What is half of 8?

This article was originally posted Jan. 3, 2011 by the Huntsman School Blog.

While I have been searching for jobs and doing interviews, my current boss and I have talked about his job search experience and how he conducts interviews.

When I interviewed with him, he had me perform a sort of skills test for things I would be doing for him, and I am not talking about running over to Cafe Ibis and getting him coffee.

There was a question and answer part of the interview process, but it did not seem very scripted. It was more conversational.

Come to find out, he once heard an interview question which asked the applicant what half of “8” was. I am sure that most people would say, “4.” My boss said that those people would be summarily dismissed. A “correct” answer would be something more creative, like “o” or “3” (because you cut the symbol “8” in half) or “1+1+1+1” or “the square root of 16.”

You get the idea. I recently read Glassdoor.com’s top 25 oddball interview questions of 2010, which just goes to show that a lot of companies ask questions like this.

And for some jobs, you do need people who can think outside the box. But my boss said more often than not, he just needs someone who can communicate and give him a straight answer.

And in grade school, I was taught to NOT think outside the box.

I remember in second grade, when we were learning the names of the days of the week, we had a spelling test on them. I wrote:

Mon

Tues

Wednes

Thurs

Fri

Sat

Sun

And then, in letters filling the page top to bottom, “day.”

Obviously, I knew how to spell the names of the day of the week. And I recognized there was an easier way to do it. I was thinking out of the box.

But I got a zero. I guess creative thinking only goes so far.

Stephen R. Covey, the Jon M. Huntsman Presidential Chair in Leadership, wrote a book about seeking the third alternative. I wrote a blog post about it once. In those situations, I think it is vital to think outside the box. Especially if it means I’ll get paid to move to a tropical island.

Gratefully, none of the companies I have interviewed with so far have asked any of those off-the-wall questions. They are out there, but now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

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