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Good and Bad Interview Questions


Good and Bad Interview Questions

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Eric M Russell
Eric M Russell
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wojzeh (9/5/2013)
Hi Steve! Thank you for this topic!

You said "My interviews have often been very technical, but have included a number of "how would you.." or "tell me about a time when.." questions." I just wonder what were the most weird or, maybe, difficult non-technical questions on your interviews?

Thanks a lot!

Many years ago, I applied for a job opening at a major Top 10 insurance company. It was one of those interviews that are supposed to last all day long, and at one point they ask me to complete an "assessment test". It was the type that has like 200 multiple choice quetions and the answer is filled in with a #2 pencil, and one typical question that I still recal was the following:

You can't cook an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
- Strongly Agree
- Somewhat Agree
- Somewhat Disagree
- Strongly Disagree


There was no context or guidance for how to answer these questions. Really, I wish they had included "Don't Care" as an option, and I would have marked that for 90% of them. I decided to play it safe and marked half of them as "Somewhat Agree" and the other half as "Somewhat Disagree" thinking that it would balance out and it was probably the face to face session that would matter most. So, after completing the test, I then spent more than an hour sitting alone in a room until I got the creepy feeling that I was being watched. At that point I actually bailed and walked out.

What's weird is that they called me back several weeks later and wanted to offer me a job.

I declined. So damn weird; I wouldn't work for those guys.


"The universe is complicated and for the most part beyond your control, but your life is only as complicated as you choose it to be."
wojzeh
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Eric M Russell (9/5/2013)

What's weird is that they called me back several weeks later and wanted to offer me a job.

I declined. So damn weird; I wouldn't work for those guys.


I respect your decision! The real omelette does not tolerate eggs!
Sean Lange
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I can remember a couple of times fielding very bizarre questions. The first one was a small consulting company where I had been referred by a friend of mine who worked for them occasionally as a hired gun. Let's say his name is "Fred". The first thing asked was "are you smarter than Fred?". I actually sat there in complete silence for probably close to 15 seconds without moving. I finally responded with some sort of BS answer like "how do define smart?" or something along those lines. I ended up working there for 5 years.

The second one I walked into a conference room with about a dozen people seated around a conference table. There were no empty seats so I stood at the head of the table. They asked my name, didn't introduce themselves and one of the guys asked me what my favorite movie was. I was kind of in shock but very quickly responded "Princess Bride". It took no time and the guy was grinning from ear to ear. He told me that was his favorite also, this felt like a complete pile of stink at this point. I asked him what his favorite scene was to see if he full of it. He responded that the wedding was his favorite part and started speaking it "mawwiage is wut bwings us here today...". At this point I was dying. I managed to pull it together and explained that my now father in law recited that entire speech at my rehearsal dinner before I married his daughter. This was quite entertaining and derailed the entire interview. I was given a seat and we sat around laughing for an hour never discussing anything real at all. I was then told this was the first interview just to see if I would fit in with the team. It turned out it was the management team and none of the technical people (which I did not fit well with at all on the follow up interview). All in all it seemed like a complete waste of everyone's time.

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Eric M Russell
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wojzeh (9/5/2013)
Eric M Russell (9/5/2013)

What's weird is that they called me back several weeks later and wanted to offer me a job.

I declined. So damn weird; I wouldn't work for those guys.


I respect your decision! The real omelette does not tolerate eggs!

Occasionally I replay that day in my head and think about what if I had just taken the job. At the time, the company was fairly new, but it's a major insurance company today, so they obviously know what they're doing businesswise. My guess, with years of hindsight and experience, is that their intention was to pre-screen candidates based on compatibility metrics that they created. This makes sense considering it was an insurance company, so it's their tendency minimize risk (hiring the right employees) by objectively quantifying them using metrics.

However, in my opinion the interview process was perhaps well thought out but poorly executed and confused a lot of people. Perhaps there were not enough staff or consultants to conduct all the interviews and provide instruction. Taken out of context, that assessment exam made no sense. For example, I didn't know wether to interpret that omelet cooking question literally or colloquially.


"The universe is complicated and for the most part beyond your control, but your life is only as complicated as you choose it to be."
Steve Jones
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And for the lighter side of interviews:
http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=424_1378224156

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Miles Neale
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I have asked a few questions that put people on the spot but not something silly or off-the-wall like those questions in the comments and article. The most interesting responses have come from the questions similar to this:

On Wednesday your transportation tracking project is updated representing 6 months of development and 3 months of testing and quality assurance. Everything runs well on Thursday and Friday, and you and your team leave for the weekend. Monday morning you are met at the door by a security offices and you are brought directly into the Boardroom. You are informed that at 6:23 am on Sunday there appeared to be a "glitch" in the new system and two trains met head on in central Missouri. As the potentially responsible person what are the first three things you ask or do?

We learned a lot about the potential employees.

M.

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below86
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Steve Jones - SSC Editor (9/5/2013)
And for the lighter side of interviews:
http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=424_1378224156


Now that there is funny, I don't care who you are. :-)

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we travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us
wojzeh
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Miles Neale (9/5/2013)...what are the first three things you ask or do?

a good dram of whiskey, I guess? (three times, of course...)
Hugo Kornelis
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I luckily never had to deal with silly interview questions. I have read about them, and I have thought about how to handle it if the situation comes up.

My most probable course of action would be to stand up, politely inform them that I am probably not the candidate they are looking for, and leave. Depending on their reaction, I might turn around and resume the interview - but only if they are prepared to take the interview, and most of all: take me, seriously.


The only slighty uncomfortable interviewing experience I had was when my employer made me take a full-day assessment to qualify for a promotion. Most of the day was filling out multiple choice questions, partly regular personality tests, partly standard IQ test. At the end of the day, I had to do a role-play exercise. I had to advise a "customer" on a project they planned. I had been given some information about the project, but it was not at all related to my normal work (I think it was engineering) - so I stayed deliberately vague and gave no hard promises on how the project would go. After the actor had left, I was given the feedback that I was way too vague, that I should have been more specific. I took the opportunity to explain that I would have done that if they had given me something in an area where I am actually competent. (Like, just to name a crazy idea, the position I was applying for). I don't know how they worked that into their final report, so I don't know if I got the job in spite of or because of this. I do know that I quickly found out I hated the job; I left the company less than a year later.


Hugo Kornelis, SQL Server MVP
Visit my SQL Server blog: http://sqlblog.com/blogs/hugo_kornelis
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