Snappy answers to freaky job-interview questions

Discuss

108 Responses to “Snappy answers to freaky job-interview questions”

  1. rebdav says:

    Yclept,
    If you actually analyze the answers to the puzzle problems then you are in a minority and are to be congratulated. Most people have the HR binder or canned interview kit and may have been introduced between boozing and flirting at a paid convention or learning retreat, they at best try to fit them into the multiple choice boxes if they even go that far..
    I can say very anecdotally that I usually had at least a two week window of fear/respect that was sometimes useful but mostly problematic if I took an interview on a day I did not feel like smiling or bantering, not scientific but seemed to follow a pattern of how I made the first impression with the candidate.
    If clever question works as as an intelligence or creativity test great but it takes an interviewer good enough to analyze the best answers, I can even concede there is also something to the concept that you want to see your candidate under stress, if the manager/HR rep can actually assess that.

  2. penguinchris says:

    I don’t mind the puzzles if it’s appropriate to the job, but interview questions in general I greatly dislike. Even relatively benign ones. I’ve been unemployed for well over a year.

    I recently had a phone interview (which did not lead to an actual interview) and they asked, for example, what initially got me interested in geology, and what specific aspects of geology I’m interested in.

    I understand that the answers to these questions could potentially be revealing about the candidate, but there’s only really one way to answer correctly, and that’s to lie about it. Many people go into geology for the money, but you can’t say that; I’m in it because I’m genuinely interested in the science and want to go back into academic research when possible but you can’t really say that if you’re interviewing for an industry job because it’s obvious you’re not going to stick around very long.

    Next, the aspects of geology I’m interested in are not the things I’d be doing at that job – very few people are particularly interested in those things, but it’s a very common job in the field. So you can’t say what you’re actually interested in, but if you say you are interested in what the job entails, you’re probably lying.

    FWIW I gave completely honest answers. In my mind, what my interest level is in that particular aspect of geology is completely irrelevant to my ability to perform the job functions well. To rule people out based on their answers to such questions is ridiculous.

    “I’ve never had a job, because I’ve never wanted one”

  3. Lauranne says:

    > So, why’d you get fired?

    I agree with rebdav and knoxblox- questions like that are a Milgram experiment. If I thought the person who asked them was going to have any day-to-day control over my working environment, I’d walk out the door that second.

    (And for my answer to your questions: Have worked for the same company for 14 years- there are no cubicles, we wear what we personally think is professional, and jeez- torrents, are you kidding? Don’t you want to work in an atmosphere of mutual respect?)

    • knoxblox says:

      Yeah, that response sounded quite sheeple to me as well. You know who you’re dealing with when someone’s first assumption is to think the worst of you, with no evidence to the contrary.

      I remember the interview where my particular question was more offensive than ridiculous. I happen to have a degree in English, and was asked rather pointedly why I wanted to write instead of teach. I know in print the question doesn’t seem to carry any sting, but the context and tone in which it was asked made it perfectly clear that she was judging me.

      @awjtawjt: “Somewhere else.”

      Actually, the interviewer (who later became my supervisor), told me that was the response that led him to hire me. Of course, I hadn’t put it so succinctly. In essence, he explained that that it was because I was actively and flexibly thinking about my future.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Having gone through 2 interviews with questions like this, I refuse to do anymore of them.

    It shows nothing about whether the person is capable of doing their job, can interact with people, and is honest.

    Why not through a math question related to the job?

    I would freak out around the interviewer if they brought up the subject of guns. It would kill (hah!) the interview if you as an interviewee asked a gun question, even as a hypothetical.

    Even the toy question is stupid. What if you grew up poor? What if your favourite toy was a ball for 5 years because you liked football, but are a girl. Choosing someone’s suitability for a job on a creative or standard answer for a toy signifies nothing.

    If it’s a skill testing question, are you really going to rely on someone as a psychopath who can crib the notes from the previous interviewees. If it’s an interview, do you really expect people to switch from being a civil person with high social skills to a math wonk?

    After the second interview, I just ended it. As an interviewee, you hope to get the job….but you have to think too, when you start interviewing people for said companies, do you really want to see people squirm for stupid answers on what their favourite toy is?

    It’s disgusting. Another reason why google actually circumvents it’s own HR rules to get the right candidates, if the manager wants them.

    • blurgh says:

      “If it’s an interview, do you really expect people to switch from being a civil person with high social skills to a math wonk?”

      Sometimes the idea is to find a math wonk who’s civil, with high social skills.

  5. Eric Danielson says:

    For Jane Street: The smallest number consisting of all 1′s and 0′s that’s divisible by 255 is either 0 or negative infinity. It’s not Evenly divisible, but that wasn’t specified, and these questions seem to exist to test the candidate’s ability to put up with pedantic jackassery.

  6. chgoliz says:

    So if one didn’t play with toys as a child, does that mean they cannot get a job?

  7. bcsizemo says:

    No, no, people. You have to play their game.

    So much BS. Ask me a question which has little relevance on my potential job and I’ll do my best to answer it, but don’t expect me to pull sunshine out of my ass. I don’t like HR, I have an engineering background, things are more logical than this.

    Playing mind games with someone is nice and all, but asking them questions that are irrelevant to their future job is just adding pressure to an already stressed situation. (And that might be alright if you are going for a high pressure job, but a lot of these things are becoming more common. Just like that artist closed caption thing you had up earlier.)

  8. Hippotomax says:

    VWR International asks “How would you market a telescope in 1750 when no one knows about orbits, moons etc.”

    This one is easy. I’d tell them I wouldn’t want to work for a company that wasn’t able to use Google to find out that orbits and moons were both discovered in the early 17th century.

    • CH says:

      That was also what I thought when I saw that question. No way could the person who came up with that question have known anything about the history of science, or well… history at all! So, no way I would work for a company like that, if nothing else than for the reason that I would have to go and make them scrap that question for being totally stupid and ruining the reputation of the company. Yeah, I suffer from a bad case of “somebody is wrong!” (http://xkcd.com/386/).

      But most of all, an interview is not only the employer interviewing a potential employee. It’s also the other way around. Make stupid questions and the people you _really_ would want to hire are most probably going to go somewhere else.

  9. tangledstrands says:

    I find this subject fascinating. A few years ago I read a book called “How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?” (http://www.amazon.com/How-Would-Move-Mount-Fuji/dp/0316778494/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1309107725&sr=8-1) It was full of these types of interview questions.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Crazyness. When I go into an interview where they ask questions like that I:
    1. Lie/tell them what I think they want to hear
    2. Plan for the next job should I get this one
    3. loathe myself for being in this position
    4. try to remember what bs answers I culled from
    sites/books that exist for these things
    5. wonder if there’s some other place/field of work
    (non-IT)/world where they ask questions in a
    sincere, direct, respectful way.

    Once got the question – “Who’s your hero?”
    “Ghandi.” I responded
    “Why?”
    “I admire him cause he helped people.”

    Then the guy started writing something down on
    his notebook. I imagined him and the other interrogators
    laughing at this answer later on, as they sneered
    at my poor sql and C# skills.

    That was Frontier airlines in Denver. I didn’t get the
    job and I’ve been rooting against the company ever since.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Q.What is the smallest number divisible by 225 that consists of all 1’s and 0’s?

    A.111000001 Which is 225 written in binary. 225 is divisible by itself. No number smaller than 225 is divisible by 225. 11100001 is a way of representing 225 in all 1′s an 0′s. Therefore 11100001 is the smallest number divisible by 225 that consists of all 1′s and 0′s.

  12. glevryl says:

    1. Who do you consider the most influential person in history?

    I played the James Burke card on this one, saying that context is everything, and it would impossible to name just one person since history is a vast web of connections, but if pressed I’d have to point to the person who invented the plowshare.

    2. In what ways are you inferior to this person?
    I have not invented anything profoundly world-changing.

    3. In what way are you superior to this person?
    I’m not dead.

  13. Aloisius says:

    Google: You are climbing a staircase. Each time you can either take one step or two. The staircase has n steps. In how many distinct ways can you climb the staircase?

    Clearly the answer is 1. You climb the stairs the same way if you take them one step at a time or two steps, by placing one foot in front of the other.

  14. Raj77 says:

    Interviews are a really terrible predictor for job performance (there are studies indicating that it’s actually worse than random as a selection process). However, they’re really good for employers who want to assure themselves that they can objectively select between applicants.

    The best procedure would be psychometric testing, followed by an informal interview that acknowledges its inherent subjectivity, so you can tell if the applicant doesn’t wash.

    • blurgh says:

      “Interviews are a really terrible predictor for job performance (there are studies indicating that it’s actually worse than random as a selection process).”

      Do you have some citations you could share? That’d be helpful to understand the issue in a little more depth.

      The nearest research I could find to the results you quote is ‘Validity and Utility of Alternative Predictors Of Job Performance’ by Hunter & Hunter, which is not at all focused on the kinds of high-end office jobs that at least some of the questions are obviously aimed at.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Are people really looking for signs of societies downfall and sinister agendas by the man to keep you down behind questions that basically exist to try and distinguish you from a group of people who all have the exact same qualifications and ceritifications as you?

    The dark and terrible secret of the interview process is that by the time you’re there, they already know what you can do and have weeded out the people who can’t do what the position requires. At this point, they’re testing to see what makes you different from the other beard men and whether you can do the parts of the job that are the reason you’re not being replaced by a computer. Like…basic lateral thinking, the ability to come up with thoughtful response on the fly and not being a smug, self-important douche.

    • Gyrofrog says:

      Hold on, are you telling me that there are workplaces where “being a smug, self-important douche” is an actual disqualifier?

      I call bullshit, but then I’ve only been in the workforce for 25 years, so I can’t say I’ve seen everything.

  16. Jack says:

    You know what the “best” interview question in 2011 is? “Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years?” Back in the 1980s, that question made sense because companies wanted to make sure that they would be investing in a long term employee. But nowadays if you have been in the same place for 3 years, you are considered a “long time employee” and if you have been there for 5 years, something is weird.

    Job security doesn’t exist anymore and B.S. questions like that are still being asked. Nonsense x10.

  17. Aleknevicus says:

    The Goldman Sachs question is too straightforward:

    Suppose you had eight identical balls. One of them is slightly heavier and you are given a balance scale. What’s the fewest number of times you have to use the scale to find the heavier ball?

    A more interesting version states that one of the balls is a slightly different weight, but you don’t know if it’s heavier or lighter than the others.

    • Jack says:

      The fewest number would be three correct? Split the 8 balls into two 4 ball lots, put them on the scale. Then see which side is heavier. Make note of that. Then remove one ball from each side so 3 remain on the scale. If you are lucky, when you remove those two balls, the scales would be evened out. Then you remove all balls from the scale, and put the two balls you removed back on the scale. You should then be able to figure out which is heavier in a second at that point.

      • Aleknevicus says:

        The answer is indeed three, but your method is incorrect. What if you don’t get lucky on your second weighing? It will then take you more than three uses of the scale to determine the heavier ball.

        • Jack says:

          Okay, you are right. But I was legally interpreting your description of “least” ;)

          First put 4 balls on each side of the scale. Then note which lot is heavier.

          Then take 2 balls from each side, make note of them and swap them to the other side. And note which scale side is heavier. If the side that was previously heavier is no longer heavier, one can conclude that the two balls swapped contain the heavier balls. So clear off the scale, take the two balls moved onto the heavier scale, put one on each side and then yo’ll know which is heavier.

          And the other path is if you swap the balls and the same side is as heavy as it was before, take the two balls not swapped from the heavy side, clear off the scales and weigh the balls against each other.

          NOW I WIN!

          • shadowfirebird says:

            Nope.

            Split the balls into two equal lots and weigh the lots against each other. The heavier lot has the heavier ball in it. Rinse and repeat.

            8-4-2. Three weighings.

          • Jack says:

            Yeah, but you didn’t find the heavier ball. Or is the concept to encourage fuzzy logic loved by investors to skip the two extra steps so that the general bet hedges in one’s favor, thus decimating the economy.

            I WIN!

          • shadowfirebird says:

            I did, in fact, find the heavier ball.

            1) 4 balls v 4
            2) 2 v 2
            3) 1 v 1

            The Anon who does it in two beats me, though. Nice one.

          • Aleknevicus says:

            Yes, your method works (although I think it’s a little convoluted). A cleaner method is:

            1. Split the balls into two groups of four and put them on either side of the scale.
            2. Take the heavier group from step 1 and split it into two pairs and put them on either side of the scale.
            3. Take the heavier pair from step 2 and put one ball on either side of the scale.

            This solves the boring version of the problem.

            The more interesting question is what to do if you don’t know whether the odd ball out is slightly heavier or slightly lighter than all the others. (hint: the answer is also three uses of the scale.)

          • Anonymous says:

            If you don’t know whether the odd ball is lighter or heavier:

            Say the balls are A-H.

            Weigh ABC against DEF (1st weighing). If they weigh the same, weigh A against G (2nd weighing). If A weighs the same as G, G is the odd ball; otherwise H is. If ABC and DEF have different weights, take the heaviest set (say it’s ABC) and weigh AB against CG (2nd weighing). If CG is heavier, C is the odd ball. If AB is heavier, weigh A against B (3rd weighing) and the heaviest is the odd ball. If AB weighs the same as CG, weigh D against E (3rd weighing); the odd ball is the lighter of the two, or F if they weigh the same.

            So, yeah, you can do that in 3.

          • Aleknevicus says:

            Anon @ #90: That looks good although I think you made a mistake in paragraph 3, sentence 3.

            My method was a little different:

            1) Place two balls on each side of the scale. If they weigh the same, set all four aside. Otherwise, set the other four (the ones you didn’t weigh) aside.

            2) Place one ball on each side of the scale. If they weigh the same, set both aside. Otherwise set the other two (the ones you didn’t weigh this time) aside.

            3) Label the final two balls A & B. Place A on one side of the scale and any of the four balls set aside in step 1 on the other side. If they weigh differently, A is the odd ball. If they weigh the same, B is the odd ball.

          • Anonymous says:

            Oops! That is so much easier. I think I got the answer for 6 balls in 2 weighings though. And yes, that should read, “If A weighs the same as G, H is the odd ball; otherwise G is”.

        • Anonymous says:

          Can’t you do it in 2 comparisons?

          Put 3 balls on each side, leave the last 2 off.

          If the sides balance, compare the last 2 balls to get the heaviest.

          If the sides do not balance, take the balls from the heavier side, put one on each side, and leave the last off. Either one side will be heavier, which gives the heaviest ball, or they will be the same, in which case the heaviest ball is the one you left off.

  18. Ignatz says:

    Somebody once asked me “Where do you see yourself in five years?” in an interview. My answer: “Sitting at your desk, doing your job.”

    I guess he liked the answer, because I got the position. I quit a month later because the job sucked, but oh well.

  19. shadowfirebird says:

    Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
    A: My inability to accept myself as I am.

    – Milton Jones (I think).

  20. Anonymous says:

    http://xkcd.com/169/

    same principle applies.

  21. Anonymous says:

    You can do it in two weighings. Set any two balls aside, weigh the remaining six, three to a side.
    If they are the same, one of the two set aside is your heavy one. Compare them to find which one.
    If one of the groups of three is heavier, take those three, set one aside, and compare the other two. If one is heavier, there you go. If they are the same, the one you set aside is the heaviest.

  22. JustOk says:

    If you were a giant duck, how would you tie your shoes?

  23. rebdav says:

    These douchey Q&A things in interviews are not to get an answer but to establish right from the start that the employer will sometimes expect unreasonable things from you and you had better be comfortable bending over without any lube. This is pretty much the same reason for POW interrogation especially at the start, nobody wants the secrets most of the time, but to break the prisoner so they become easily manageable is useful.

    HR at its highest form is about getting the employee to do things you can’t legally demand while concurrently keeping them from cracking and harming the corporation thus increasing the next quarters share value and exec payouts.

    • Victor Drath says:

      Nice theory, I like that, like that a lot.

      All these HR questions here are baffling, but are actually kinda tame compared to some of the rude and highly inappropriate things I’ve been ask.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree with you on some of these, but others are designed to test problem solving or divergent thinking.

      For example, Google clearly wants people who can do math. Asking people “Can you do math?” will not give you an accurate read on whether or not people can do math. (People who know what they’re talking about tend to underestimate their skills, and people with only a glancing knowledge tend to overestimate theirs. Plus, people lie in interviews sometimes.) The horse race question, the table question, and the ball question are all designed to test knowledge of algorithms.

      “What did you play with as a child?” is a secret way of asking how creative you are–did you just play with dolls and trucks in the prescribed fashion or did you create a custom racetrack out of mud and sticks and create parachutes and drop Barbies out of windows to see what could hold them aloft? Once again, ask someone how creative they are, you are not guaranteed to get an accurate self-assessment.

      But yeah, asking people what their strategy at table tennis is is just dumb.

    • toffer99 says:

      Most lucid, concise and useful comment I’ve seen anywhere in weeks. Thanks.

    • knoxblox says:

      I agree with your conclusion.

      However, I also believe that IN ADDITION to establishing expectations for the interviewee, that the process also establishes expectations for the interviewer. Sort of like HR’s version of the Milgram experiment.

  24. Antinous / Moderator says:

    I give you a good quality barometer. How could you use it to tell me the height of a building?

    My cousin told me that joke. In 1963. I think it came from Reader’s Digest.

  25. Anonymous says:

    You’re a Genie? How’s that working out for ya?

  26. shadowfirebird says:

    Q: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
    A: My inability to accept myself as I am.

    – Milton Jones (I think).

  27. EliZ says:

    One of those, the Russian Roulette question, is actually a classic problem.

    “If we’re playing Russian roulette and I pull the trigger and [am not blown away] would you rather point the gun at yourself and pull the trigger or spin the chamber, point the gun at yourself and pull the trigger.”

    This is really important common sense. If anyone reading this is ever in that situation please remember: Just pulling the trigger means you have a one in five chance of spreading gray matter across the audience. Spinning the chamber slightly lessens the peril to one in six. SPIN THE CHAMBER. More important, though? If you find yourself playing Russian roulette please reconsider your life choices.

  28. blurgh says:

    If you read through the list, they’re mostly straightforward puzzles, with a few other kinds of obvious interview questions.

    (Or perhaps it’s a magic Illuminati conspiracy to enslave the masses.)

    • Anonymous says:

      We’re already enslaved. You haven’t been paying attention.

    • jtegnell says:

      “If you read through the list, they’re mostly straightforward puzzles”

      I count 6 out of 19 being staightforward puzzles, and two others perhaps being puzzles, in that there is a correct answer, but are essentially unknowable (cocktail umbrella and planes).

      Most of them are just idiotic, intended to be some kind of Rorschach test.

      • blurgh says:

        Er, you’re entirely right! I read the page, obviously spent a lot more time on the questions that interested me, and it felt like they made up the majority of the page.

        Having said that, the majority of questions do have clear motivations beyond ‘be a strange and confusing question’. (Even if there’s no one clear answer)

        I guess the remaining 4 or 5 questions could also be perfectly sensible, in ways I don’t understand, just as others in the thread have failed to recognise some of the puzzles.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Two weighings:

    First weighing: 3 vs 3.

    If one side is heavier, then the ball is one of those three. Weigh one of them against each other. If the balance tips, it’s that ball; if it doesn’t, it’s the third ball.

    If, in the first weighing, both sides balance, weigh the two initially unweighed balls against each other, and one will be heavier.

  30. Moriarty says:

    These are weak. All job interviews should be like this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zP0sqRMzkwo

  31. bjacques says:

    My favorite’s always been “drop it off the building and count the seconds until it hits: (32 (or 9.8) / 2) * t^2.

    If a good job offer is at stake, the barometer is expendable.

  32. Anonymous says:

    To be perfectly honest, these are pretty easy. Many are straightforward combinatorics. To the readers who saw the original list, they may seem freaky only because they are seen completely out of context. A Goldman Sachs quant would want to know about the binary search algorithm, for example. The Citigroup Russian Roulette question is designed, essentially, to either test if you’re really good at combinatorics or, more likely, that you’ve heard of the Monty Hall problem.

    There are better weird interview questions here:

    http://www.glassdoor.com/blog/top-25-oddball-interview-questions-2010/

  33. Anonymous says:

    The one that asks what the interviewee played with as a child is actually a very interesting and potentially very revealing and helpful one. It’s the question still used by guidance counselors in order to help students decide what they want to be when they grow up.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think the one about childhood play may be problematic in terms of the long-lasting effects of sexism. Most “boy” toys are puzzles. Most girl toys are dolls. If you want a way to only offer jobs to men without seeming to discriminate, you can make it look like they were smarter children.

      • CastanhasDoPara says:

        ‘Most “boy” toys are puzzles. Most girl toys are dolls.’

        I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you on this one. For starters ‘boy’ oriented ‘action figures’ are dolls and sports oriented items such as balls are really only tangentially usable for puzzling. Secondly, ‘girls’ dolls (while originally a device used to teach gender rolls sort of like the easy bake oven) may seem sexist but a lot of that comes down to how the toy is used, much like any tool. To that point I would have to say it’s pretty bold and also untenable to state that girls ONLY get to play with dolls. While this may be true in some cases it is certainly not the rule. If your focus was on say boys playing with Lego (which includes little dolls) then this concept is also dependent upon how the toy is played with. I am certain that young girls like to play with Lego and while their style of play may differ from that of boys (making structures to enhance their imagined ‘dolls’ lives whereas boys seem to tend to make structures just to demolish and of course neither of these two descriptions are a totality but represent extremes available on the spectrum much like any other sort of play that children engage in) the activity is at a basic level the same in that it teaches fine motor skills, planning, simulation, design and a lot of other gender non-specific skills.

        I would also like to point out that there are a plethora of unisex toys like slinky, etch-a-sketch, board-games, play-doh, jigsaw puzzles, many video games, etc. etc.

        Also, playing with dolls seems to get a bad rap because the feminist slap this ‘sexist’ label on them and harp on about it like dolls are little parasites given to little girls to teach them nothing more than how to be a mommy. Think about it this way, dolls are a way of playing the greatest puzzle on Earth, that being the puzzle of human nature and interaction. In fact the world might be a better place if more boys played with dolls out side of the context of G.I. Joe ripping the thumbs off of the other dolls… oops I mean ‘action figures’.

        Most likely the proper target for your statement should be the marketing of toys because that is often extremely sexist and that is what perpetuates the ideal that some toys are for boys and some are for girls.
        ________________________________________
        OT, ‘Estimate how many planes there are in the sky.’ What the hell is that question supposed to illuminate? I guess I could pull out the bizzaro answer and say ‘infinitely many’ assuming that the sky can be an infinite series of Riemann spheres that are bounded but infinite.

        ‘How many cocktail umbrellas are there in a given time in the United States?’ That’s pretty vague too.

  34. PaulR says:

    Suppose you had eight identical balls. One of them is slightly heavier and you are given a balance scale.

    My answer: “Er, if the balls are identical, none of them is slightly heavier. You see, Mr. Interviewer, I actually listen to the questions…”

    Five guys, all of different ages, enter a bar and take a seat at a round table. What is the probability that they are seated in ascending order of age?

    Er, two answers:
    Zero – Since it’s a round table, even if you seat them in order yourself, the oldest will be sitting next to the youngest. These two will not be in ascending order of age. As well, they’ll be in descending order of age if you check it in the wrong direction. (People write stuff, but don’t read what they write…)

    One – I ran out of UBS’ office (do you really think I’d work for THOSE quys?) but I kept the revolver. I craddle the revolver by my check, lovingly stroke it, and while I stare at them wild-eyed, say: “OK, all of you SIT DOWN in ascending order by age. If I find any of you out of position, you get the bullet. Capiche?”

    You are climbing a staircase. Each time you can either take one step or two. The staircase has n steps. In how many distinct ways can you climb the staircase?

    Er, two? “Each time..” Each time I climb the staircase, or each time I take a step? Do I need to include all the steps to the staircase?

    If I was a genie and could give you your dream job, what and where would it be?
    Oblig XKCD reference: http://xkcd.com/748/
    Now available full 3D: http://xk3d.xkcd.com/748/ (Use Cory’s goggles for the full 3D-effect.)

    The Morning News’ Facebook answer would find the horse with the greatest stamina, not necessarily the fastest. I’d put the starting gate at the edge of a cliff. The fastest horse would be the one with the worst vision.

    Better job-interview question: I give you a good quality barometer. How could you use it to tell me the height of a building? Give me AT LEAST three different answers.

    • Gloster says:

      The classical answer is: “I’d go to the buildings architect and tell him: I have this nice, high-quality expensive barometer I’m willing to exchange for a vital piece of information you possess.”

      • PaulR says:

        If you’re from Glascow, you say:
        “Listen, you bawbag, if you don’t tell me how tall that building is, yer gettin a dose o the malkies afff this barometer, and I’ll toss ya into the Clyde.”

        Or:
        On a sunny day, you stand the barometer up on the ground, and measure the length of its shadow….

    • Xof says:

      The biggest problem with the barometer question is that the three canonical answers are pretty much part of the culture, now.

      • PaulR says:

        Then you ask for at least six ways.

        1) S = 1/2AT^2;
        2) Ask the owner nicely;
        3) Threaten the owner;
        4) Shadows of barometer and building;
        5) Tie a string, measure the string;
        6) Build a scafolding around the building, measure the length of the barometer, count how many barometer lengths there are;
        7) Sell the barometer, buy a tape measure;
        8) ??

        It’s a great drinking game.

        • jimh says:

          Take barometer to the roof, drop it off, timing its fall.
          Work equation d=1/2gt² where g=9.8 m/s².
          Unless the building is very tall where wind resistance would severely affect results? Destroying the barometer is part of the elegance of this solution imo.

        • Antinous / Moderator says:

          The original punch line is that you find the building manager and say, “Hey, I’ll give you this nice barometer if you tell me how tall this building is.”

    • jonandmoni says:

      Didn’t Munro use a mercury barometer to test the pressure differences at the top of a mountain and thus calibrate its height? Of course, it would be easier with a building with vertical sides for the layman to tie a string to it and measure its length or drop it and time its descent. I’m leaving it to you to decide whether the list is in decreasing levels of accuracy or increasing levels of awesomeness.

  35. Anonymous says:

    I remember an incident last year when someone leaked the desirable answers to a psychometric interview exam on the web. After reading the preferred answers, I came to the conclusion that I am unemployable, because I am still sane.

  36. BrainFatigue says:

    What metrics does HR use to evaluate its success? How do we know we are getting better quality employees than if we just hired them without HR? Is there any actual evidence to back up the use of the standard BS HR questions(“What’s your greatest weakness”), specially considering most potential employees prepare standard BS responses?

    -My HR guy told me they ask these off the wall questions to test your ability to adapt to surprises. I was in an oral board interview for an upper level IT position(I got it) and they asked what I had in my fridge at home. Personally I’m not sure if your ability to dynamically compose BS responses to BS questions transfers to ability to resolve technical issues.

  37. jtegnell says:

    I only count 19 questions.

  38. Resuna says:

    If someone asked me how I would “market a telescope in 1750 when no one knows about orbits, moons etc.” I don’t know what I’d say, because asking them if they knew when they thought Galileo or Kepler lived would probably not be productive. They probably think the 1600s were the dark ages.

    • Anonymous says:

      “If someone asked me how I would ‘market a telescope in 1750 when no one knows about orbits, moons etc.’

      Spot on! Although Galileo knew that before 1750. What was his reward?

    • Anonymous says:

      “If someone asked me how I would “market a telescope in 1750 when no one knows about orbits, moons etc.”

      That comment annoys the hell out of me. So basically, what you’re saying is how can I make money from a switched on guy who was well ahead of his time?

      Just shows what a greedy culture we have become when your interest is only “how much money can I make”, as opposed to Galileo doing his research in the name of knowledge and understanding for all mankind, despite the consequences he suffered as a result.

  39. Anonymous says:

    They are mostly there to see if you’re capable of basic lateral thinking and are not a complete jackass.

    You can object to them but it’s not really some bizarre kafkaesque torment heaped on you by the dread powers of HR. There’s honestly not much difference between comp sci guy A and comp sci guy B at the end of the day once you’re at the face to face stage. They know you’re qualified at that point. So they have to do something and short of some sort of Linux Beard measuring contest, they’re gonna ask you about the goddamn genie.

  40. knappa says:

    For Jane Street: What is the smallest number divisible by 225 that consists of all 1’s and 0’s?

    To get rid of 5′s you have to multiply by 4. This gives us 900. Now, since 10 mod 9 = 1, a number is divisible by 9 exactly when the sum of the digits is equal to 9. Then the smallest multiple of 9 with only 1′s and 0′s is 111111111. Thus the answer is 11111111100.

    For Google: Let f_n be the desired number for a length n staircase. Then f_n = f_{n-1} + f_{n-2} since the last stair could have been traversed by either a length 2 jump or a length 1-jump and each such possibility is distinct. Clearly f_1 = 1 and f_2 = 2. Thus f_n is the n-1′st Fibonacci number.

    • Anonymous says:

      Or you could be snarky and give an answer in an arbitrary base. 225 / 1 = 11100001 in base 2. Multiply that by an integer N and you still get a number consisting of 1 and 0 in base 2.

    • Anonymous says:

      Or.. 225 itself written in base 2 consists of only 1′s and 0′s

    • knappa says:

      Whoops, I mean the n’th Fibonacci number.

      • Anonymous says:

        You mean the n+1th or n+2th, depending on whether you start the sequence at 0,1 or 1,1.
        Or nth, if you start at 1,2.
        Or n-1th, if you (bizzarely) choose to start at 2,3

    • Anonymous says:

      It was my understanding that this was a thinly veiled “Do you know binary” question – 225 would be 11100001

      • knappa says:

        I suppose that it could be, but binary isn’t exactly exotic, specialized knowledge anymore. When I was in college, I did some tutoring for kids in an alternative-to-prison program. These kids learned about binary from both me and their teacher. It seems (to me, anyway) like Google’s process would have already excluded someone who didn’t know about binary.

  41. Zoman says:

    Screw the “snappy” interview answer. Give the tossers a snappy rejection letter reply. Here’s the last one I sent out :

    Dear Claire,

    Thank you for your rejection email. As you can imagine, I was a little nervous that my application would be successful. Advising thumb-less troglodytes on how to select horoscope jingles is a torture that is banned in most countries under the Geneva Convention. Your brief cut & paste dismissal was most welcome.

    As for the “candidates more suitable for this position”, I’m sure Swansea is a hot bed of gifted individuals that would simply laugh at my 10 years of experience in the telecommunication support industry. Starry eyed school leavers who’s sticky fingers eagerly clench several GCSE’s in finger painting and advanced crayon are probably eminently more suited to the role. When I look at my track record of 100,000+ IT support calls, including ***** and ***** contract work, I realise your astutely made HR decision was of course the correct one.

    Thank you again.

    Kind Regards,
    *****

  42. yclept says:

    I have interviewed and hired hundreds of people over the last 20 years. I will tell you that what some people describe as “douchey” I would describe as clever, thought provoking, and potentially insightful. I’ll also tell you that the best predictor of future success in working for me is being able to handle some tough questions in an interview. Plus, it makes for good anecdotes. I won’t reveal my favorite question, but I will reveal I also like to have interviewees write a haiku about the interview process too.

  43. Anonymous says:

    How about engineers call the shots and ask questions that actually really matter?

    As you’ve probably guessed, I don’t really have much regard for recruitment staff when they ask non-sensicle questions like this.

    To be honest, my answers to most of their questions would something along the lines “Is that something that’s important to you”, whilst quietly thinking why should I answer such dumb questions from someone who doesn’t even know what the job involves. And lets face it, recruitment staff have a skill that anyone could do.

  44. futnuh says:

    Our company asks the following, “What is the approximate age of the earth?” Also, “Name three reasons why the Americans could *not* possibly have put a man on the moon …” These have absolutely nothing to do with one’s technical ability to — in our case — write software. And everything to do with the type of people I want to spend 8 hours a day working alongside.

    • Anonymous says:

      “What is the approximate age of the earth?” Also, “Name three reasons why the Americans could *not* possibly have put a man on the moon…”

      They will be giving tarot readings next.

  45. Anonymous says:

    My favorite is “What would one of your weaknesses be?” .. to which i answer, “brevity”…

  46. mentsaortae says:

    You ‘Merkins and your wacky interviews. How about just reading the CV (resume), ask some questions about how the interviewee would handle some situations relevant to the job and check references?

    I blame the inexorable rise of HR bullshit for this nonsense but that’s no excuse for anyone taking it seriously.

    Hey, who moved my cheese?

    • blurgh says:

      “How about just reading the CV (resume), ask some questions about how the interviewee would handle some situations relevant to the job and check references?”

      What kind of questions would you ask for a job where the role consisted of mathematical R&D? Where the common task was to have some person give you an underspecified (but presumably useful) idea, and have you formalise it mathematically and then solve it, in tight time constraints?

      Obviously thinly-veiled combinatorics questions are complete BS for a job in quantitative finance or other algorithm-heavy roles.

      Either that or you should avoid applying for jobs when you don’t understand why the questions are relevant.

  47. knoxblox says:

    There’s too much dialogue to deal with here in a post, but suddenly I’m reminded of a conversation between Holden and Leon.

  48. kairo says:

    On the Jane Street Capital question, since they didn’t specify that the number had to be written in Arabic notation, I’m going to say:

    11100001

    • knappa says:

      If you toss base 10 then you could also say “10″ in base 225.

      • SamSam says:

        Also, if you work in binary, couldn’t you just say 225 in binary? 11100001/1 is 225 in binary.

        Heights around table: if they were in a line, 1 out of 5!. Since the first person can sit in any of five places, 1 out of 4!. If they can go in either direction (I don’t think they can, since it specifies ascending), 2 out of 4!. Yes?

        • danegeld says:

          Heights around table: there are 5! = 5*4*3*2*1 = 120 ways of arranging people around the table
          of that, there are two ways of being in age order, clockwise or anti clockwise, and five places you could seat the oldest person, so, 10 combinations would be in age order.
          then 5*4*3*2*1 / 5*2 = 4*3 = 12, so I reckon it’s 1 in 12 times that you would find them in age order.

  49. HeatherB says:

    If you know your history you can describe Hershey as a real person because he was.

  50. awjtawjt says:

    “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

    “Somewhere else.”

  51. PaulR says:

    Lie on the ground, put the barometer in front you you. Check if the barometer appears as tall as the building. Reposition yourself if it isn’t. Work out the height by similar triangles.

    This might involve calculus.

  52. annapaxis says:

    I did a first-pass phone interview for a part-time job a couple of weeks ago. The guy kept asking why I didn’t have a full-time job. He seemed kind of freaked out about it, even though I have two part-time positions that keep me pretty busy (and anyway, there are very few full-time positions in my field.)

    But he kept circling back to the question. He must have asked me this four or five times, like he was really bothered by it. And when I told him exactly how busy my “part-time” jobs kept me, he acted bothered by that! “How are you going to take this part-time job if your other jobs keep you so busy?” Facepalm. I mean really dude, get it straight. You have to ask me why I am piecing together part-time positions, when that is what you are offering?

    Anyway, I got the job, part-time of course.

  53. jacques45 says:

    Hershey: Joe the Plumber. Mass produced, no skills, nothing special, bland. Not even a real plumber/chocolate.

    Godiva: Paris Hilton. Decadent, expensive/wealthy due to reputation/inheritance. Unhealthy regardless of the price, and not worth the effort. Can often be found in high-end malls.

    Dove: Hmm, tough one. I’ll go with Oprah Winfrey. Marketed to women so they can stuff their faces while mindlessly watching TV. Healthy? No, but it may make you lose weight temporarily when you get sick of it. Don’t worry, it will come back.

Leave a Reply