Surprising Questions On Your Next Job Interview

Mar 25, 2014

With the economy on the upswing and the job market getting stronger–why is it taking so much longer these days to get hired? A survey of job seekers from found that since 2009 the time it takes from application to actually hearing about whether or not you got the job –has more than doubled. It now averages 23 days.

Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with  Kara Chambers, vice president of talent strategy for The Motley Fool and Scott Dobroski, an expert on community at

“Job applicants are much more qualified now,” Chambers said. “Sometimes your second and third choices are actually also terrific.”

As a result, employers are putting job applicants through a lot more hoops — including many more interviews, often with teams of people, and many are asking strange questions which seem to have nothing to do with the actual job.

In terms of the applicant pool, Chambers says, “It’s a buffet now.”


  • Kara Chambers, vice president of talent strategy at The Motley Fool. She tweets @tmfkara.
  • Scott Dobroski, expert on community at
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And the economy has been getting better over the last several years. There's no question about that. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.7 percent from a high of 10 percent back in October of 2009. But even as things have improved, the process of finding a job has gotten harder. It's taking longer these days to go through that process, because employers are getting pickier, there are often many more job interviews required to get hired - often with teams of people - and sometimes strange questions which seem to have nothing to do with the actual job.

For more on this, we're joined by Scott Dobroski, a community expert at That's a website were jobseekers come to research jobs, and where companies recruit employees. Scott, thanks for joining us.

SCOTT DOBROSKI: Thank you for having me.

HOBSON: And we're also joined by Kara Chambers. She's vice president of talent strategy for The Motley Fool. That's a company of about 300 employees that publishes financial information online. Kara, welcome.

KARA CHAMBERS: Thank you for having me.

HOBSON: Well, Scott, let me start with you with the big picture. Your company surveyed job seekers and found that the application time has doubled since the recession began. Explain.

DOBROSKI: What we found is that the average interview process has actually increased from about 12 days in 2009 to 23 days in 2013, across all industries.

HOBSON: Wow. And why? What are they taking so long for?

DOBROSKI: Basically, it's taking longer because companies can't afford to get it wrong this day and age. They really need to separate the great talent from just the good talent. And so they've really implemented many more ways to pinpoint the best talent from just the good talent in recent years. A lot of this goes back to metrics, data-driven, a lot of testing being done, multiple interviews, group interviews, challenging interview questions and other things, too.

HOBSON: Well, and you say challenging interview questions. There are some really strange interview questions that are being asked. Give us some examples from what you found in your survey.

DOBROSKI: There are. And this part is actually really interesting to see, because it's across all industries and even job titles, junior jobs and senior jobs, as well. So, one question, for example, asked at Bed Bath and Beyond, which you can find in almost any city across America, they asked some of their employees there: If you were a box of cereal, what would you be and why? And so why they're asking...

HOBSON: Hmm. I don't know how I would answer that. I don't know why that would have any bearing on what kind of a job I could get.

DOBROSKI: Well, in this one, a really good answer would be, I'm Wheaties, because that's the breakfast of champions. And perhaps Fruit Loops, which is full of sugar and might make you a little sloggy throughout the day, that maybe would not be the best answer.

HOBSON: Well, and that's not the only question. There are some other ones here. If you were a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors?


HOBSON: Do you believe in Big Foot? Why is a tennis ball fuzzy?


HOBSON: Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer? Kara, let me bring you in. Have you ever asked one of these crazy questions to an applicant?

CHAMBERS: Well, we are The Motley Fool, so yes, we have. We don't rely on them too much. I think the purpose of a lot of those questions is to see how people think on their feet. And so we'll ask things like: What makes you foolish? How do your friends describe you? I think we try not to go too wacky, but we jump in there sometimes. And, again, it's a test to see how people think on their feet, so I can see the purpose in that, getting the candidate to loosen up a little bit. So we see that pretty often in our group, as well.

HOBSON: Well, and how long are you taking, on average, to go through the application process with the potential employee?

CHAMBERS: So, I would say it can be pretty long, for a number of reasons. The right fit is really important to us. A poor fit for a hire is a long and costly mistake, and it's not good for either side, for the candidate or us. And so we do take a while. It's probably about 60 days for us in our group, because we tend to be very selective.

HOBSON: Well, and do you feel, as an employer, that you have the upper hand still, even as the economy has gotten better and people have more choices about what they want to do when they think about what job they should have? Do you feel that you still have the upper hand?

CHAMBERS: I wouldn't say we have the upper hand. I think it's a matter of having the right fit. And what we see a lot is it's easier now than ever to apply for a job. So we get a lot of great people. And what happens is it's hard to pick the right great person, and so sometimes your second and third choices are actually also terrific. So it isn't necessarily about having the upper hand, per se, and wanting to drag out the process. I'd say, for us, we would love to shorten the process. We're trying to find ways in our group to make it more efficient, because we know it's not fun on either side to have this process be so long.

HOBSON: Well, and let me just press you there. If you say that you've got a lot of good choices and you can pick between the first, second and third choice, it does sound like it's an employer's market rather than a jobseeker's market.

CHAMBERS: Right. I would say it is still a little bit more of an employer's market, but the difference now is the immediacy. Your candidates find it very easy to apply and get in there and find out about the job and learn, and so there's a little extra work that goes into setting them apart. And cultural fit is important, as well. So that tends to be the differentiator. We like to hire for potential, because people move around a lot in their careers. So we're interviewing a lot less for experience and thinking a lot more about potential. And so that's where we start pushing each other a little bit.

HOBSON: But, Scott Dobroski, what is a jobseeker to do when they're in this situation? It can get very frustrating to sit there for weeks and weeks and not know whether a company is really interested in you or not.

DOBROSKI: I mean, it really depends whether you're an active or a passive jobseeker. And actually, sometimes employers these days are even looking for more of the passive jobseeker who are happily employed and they're doing good at their job. However, if you are the active jobseeker and you are frustrated, it's too easy this day and age to not be able to find out who that HR manager is, who the hiring manager is, who are some of the team members that you interviewed with, and even contact them.

Ask for a status update. Remind them how interested you are. Let them know that you spotted news about them and hear your thoughts in the news, or add something you didn't say on your resume or in your interview to perhaps make them remember you and put yourself above as they go through this evaluation process. However, in reality, sometimes there are things you cannot do, which is why you also need to be thinking about new opportunities and have a list of, say, five companies you're inherently interested in, stay with them, and keep applying to them, as well.

CHAMBERS: Can I add something to that, as well?

HOBSON: Yeah, sure.

CHAMBERS: So, one thing we talked about when I just talked about that second and third choice candidate, a lot of times, that person gets the next job that opens up. We've got them in mind. And so sometimes what will happen is you'll find a candidate, and you'll start developing the position as you're recruiting. You'll interview your first couple of people and realize, actually, this isn't what we're looking for. We need to go back and retweak the job.

And then we go back to people we've interviewed before and say, hey, why don't you come back? I've seen it many, many times happen, and we say - we interview or we tried really hard to decide between these two candidates, and we hire one. And then as soon as we realize there's more to do, we bring in that second person. We'll want to hire the next one. And so you might be further in than you think.

HOBSON: Well, while I have both of you, I just want to ask you finally a question that was asked at Urban Outfitters by somebody who was trying to make a hire. And the question is: You're a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why? I'll start with you, Kara.

CHAMBERS: What color would I be and why?

HOBSON: Mm-hmm.

CHAMBERS: Oh, goodness. That's a difficult one.

HOBSON: You might not get the job if you answer badly. So...

CHAMBERS: Oh, I would say bright red. That's probably my favorite color. I used to drive a bright red Mini Cooper, and that was just - I like being able to spot that car in the parking lot. So...

HOBSON: Scott, what color would you be and why?

DOBROSKI: Well, I would say that I would be bright yellow, because it catches your attention. It's shiny and new, and you just want to use it all day long and bring that attention to the skills that I have to contribute to your company.

HOBSON: I would be burnt sienna, because that's the only color I can remember from the crayon box. I don't even know, frankly, what that is.

CHAMBERS: I think I just didn't get this job. I think I just didn't get this job.


HOBSON: You're fired, Kara.



HOBSON: All right. Well, Scott Dobroski, community expert at, and Kara Chambers, vice president of talent strategy for The Motley Fool, thanks so much to both of you.

CHAMBERS: All right. Thank you so much.

DOBROSKI: Thank you.

HOBSON: And, Robin, don't think you're getting away without answering this question. What color?


I don't know, and that's exactly what I would do.


YOUNG: But I just want to say, Barbara Walters was not wrong. She was the first one to ask in interviews, if you were a tree...

HOBSON: What would you be?

YOUNG: ...what kind of tree would you be?

HOBSON: And I remember a movie answer. Somebody said: I would be a weeping willow, because I'm always sad. I think it was somebody who was pretending to be Oprah. HERE AND NOW, a production of WBUR Boston and NPR, in association with the BBC World Service. I'm Jeremy Hobson.

YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.