m sure there are a lot of you wondering why on Earth an interviewer would base whether or not you would be a good fit for their organization off of an answer you give to a question that has no relevance to what you’ll actually be doing there. The answer is both simple and complex at the same time.
For starters, questions like these are becoming more popular because, in a way, they can break the ice. An offbeat, wacky question might lessen the tense air within a high-pressure interview room. When you’ve been stressing out for weeks over your upcoming interview with the President of a Fortune 500 company and you step into his office only for him to ask you “Why are manhole covers round?” you may or may not be caused to chuckle.
Or you might possibly choke up and spit out “So that the round road workers who’ve been eating donuts all morning can fit through them,” like I myself answered in my most recent interview. Although my answer was not technically the “right” answer, it was exactly what Patty said an interviewer might be looking for – creative.
That’s the point in breaking the ice anyway, right? The Free Dictionary of idioms and phrases describes breaking the ice in two ways: “to start a conversation with someone you have not met before” and “to make people who have not met before feel more relaxed with each other.”
Nowadays, with people having less and less time for human interaction, it is becoming increasingly more important to set aside tension, nerves, biases, etc. to more quickly get to the root of an issue; or, to show an interviewer who you really are and why the two of you might get along well enough to become coworkers.
Another reason why interviewers are using unusual questions in the interview room is simply because they are, in fact, unusual. Meaning of course that they are not your usual interview question – you can’t prepare for them. Well, you sort of can… The first and best step would be reading Patty’s article, but imagine you hadn’t…
Questions like “You are invited to a large cocktail party at a country club. When you arrive, the room where the party is being held is already over half full of people. How do they react to you when you enter the room?” or “If you were a tree or animal what kind of tree or animal would you be?” are meant to get you thinking outside of the box. Where does your logic lie and does it align with the interviewer’s, the company’s, the industry in which you are trying to acquire a position?
In case you were still asking yourselves whether or not my complete joke of an answer to “Why are manhole covers round?” landed me the job or had the interviewer packing my bags for me, I am now the Office Manager and Staffing Specialist here at Optimum RTS and my creative answer showed my new partner that not only could I think quickly on my feet, but that I could also make jokes while still maintaining my professionalism.
Those of you gearing up for your next interview, whether you will be on one side of the table or the other, know this – the world in which we live is changing. Yes it will always be important that you have the skill for the job, but it is also becoming more and more important that you also fit into the culture of the job. Look at your personality with a critical eye and it may help you see where you really belong in the workplace.
Written by: Melanie Scherr