Silly Job Interview Ethics

What does a silly interview tell you about your prospective employer?

A website called Glassceiling.com has been collecting strange job interview questions, and Fortune has reprinted some of them, offering guidance to job interviewees who might panic when asked such questions as this one, apparently part of the Goldman Sachs interview process:

“If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?”

The trick, say the experts, is not to lose your cool. Such questions are asked, the experts explain, not to elicit a correct answer, but rather to gauge an applicant’s poise, grace, reaction to stress, creativity and humor.

I see. Well, I have some different advice. Any company who allows a job interviewer to ask such questions as….

“Given the numbers 1 to 1,000, what is the minimum number of guesses needed to find a specific number, if you are given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess you make?” — Facebook

“Explain quantum electrodynamics in two minutes, starting now.” — Intel (INTC)

“How many balloons would fit in this room?” — PricewaterhouseCoopers

“What is the philosophy of martial arts?” — Aflac

“How do you weigh an elephant without using a scale?”– IBM (IBM)

“If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?” — Amazon

“How many bricks are there in Shanghai? Consider only residential buildings.” –Deloitte Consulting

“You have five bottles of pills. One bottle has 9 gram pills, the others have 10 gram pills. You have a scale that can be used only once. How can you find out which bottle contains the 9 gram pills?” –eBay

…. has little respect for those who aspire to work for them, for they think it is appropriate to treat job applicants like lab rats. All  applicants want is a chance to be fairly judged on their  abilities and qualifications, and they should be accorded that opportunity without gimmicks, distractions and psychological games. Asking absurd questions like these to nervous interviewees trying to endure one of professional life’s most stressful and unpleasant experiences–being examined and judged by a stranger with one’s future on the line—is sadistic, as well as an abuse of power and a breach of the Golden Rule.

If you are asked such a question, relax, have a good time answering it, and then excuse yourself from the interview, saying, “I’m sorry. I was under the impression that I was applying for a position with an organization that respected serious professionals, and that would never exploit the interview process for its own amusement at the discomfort of someone who expected fair and courteous treatment. I apparently was mistaken.”

I think the use of odd interview questions is a symptom of an arrogant and essentially untrustworthy corporate culture. There may exceptions, but I don’t believe it’s worth the gamble. If the interviewer starts messing with your emotions and confidence, tell him or her to cut it out, or better yet, leave.

I wish I had that speech ready when I got one of those questions over thirty years ago. I was interviewing for an executive director job with a small non-profit, and the question was, if I recall, “If you had to hire a bear for an executive position, what job would it be?” I responded, in deadly seriousness, with a lengthy stream of consciousness monologue about the differences in temperment among the various ursine species, their preferences for consensus rather than top down management, a brief foray into the executive potential, if any, of fictional bears like Yogi and Baloo, and the little known fact that Grizzly Adams trained bears to be proficient at delegating. I continued talking about bears and their business aspirations until the interviewer asked—begged, really— me to stop. Then I shook his hand, said I was no longer interested in working for the organization, and left.

47 thoughts on “Silly Job Interview Ethics

  1. The first question from Facebook is not unethical if they’re asking the programmers. Being able to write a program to search a database for a particular item is very important (e.g. finding someone’s name in a telephone book or someone’s Facebook profile based on their name). In basic first year programming one should learn that the best way to do this is to sort the items into some sort of logical order (numerical, alphabetical, historical, etc.) and then search for it by taking the middle number in the sequence and seeing if it is higher or lower, discarding the higher numbers if it is lower and the lower numbers if it is higher and then repeating the process until you find the correct number. This is much faster than finding the number by looking at every item and comparing them to the desired element.

    The second question is not unethical if it for an engineering job that requires an understanding of quantum electrodynamics (something that jobs involving tiny computer chips would require).

    The rest of the questions are unethical, except perhaps Amazon’s, because it is so easy (only one game is needed if it has 5623 participants and only one winner).

  2. The Facebook and Amazon questions are applications of quantitative computer science, and they have real answers of (I hope) 9 and 5622 (assuming two-player elimination rules for each game), respectively. The PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte questions are all typical engineering questions (not sure how they apply to accounting). You’d expect an engineer to be able to setup an equation and plug in some guesses at the input variables (e.g. the volume of a balloon). The IBM question is similar.

    The eBay question, on the other hand, seems to be just a mental puzzle that tests whether the applicant has seen these kinds of puzzles before. The math involved has some applicability in cryptography and computer science, but I think there’d be better ways to test a candidate on those subjects.

    The Goldman Sachs question is an oddity. My answer is that I’d just jump out. The trick is that if you imagine yourself stuck in a giant blender, you might think you can’t jump that high, but the problem specifically states that you are shrunk. If you could be shrunk down safely, the cube-square law says that your strength-to-weight ratio would improve dramatically. Like most small mammals, you’d be able to jump to several times your own height. Not sure why an investment banker would need to know this…

        • If it’s an old Echo satellite balloon, you can lift the top off the Astrodome! Personally, I’d prefer that interview with John Cleese to fielding that “blender” question. No wonder Goldman Sachs “enjoys” its current reputation.

      • Okay, now I feel smart (after feeling REALLY dumb whilst reading the comments), cause I thought the answer to the balloon question was one as well.

        I can see asking mathmatic and engineering questions of engineers and folks dealing with complex equations to do their jobs. Otherwise, coming up with imaginative answers to unrealistic questions on the fly does not a good employee make. S/he’s just speedy.

  3. Actually, the eBay question is remarkably easy–I could have solved it in the 8th grade. It requires only basic algebra and problem-solving skills: not unreasonable requirements for many jobs.

    The balloon question–perhaps a test of jumping to conclusions? You can’t answer the question without more information, e.g., if the balloons are even inflated.

    The Deloitte Consulting question might be asking something else altogether. Suppose, for example, that there are literally no bricks in residential buildings in Shanghai, and that anyone who has spent any time there would know that. I have no idea, but then, I’m not applying for a job which mightrequire knowledge of a particular city’s culture. More likely, the question is about a basic knowledge of the population of Shanghai, the percentage of brick residences, the size of those residences, etc.

    I’m particularly fond of Facebook’s, though. Maybe they want someone who really reads. The answer to the question, as written, is 1. The questions doesn’t state, after all, that one needs to be assured on success. If the number is 417 and I guess 417, then the minimum number of guesses is 1. (It’s 10 if all I have a maximum number of wrong guesses.)

  4. Given the number of illiterate and logically-crippled job applicants there are out there (not to mention those who have more ego than brains), challenging the applicant’s ability to see past the BS, assume no limits not expressly imposed, and come up with reasonable answers in a minimum of time is desired, makes nearly all of the questions fair game. It’s also interesting to see which applicants tuck tail and run (not the kind of person I want to hire):

    Q: If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?
    A: The depth of the average blender is equal to the length of the average pencil. I would push the top off the blender, and climb out.

    #####

    Q: Given the numbers 1 to 1,000, what is the minimum number of guesses needed to find a specific number, if you are given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess you make?
    A: 1 minimum.

    #####

    Q: Explain quantum electrodynamics in two minutes, starting now.
    A: Quantum electrodynamics, commonly referred to as QED, is a quantum field theory of the electromagnetic force. Taking the example of the force between two electrons, the classical theory of electromagnetism would describe it as arising from the electric field produced by each electron at the position of the other. The force can be calculated from Coulomb’s law. The quantum field theory approach visualizes the force between the electrons as an exchange force arising from the exchange of virtual photons. Using a mathematical approach known as the Feynman calculus, the strength of the force can be calculated in a series of steps which assign contributions to each of the types of Feynman diagrams associated with the force. QED applies to all electromagnetic phenomena associated with charged fundamental particles such as electrons and positrons, and the associated phenomena such as pair production, electron-positron annihilation, Compton scattering, etc. It was used to precisely model some quantum phenomena which had no classical analogs, such as the Lamb shift and the anomalous magnetic moment of the electron. QED was the first successful quantum field theory, incorporating such ideas as particle creation and annihilation into a self-consistent framework. The development of the theory was the basis of the 1965 Nobel Prize in physics, awarded to Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger and Sin-itero Tomonaga.

    #####

    Q: How many balloons would fit in this room?
    A: Anywhere from one very large inflated balloon to literally millions of uninflated balloons.

    #####

    Q: What is the philosophy of martial arts?
    A: There are three aspects of being, which the martial arts aim to develop: Body, Mind and Spirit. These three aspects must be developed in balance for a person to become properly balanced as a martial artist and therefore as a person. Body, is developed through the physical exercises involved in martial arts training. Mind, is developed through mental training. Meditation teaches the student to focus his mind and to coordinate his thinking with his movement. Following the philosophy and ideals of the martial arts develops the final aspect: the Spirit.

    #####

    Q: How do you weigh an elephant without using a scale?
    A1: Displacement in water, compared with the displacement of a liquid in which the elephant has zero buoyancy, and some basic math.
    A1: Adjustable fulcrum balance using known weights as counter balances, and some basic math.

    #####

    Q: If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?
    A: 5622.

    #####

    Q: How many bricks are there in Shanghai? Consider only residential buildings.
    A: None. They don’t use bricks in building residential structures.

    #####

    Q: You have five bottles of pills. One bottle has 9 gram pills, the others have 10 gram pills. You have a scale that can be used only once. How can you find out which bottle contains the 9 gram pills?
    A: Read the labels.

    #####

    Q: You have three boxes. One contains only apples, one contains only oranges, and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled so that no label accurately identifies the contents of any of the boxes. Opening just one box, and without looking inside, you take out one piece of fruit. By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?
    A: Identify the contents of the box labeled “both”. Place the appropriate label on the box. Switch the label on the remaining unopened box to the box from which the label was removed and place the label from the opened box, previously identified as “both”, on the currently unlabeled box.

    #####

    Q: 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?
    A: 3

    #####

    Then again, harrumphing ones way out of a job interview, because one takes oneself too seriously, probably confers the benefit of not torturing potential future coworkers with one’s presence; raising workplace morale and job satisfaction. Sounds like a win-win scenario to me.

    • I don’t think taking oneself too seriously is the issue at all. The distinctions between an interview, a psychological test and pop quiz are clear—giving one when the applicant has prepared for the other is unfair. And the fact that someone happens to be able to answer the unfair question is irrelevant, if the purpose of the oddball question is to throw off the interviewee. If you are asked the number of passed balls that the catcher on the 1951 Phillies had, while interviewing for an accounting position, and just happen to be a bassball trivia geek, does that validate the question?

      Not that your answers are “correct”…

      Q: If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?
      A: The depth of the average blender is equal to the length of the average pencil. I would push the top off the blender, and climb out.

      Wrong. I have four blenders, and they all are larger than a pencil. They are not larger than a pencil plus about two and a half inches, however, which would be the length of your rams. Half-credit.

      #####

      Q: Given the numbers 1 to 1,000, what is the minimum number of guesses needed to find a specific number, if you are given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess you make?
      A: 1 minimum.

      Wrong. If you are given the hints, you must have already guessed once. The answer is TWO.

      #####

      Q: Explain quantum electrodynamics in two minutes, starting now.
      A: Quantum electrodynamics, commonly referred to as QED, is a quantum field theory of the electromagnetic force. Taking the example of the force between two electrons, the classical theory of electromagnetism would describe it as arising from the electric field produced by each electron at the position of the other. The force can be calculated from Coulomb’s law. The quantum field theory approach visualizes the force between the electrons as an exchange force arising from the exchange of virtual photons. Using a mathematical approach known as the Feynman calculus, the strength of the force can be calculated in a series of steps which assign contributions to each of the types of Feynman diagrams associated with the force. QED applies to all electromagnetic phenomena associated with charged fundamental particles such as electrons and positrons, and the associated phenomena such as pair production, electron-positron annihilation, Compton scattering, etc. It was used to precisely model some quantum phenomena which had no classical analogs, such as the Lamb shift and the anomalous magnetic moment of the electron. QED was the first successful quantum field theory, incorporating such ideas as particle creation and annihilation into a self-consistent framework. The development of the theory was the basis of the 1965 Nobel Prize in physics, awarded to Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger and Sin-itero Tomonaga.

      Sorry. By the time you thought all of that through and delivered it, 121 second had passed. The issue wasn’t the answer, but how quickly you defined it. (And by the way, putting a stopwatch on an interview question is the height of cruelty. Ig you accept that, prepared to be abused.)

      #####

      Q: How many balloons would fit in this room?
      A: Anywhere from one very large inflated balloon to literally millions of uninflated balloons.

      Half-credit at best. “Literally millions” isn’t any more of an answer than “lots.”

      #####

      Q: What is the philosophy of martial arts?
      A: There are three aspects of being, which the martial arts aim to develop: Body, Mind and Spirit. These three aspects must be developed in balance for a person to become properly balanced as a martial artist and therefore as a person. Body, is developed through the physical exercises involved in martial arts training. Mind, is developed through mental training. Meditation teaches the student to focus his mind and to coordinate his thinking with his movement. Following the philosophy and ideals of the martial arts develops the final aspect: the Spirit.

      See my point above about being able to answer a trivia question, Mr. Miyagi.

      #####

      Q: How do you weigh an elephant without using a scale?
      A1: Displacement in water, compared with the displacement of a liquid in which the elephant has zero buoyancy, and some basic math.
      A1: Adjustable fulcrum balance using known weights as counter balances, and some basic math.

      Not so fast. How do you get the elephant in the water? how do you measure the water? And “an adjustable fulcrum balance using known weights as counter balances” is also known as “a scale.” About 25% credit. “Thanks for coming in.”

      #####

      Q: If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?
      A: 5622.

      Depends on the game. Say..Canadian doubles, or three-handed bridge. Trick question–unfair.

      #####

      Q: How many bricks are there in Shanghai? Consider only residential buildings.
      A: None. They don’t use bricks in building residential structures.

      You didn’t answer the question, which doesn’t only ask for bricks incorporated into actual structures. Huathuat Ong, 47, a government worker, maintains his unique brick collection, the largest in the world according to Guinness in his three bedroom home, and his daughter has started one too. If we only count the Ongs, the answer is 48,375,77.

      #####

      Q: You have five bottles of pills. One bottle has 9 gram pills, the others have 10 gram pills. You have a scale that can be used only once. How can you find out which bottle contains the 9 gram pills?
      A: Read the labels.

      Who says they have labels? Who says none of the pills have been used?

      #####

      Q: You have three boxes. One contains only apples, one contains only oranges, and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled so that no label accurately identifies the contents of any of the boxes. Opening just one box, and without looking inside, you take out one piece of fruit. By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?
      A: Identify the contents of the box labeled “both”. Place the appropriate label on the box. Switch the label on the remaining unopened box to the box from which the label was removed and place the label from the opened box, previously identified as “both”, on the currently unlabeled box.

      Huh? First of all, the conditions set out tell you that your pill answer is wrong. Second, how do you “identify the contents of the box” labeled “both” without looking at the contents and by only taking out one piece of fruit? You can, but your answer doesn’t say how.

      #####

      Q: 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?
      A: 3

      You mean the bouquet includes ONE “roses” and ONE “daisies” and ONE “tulips”? If true this is a textbook unfair question, using incorrect words to describe the problem You want to work for these jerks? Be my guest.

      I also note you didn’t answer my bear question, wise guy!

      • Why can’t a “bouquet” of two violets suffice?

        The guess the number question will apparently always result in a response of either “higher” or “lower,” even after a correct guess. The respondent must therefore be lying. Therefore, the fact that s/he indicates the guess is incorrect cannot be trusted, and we’re back at 1 as the correct minimum.

        And the correct answer to the bear question is “Personnel Director, as he would clearly be a distinct improvement over the status quo.” Wouldn’t get you the job, but it would be the correct answer.

      • I just want to add to the Jack’s comment about the “boxes of apples and oranges” question; Alan’s answer also implies that even if the labels are misplaced, they all correspond to one of the available boxes. For all we know, the box of apples could be labeled ‘grapefruit’, the box of oranges could be labeled ‘kiwis and strawberries’, and the box of both could be labeled as ‘advanced copies of the Xbox 360 edition of Mass Effect 3’.

        • I forgot to say; if Shanghai is like the rest of China, there are still a number of surviving traditional residential buildings that were built at least in part with brick.

  5. “Nobody likes a wise guy, Alan. I know. I’m one.”

    You may be correct, Steven. I recall being reviled by the jocks in high school when I refused to throw a test so they could pass on a grading curve and stay in the worthless pursuit of varsity football. Personally-speaking, I despise mental lightweight prima donas; so, I feel that my refusal maintained the Karmic balance in academia.

    Thanks for pointing out that I have company. Much luck in your personal journey.

    ##################

    “I don’t think taking oneself too seriously is the issue at all.”

    Uhmmmmmm…..LOL……

    “I responded, in deadly seriousness, with a lengthy stream of consciousness monologue about the differences in temperment among the various ursine species, their preferences for consensus rather than top down management, a brief foray into the executive potential, if any, of fictional bears like Yogi and Baloo, and the little known fact that Grizzly Adams trained bears to be proficient at delegating. I continued talking about bears and their business aspirations until the interviewer asked—begged, really— me to stop. Then I shook his hand, said I was no longer interested in working for the organization, and left.”

    Yes. It is.

    If the interviewer is ABLE to mess with your emotions and confidence it is ONLY because YOU choose to allow yourself to be manipulated in this way, and you are not in control of yourself. That makes you unsuitable for the candidate position…..IMHO.

    #####

    “The distinctions between an interview, a psychological test and pop quiz are clear—giving one when the applicant has prepared for the other is unfair.”

    It has long been the rule in job interviews to be prepared for anything, including tests of logical reasoning and psychological makeup. Not being prepared for the former isn’t unfair…it’s incompetent. The results of the latter are not only fair game, but wise interviewing technique, AFAIC.

    If somebody wants to use bouquets, “nine dots four lines”, differential calculus, statistical mathematics, inductive and deductive reasoning, MMPI, WAIS, or any other logical method of assuring themselves that they are only considering highly qualified and appropriately placed candidates, more power to them. I’m all for it.

    Whiners need to have the door hit them on the posterior on the way out.

    #####

    “If you are asked the number of passed balls that the catcher on the 1951 Phillies had, while interviewing for an accounting position, and just happen to be a bassball trivia geek, does that validate the question?”

    No….HOWEVER, if you can demonstrate that a question probes skills (such as mathematics, organizational forte, oral or written communication, logical or critical thinking) which are germane to nearly any position for which a person can be hired, then it’s fair game. All of the questions, to which you express amusing objection, probe just such highly sought-after skills and character traits. Now, if the candidate for an accounting position was asked how they would tally and organize such tidbits of historical baseball performance data; then, I’d have to concede that this could be considered to be relevant to the job skills and constitutes a legitimate interrogatory.

    #####

    “Wrong. I have four blenders, and they all are larger than a pencil. They are not larger than a pencil plus about two and a half inches, however, which would be the length of your rams. Half-credit.”

    All blenders which I have seen are larger than a pencil….but I’m preying on your verbal imprecision….I really shouldn’t do that, should I?

    Having gone to several department stores and dropped pencils into the blender carafes, I have found that the stated AVERAGES hold true. (Yeah. Really. It’s been a boring weekend.) The proportionality of the proposed shrunken body, to the blender carafes examined, as well as the implied physical abilities persisting across the shrinking event, stand logical test in extremis. Furthermore, my contemporary Oster carafes (one stainless steel and the other Pyrex) are EXACTLY the height of the length of an unsharpened Bazic #2/HB pencil, from the base of the blade plate to the upper lip of the vessel — said pencil being merely an inch shorter than the glass carafe on my 1950’s Oster.

    I won’t bother subjecting you to the higher mathematics of averaging the lengths of pencils (let’s not go into figuring-in golf scoring styli) available in the retail market — some specimens of which exceed 45.75cm in length — nor will I raise the obviousness of standing on top of the one inch-high blade hub in the hypothetical scenario. Oh….Oops. I guess I did anyway. Bad Alan.

    I take the slam-dunk of full credit for a simple and logical solution possible in all hypothetical circumstances, and you are solidly incorrect in your reasoning.

    #####

    “Wrong. If you are given the hints, you must have already guessed once. The answer is TWO.”

    The conditional “IF” in no way requires that the hints be tendered, merely that this is the condition under which hints, if needed, will be given. This is called “self-evident”: The ground rules are defined BEFORE entering into such a challenge.

    Though statistically improbable (that would be 1 in 1000 odds), it is possible to guess correctly the first time, hence the minimum limit of ONE stands incontrovertibly. If you have a problem with this, don’t waste my time with it, argue it until you’re blue in the face with a statistician.

    Full credit to me.

    #####

    “Sorry. By the time you thought all of that through and delivered it, 121 second had passed. The issue wasn’t the answer, but how quickly you defined it. (And by the way, putting a stopwatch on an interview question is the height of cruelty. Ig you accept that, prepared to be abused.)”

    Let me guess….you have no freaking idea what Coulomb’s Law is…do you?
    I further suppose that discussing Thevenin, Norton, Gauss and Faraday would leave you cold too. (Try looking mystic mumbo-jumbo like that up on WikiPedia, or take a basic course in Circuit Analysis.)

    Shoot me for having a physics and engineering background. I could quote QED in my sleep, and that’s worth about 45 seconds of speaking unless you’re brain dead. It isn’t abuse when you’re well educated; and, it isn’t arrogant to know you’re well educated.

    Full credit again.

    #####

    “Half-credit at best. “Literally millions” isn’t any more of an answer than “lots.””

    I covered all possibilities with an appropriately calibrated and generalized answer; and, since “Lot” is also a unit of mass, its use in an answer would be more inaccurate, since the question was framed in terms of quantity instead of mass.

    I’ll walk away with full credit on this one as well.

    #####

    “See my point above about being able to answer a trivia question, Mr. Miyagi.”

    I’ll settle for being correct and ignore your teen-like angst. I’ll mention this amusing snippit at the gym, tomorrow morning, though. It’s worth a laugh or two.

    For future reference, take a class and remember the words: “Body”, “Mind” and “Spirit”. The rest of the glue that holds them together is sufficiently mentally digestible that my five year-old knows the answer.

    Full credit to me.

    #####

    “Not so fast. How do you get the elephant in the water? how do you measure the water? And “an adjustable fulcrum balance using known weights as counter balances” is also known as “a scale.” About 25% credit. “Thanks for coming in.””

    How I get the elephant into the water is immaterial…ASK me to design the mechanics of the solution process for you and I will — provided that you’re interviewing me for employment, and you can actually understand the answer.

    Having an engineering and physics education bestowed upon me the trivial knowledge of the difference between a balance and a scale: A scale measures against the acceleration of gravity and a balance compares the mass of two objects. Only those who don’t understand the distinction between the two confuse the terms scale and balance; so, let’s not criticize answers you don’t understand. A scale will give you a different measure on Jupiter as compared to here, on the Earth; because the gravitational acceleration is different on Jupiter (25 m/s^2 on Jupiter, as compared to 9.81 m/s^2 on Earth). A balance will give you the same measure no matter where you are in the universe. This is one of those BASIC scientific bits of knowledge that befuddles so many victims of the American educational system, these days. (Mass and weight are not the same thing.)

    Thanks for skipping general science in high school; which makes this like shooting fish in a barrel….with a MAC-10. (Look it up.)

    Full credit mine, again.

    #####

    “Depends on the game. Say..Canadian doubles, or three-handed bridge. Trick question–unfair.”

    Instead of claiming ‘unfair’ or ‘trick question’ I proffered a valid answer. Which happens to be more than you did. Simple match tournaments are resolved by a number of matches equal to one less than the number of contestants participating. Geeze! Even beer-guzzling recliner quarterbacks know this.

    I’ll take full credit for not being a whuss about it.

    #####

    “You didn’t answer the question, which doesn’t only ask for bricks incorporated into actual structures. Huathuat Ong, 47, a government worker, maintains his unique brick collection, the largest in the world according to Guinness in his three bedroom home, and his daughter has started one too. If we only count the Ongs, the answer is 48,375,77.”

    State a credible reference, please. An MLA citation will do. Guinness has no such record on file according to my search for “Huat Huat Ong”, “Huat Ong Huat”, “Huathuat Ong” and “bricks”. You appear to be, proverbially, full of it.

    I would sacrifice credit for this one if the question referred to the inclusion of the contents of a residential building….but it didn’t. It only specified that I consider residential buildings.

    ::: sigh ::: I’ll take half-credit for the sake of your fragile ego; although I should take full credit because you didn’t recognize the blatant fact that an answer was given.

    #####

    “Who says they have labels? Who says none of the pills have been used?”

    Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t forget that — ever.

    The norm is that pill bottles do have labels. Who told you that they didn’t? Moreover, who offered you the ridiculous proposition that pills being used from any bottle made a difference in the least?

    According to USP guidelines, pill bottles are labeled with sufficient information to immediately answer the question. Who told the applicant to ignore the trivially sources of information? Seems to me that the question is designed to filter-out those who need intellectual diapering and bottling.

    You see, it is the bane of managers to have employees who ignore the obvious sources of correct answers.

    Let me give you a bit of linguistic advice: The question states that the bottles contain 9 or 10 gram pills…not 9 or 10 grams OF pills. Each pill is either 9 or 10 grams. Do you have any idea how large a pill that is? It’s damned enormous either way. Just read the damned label and be done with it…4 bottles have some number of 10 gram pills in them and 1 bottle has some number of 9 gram pills in them.

    If you must have it your way, put one pill from each bottle on the scale simultaneously. Remove one pill at a time until a difference of 9 grams is noted, then you’ve found your bottle containing 9 gram pills…..using the scale only once…..happy now?

    Full credit to me, either friggin’ way. ::: eye-roll :::

    #####

    “Huh? First of all, the conditions set out tell you that your pill answer is wrong. Second, how do you “identify the contents of the box” labeled “both” without looking at the contents and by only taking out one piece of fruit? You can, but your answer doesn’t say how.”

    The pill question was earlier….are you telling me that we aren’t on the same page, here? I mixed-in another question from the original article, only a subset of which were mentioned here. It was not my intention to confuse and upset you. You might want to read the question about the boxes again, though…you know….COMPLETELY.

    All labels are incorrect, so picking the box labeled “both” is going to give you a box containing only either an apple or an orange. Nothing else….get it? It’s as easy as wetting your diaper from there on out. Try drawing yourself a picture if you can’t visualize this kind of thing in your head, OK? My answer to the trivial logic exercise is OBVIOUSLY correct, despite your being unable to muddle that one through by yourself.

    Full credit to me, again.

    #####

    “You mean the bouquet includes ONE “roses” and ONE “daisies” and ONE “tulips”? If true this is a textbook unfair question, using incorrect words to describe the problem You want to work for these jerks? Be my guest.”

    No. Let me repeat it for you: “All but two are roses” OK? “All but two are daisies” GOT THAT? “And all but two are tulips” ARE YOU WITH ME SO FAR? The usage of plurality is linguistically correct, and the question probes the ability of the candidate to think logically…but, maybe that’s an engineering instead of a Ferengi thing. Think of how you would describe the legs of a three phase circuit….uhhhh….maybe not…..how about the three differently-colored legs of a milking stool: “All but two are red legs, all but two are green legs, and all but two are blue legs.” Geeze! Draw pictures if you have to.

    Need I repeat the full credit thing? Mine.

    #####

    “I also note you didn’t answer my bear question, wise guy!”

    You’ve been grasping at straws for the entirety of your response to me, but you’re really overdoing it now. Since you only brought this up as an anecdotal recollection, it was never actually tendered as a serious question. We’ll call it a “bare question” just to make you feel like you’ve won something, here, and foster a warm-fuzzy feeling in your bosom of bosoms.

    I’d hire a Russian National (colloquially, a “bear”), Александр, of long personal acquaintance for the position of CIO.

    Why? Outside of his exemplary qualifications fro the duties thereby assumed, Александр understands that the employer writes the job description; and, within the limits of the law, determines what are acceptable qualifications, expectations and behaviors for the employee in the workplace — NOT vice-versa. He works for ME. End of story.

    Question answered.

    #####

    Would you like to know the definition of arrogance? Here you go: “Any company who allows a job interviewer to ask such questions as….[snip]….has little respect for those who aspire to work for them, for they think it is appropriate to treat job applicants like lab rats.”

    Who are you to dictate what a company asks of job applicants? Outside of the fact that you are obviously incapable of correctly parsing the questions linguistically and logically; what gives you the privilege of pronouncing these queries to be unethical? I would think that your inability to even grasp the questions probative value disqualifies you from passing any sort of judgment upon them whatsoever.

    FaceBook deals with the digital paradigm and asks an appropriate question which probes the ability to recognize an immediate hit upon a search key. But, you’re not skilled in programming so you’re just playing with yourself on that one.

    Perhaps you should do a bit of looking at Goldman Sachs service offerings and see how their question probes desirable traits in a candidate for employment. Their portfolio of services is illuminating.

    Intel is obviously interested in candidates with a physics education; however, since you don’t have anything remotely resembling something so heady, esoteric and elitist, you would rather ask their candidates about their largest bowel movement in the past week, and instruct them on the designs they can draw on the bathroom wall with it.

    Aflac’s major market is in the Asian sector — specifically Japan — (something anybody would know if they even paid the slightest bit of attention to their recent firing of Gilbert Godfreid for their simply ducky commercial voice-overs — thank God!) which justifies their question having a direct bearing upon the candidates ability to deal with the culture of their largest market segment. Of course, my teaching physics to Asian students and participating in martial arts makes me a little more familiar with such mystic mojo, Daniel-san…now, no more lip from you. Go finish waxing the car and painting the fence; and, use 400 grit sandpaper on the floor instead of the 80 grit you used last time.

    IBM is interested in process management and Open Source solutions….well….maybe that’s too much for you to even consider.

    How about a working definition of “ignorance”? Here you go: Your inability to recognize the value of such interview questions in separating the mental slugs from the people who deserve the position for which they have applied; and your glib willingness to ridicule your betters.

    Your advice — which I hope nobody follows: “I’m sorry. I was under the impression that I was applying for a position with an organization that respected serious professionals, and that would never exploit the interview process for its own amusement at the discomfort of someone who expected fair and courteous treatment. I apparently was mistaken.” is asinine in the extreme, and would never pass the lips of a true professional.

    I think the use of odd interview questions is a symptom of an arrogant and essentially untrustworthy corporate culture.

    I see the inability to understand and cogently respond to such attempts to legitimately probe candidate skills is directly indicative of a near-epidemic incompetence in the labor pool in this day and age. Further, to be more concerned with the possibility that an interviewer is “messing with your emotions and confidence”, than what one’s own inability to respond to such questions in a direct, calm and logical manner, is a symptom of fundamental emotional instability.

    Then again, there is your bear monologue…..

    #####

    • Alan:

      When I posted that blithe reply, it was intended as a good natured ribbing AND a respectful tip of the hat, as you obviously took the questions under serious evaluation with a pretty sound result. I, on the other hand, took the entire question as more of a humorous exercise from Jack… as he’s wont to do. When he posts a leading picture from Monty Python, that’s usually a dead giveway!

      Now, however, you seem to be taking my brief quip and the other responses as some sort of “brainiac bullying” from your school days. Good Lord, man; I had to put up with some of that myself. I’ll bet a number of other posters did as well. Unless you had some long-seated intellectual bent, you wouldn’t be posting here. You’d be at “Perez Hilton” or “Moveon.org”! This goes for the rest of us.

      So, if you have some notion that you’re being disrespected by your intellectual inferiors here, I strongly urge you to get down off your pedastal. This is not Herman Cumquat Middle School. No one’s bullying you. And, while my “journey” has hit a lot of potholes over a 60 year journey, the axle is still holding up. Thanks for your concern.

      • Boy, you really DID have a boring weekend.

        One other use for the off-the-wall questions, I now realize, is to flush out insufferable, self-congratulatory know-it-alls. Not that all your showboating on the questions isn’t beside the point: the various articles about the questions all stated that their intention was NOT to test knowledge, but poise under stress.

        I, of course, did not “dictate” to companies how to handle their interviews, any more than I “dictate” any of the conduct discussed here. I don’t have that kind of power. If a company wants to run unfair, intentionally stressful interviews, that’s their choice, and it is mine not to want to work in cultures that think this is appropriate, when it is not. The tendency to use a superior position of power in a gratuitously oppressive way is a good indication of the ethical tendencies of the company in other respects—it’s no coincidence that the most off-the-wall question comes from the most unethical employer on the list.

        What you don’t seem capable of grasping is that being prepared for anything does not justify everything. One can be prepared for unfair questions, hostile interviewers, bigotry, bias and rudeness…that doesn’t make such treatment appropriate, fair or ethical, which is the topic under discussion, not quantum physics.

        Your defenses of your answers are amusing, but of course flawed by the same self-centered tunnel vision as the answers themselves. Typical is your acceptance of an interviewer using a stopwatch on an answer because you (or so you say) could provide an acceptable answer within the time limit….which is to say, as long as an unfair practice doesn’t affect or handicap you personally, then you have no objections to it.

        That orientation alone should disqualify you for employment in any ethical organization.

    • At the risk of stepping into this minefield, I think you got the philosophy of martial arts question wrong. Isn’t the philosophy of martial arts to incapacitate your opponent before he or she can incapacitate you? All the mind, body and spirit cant seems like a ploy to attract students who will most probably never need to fight anyone outside of a martial arts studio or a way of making an obsolete form of fighting sound somehow nobler.

      • There is no “the” philosopy of “the martial arts”. What art? In what age? Roman pancration? Modern day mixed martial arts? Jeet kunde do? Jiu jitsu? The philosophy of kenjutsu as understood by officers in the Imperial Japanese Army during the Nanking massacre? Etc. etc. ad infinitum.

  6. How about illegal interview questions?

    One time, needing a stop-gap filler, I went to one of those temporary job agencies. The woman interviewing me said, “Are you married?”

    I replied, “Why? What have you got in mind?”

    She got flustered and skipped over that part of the form.

  7. I agree with the posters who point out that some of the questions make sense for the particular fields/jobs on offer, but would also like to add that some of the nonsensical questions tell you a great deal about a candidate: how they react. Impatience, frustration, irrationality, and anger would all be important red flags to watch for. Insufferability is worth weeding out as well, of course.

    • No disagreement. Of course, throwing a hand grenade into the interview room can also lead to use ful information—does the interviewee throw his body over it to protect the interviewer? Impressive! Does he take the grenade and throw it out the window? Quick thinking! Does he scream like a little girl and faint? Not good. Does he kiss the female interviewer passionately because they are going to die anyway? Strange. All good to know.

      Doesn’t make the fake grenade tactic right, though.

  8. Personally, I liked Alan’s response. I also couldn’t disagree any more than Alan with Jack’s post.

    An interviewer’s duty is to the company. If a question provides valuable insight of a candidate for the company AND it’s not based in illegal behavior such as bigotry AND it’s not used for personal amusement or humiliation of others, then it MUST be ethical.

    An interviewer’s duty is not to make the candidate feel warm and fuzzy. An interviewer should not lob softball questions to major league candidates. Can’t we see the value of this?

    • Many unethical practices have value. The fact is that they are still unnecessary. There is a huge distance between “warm and fuzzy” and “comfortable and respected.” There is no need to abuse interviewees. They are doing the employer a favor by making themselves available for employment. You list illegal, and for personal amusement and to humiliate as the only impermissible type of question. How about “unfair”? How about “gratuitously confusing”? How about “designed to upset or disconcert”?

      Again, the post was not about difficult or challenging questions, but questions designed specifically to throw off interviewees.

      I interview a lot of people and I audition performers. A starving actor will do anything I ask. I might learn something from some off the wall requests, but I don’t need to do it. I use the Golden Rule, get the information I really need, and let even rejected applicants feel like they had a fair shot and maintained their dignity.

      If one cannot serve the interests of one’s organization without asking silly hypothetical about being stuck in a blender, then someone competent needs to do the interviewing.

      • How about “unfair”? How about “gratuitously confusing”? How about “designed to upset or disconcert”?

        Fair or Unfair – is in the eye of the beholder. As such, if it ain’t illegal….

        Gratuitously Confusing – is a sliding scale based on who is easily confused and who is not. Barbie might think that “What is 5 + 5?” is gratuitously confusing. If you have a candidate and your aim is to confuse them, and they aren’t confused, was the question then “Gratuitously Confusing”? Or say that their mind wandered and you asked them a simple question that wasn’t confusing, but they became confused. Was the simple question “Gratuitously Confusing”?

        Designed to upset or disconcert – Are you asking if I think some companies that want to hire people in a customer service role to logically speak with irate customers verbally over the phone can ask questions that would expose whether a candidate might fly off the handle and berate a customer?

        Or if a company that needs to add a team member to a close knit working group should find out if the candidate is open to suggestions will discuss problems and not yell at, berate, or poison an already cohesive team? Perhaps even “go postal”?

  9. The trick, say the experts, is not to lose your cool. Such questions are asked, the experts explain, not to elicit a correct answer, but rather to gauge an applicant’s poise, grace, reaction to stress, creativity and humor.

    Or this article could be full of it. I’ve answered and asked questions similar to most of those many times over. It had nothing to do with grace, reaction to stress, creativity, or humor. A developer can know everything there is to know about the Java language, but not be able to string two statements together. I’ve worked with a number of extremely well informed people whose code makes me cry. Trying to figure out how people think (or even if they can think) is extremely important. I want to know if you can make logical assumptions and reason your way somewhere sane. If you can’t do that, you’re worthless to me and my company.

    • You are correct sir. And being a creative and fair sort, I just bet you can test these abilities without resorting to Salvador Dali imagery, queries about what the Master told Grasshopper and the Riddle of the Sphinx.

      I have just realized that my aversion to such questions in interviews may have been inherited, as my Dad used to intentionally refuse to answer test questions and questions in class that he regarded as pointless, whether they were or not. This got him a space in the back with the presumably mentally challenged. My son has a similar tendency. Until now, I thought that particular malady had escaped me, but I’m now beginning to wonder,.

      • I’m partial to “What’s red and green and goes round and round?”

        If you couldn’t have guessed, I also suffer from your genetic deficiency. Getting through school was often a pain

        I can already do basic integrals, why should I have to do 50 of them tonight? Really? You want me to show my work when I U-Substitute the integral of 2x? Then again for 3x, and 4x, and 5x? I hate you.

        I already know what beholden, defenestrate, foist, shackle, and vittles mean, do I really need to use them in a sentence? Fine. You are foisting this stupid assignment on me because you think I am somehow beholden to you. I am going to break out of my shackles and drive to Checkers for some good vittles. Depending on how irate I am, I may even defenestrate this assignment along the way.

        Busy work is just stupid.

  10. Hm, isn’t the “how many guesses” a rational question? The obvious answer seems “1” to me. It’s a 1 in a 1000 chance, but that is the absolute minimum number of guesses it would take. So this question would actually be relevant to see if you are easily distracted by non-essential information (about feedback given in this case).

    • Another answer could be, ‘infinite’. Because the feedback is relevant and at the same time isn’t.
      The question is “Q: Given the numbers 1 to 1,000, what is the minimum number of guesses needed to find a specific number, if you are given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess you make?”

      For each guess — meaning also the right one — you get the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’. You will never know whether you gave the right answer.

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