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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The 9 Oddest Job Interview Questions Asked at Tech Companies in 2011

I recent read an article on about the 9 oddest job interview questions asked at tech companies in 2011. Here they are:

  1. How many people are using Facebook in San Francisco at 2:30 p.m. on a Friday?
  2. If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?
  3. Given 20 ‘destructible’ light bulbs (which break at a certain height), and a building with 100 floors, how do you determine the height that the light bulbs break?
  4. How would you cure world hunger?
  5. You’re in a row boat, which is in a large tank filled with water. You have an anchor on board, which you throw overboard (the chain is long enough so the anchor rests completely on the bottom of the tank). Does the water level in the tank rise or fall?
  6. Please spell ‘diverticulitis’.
  7. You have a bouquet of flowers. All but two are roses, all but two are daisies, and all but two are tulips. How many flowers do you have?
  8. How do you feel about those jokers at Congress?
  9. If you were a Microsoft Office program, which one would you be?

I wondered how would I have answered these. 

The first one was immediately obvious to me. The answer is "all of them." Okay a little facetious but that is how I'd answer it at first. Sort of an ice-breaker. If they had a problem with that answer and moved on I'd have a bit of a problem working there. If that got a chuckle I'd see if they were looking for something else. I think I'd ask for further clarification. What is the motivation for this question? What frame of mind should someone be in to properly answer this question? Is there a specific answer you are looking for?

Number 2 seems to be a little vague for me. As a software tester, ambiguity doesn't work for me. What does "Germans were the tallest people in the world" mean? Is the combined height of all Germans greater than the combined height of all other people nations? By Germans do you mean people born in German? People who hold German citizenship? What about immigrants to Germany? What about people who hold dual citizenship? What about former Germans who immigrated to another country and no longer consider themselves German? In short, the question needs further clarification to be answered.

Number 3 is also a little vague. How accurate does the answer for each bulb have to be? Can we open a window on each floor in the building? Do we know the exact height of each window? Are we to assume all the bulbs break at the same height and there is one answer for all 20 bulbs? If this is the case and we really want to know from which floor the bulbs will break, drop one from the first floor. If it does not break, go to the second floor and repeat. When if no bulb has broken and you make it to the 20th floor, go down and collect all 20 unbroken bulbs, start again from the 21st floor. Once you find the floor the bulb breaks on, you will have used only 1 bulb. If I make it to the 100th floor and no bulb has broken. I'd have to devise some way to go above 100 floors and continue the test.

On the other hand, if the bulbs might break at different heights, I'd have to drop all of them from the first floor. then all surviving bulbs from the second floor and so on.

For number 4, if I had an answer to this I won't be sitting in the job interview at a tech company. I would be implementing my answer.

Number 5 seems like a question about displacement. A real physics question. If I am in a boat with an anchor, the boat myself and the anchor have weight. The amount of water displaced by the boat is less than the weight of myself, the boat and the anchor. If I throw the anchor overboard, the boat will rise in the water (it weighs less and displaces just as much water, therefore it will be more buoyant). However as the boat rises it will displace less water. Thus the water level will fall. The anchor dropped in the water has volume and will displace some water. This the water level will rise. The unanswered question is whether the displacement of the anchor is greater than, less than or equal to the reduced displacement of the boat. I believe the answer is equal to. So the water level in the tank will neither rise or fall.

Kind of hard to mess up number 6. This is a question which only works verbally. Since I can see the spelling it is pointless. Not sure what they are trying to test here. They like people who are good at spelling bees?

Number 7 would have to be 3 flowers. If I have 1 rose then all but two are roses (3 - 2 = 1 rose), 1 daisy then all but two are daisies (3 - 2 = 1 daisy) and 1 tulip then all but two are tulips (3 - 2 = 1 tulip).

Number 8 seems to assume I care about American politics and have an option on Congress. The question is a leading question. Personally, I'd answer it with, "I don't believe in mixing politics, religion and work. Since this is a job interview no politics or religion please."

And for number 9, I'd have to take a moment and think about it. I'd need to know myself then I'd have to relay how a Microsoft Office program could be analogous to the traits I like about myself. Outlook is good for communication, Word is probably the most popular program and good at the most jobs. Excel is great for finance, budgetting, invoicing. Powerpoint is good to convey ideas and used in presentations which inform and teach. Do we include Messenger? I think the key to this one is knowing yourself. If you can describe any Microsoft Office application as exhibiting the same traits you're probably giving a good answer. On the other hand you might want to say you could never limit yourself to one Microsoft Office program. Like the full Office solution, you do it all.

Personally, I try to avoid interview questions like these. Often the interview just thinks the answer is creative or smart and if you can get it you must be creative or smart. It does not take into account cultural differences, training background, already heard the question, etc. In other cases the interview thinks by making the question cryptic, it will be harder for the interviewee to know what the interviewer is looking for and they'll get an honest answer. Realistically, that doesn't work. If you look at research surveys, they will ask a 100 questions. Of those, 20 questions are probably related. The candidate might think they know what I'm look for on 2 or 3 of those question but the majority of the questions will give me what the honest answer to the questions are.

In the end, these are all games and statistically, employers should find a good candidate. They might not find the best candidate but they'll never know because the person they hire will be okay and possibly even great.



Dr Ajib said...

Hope I'm not intruding ! Couldn't stop myself on # 5

Given the anchor now rests on the bottom, it's relative density has to be greater than that of water. In other words, when the anchor was in the boat it displaced an amount of water equal to its mass; in water it now displaces an amount of water only equal to its volume.

Hence water level would definitely have fallen.

Eg: Anchor with a volume of 1 kg [litre] and a relative density of 7.8 [being made of steel].
In the boat the anchor is floating and therefore displaces 7.8 kg [litre] of water.
Out of the boat & sunk into the water it only displaces its volume 1 kg [litre].

NicoJuicy said...
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