Thursday, 19 March 2015

10 Stupid Questions

Here's a list someone composed of actual job interview questions from some big employers. Some of these questions are just silly, others are the kind of dumb crap I really hate. Here's a quick review:

A note on ratings: I always worried about being a TA for a philosophy class because I would be reading the dumbest things I'd ever read and giving them B+'s. Keep that in mind.

1. If you could high-five one person, living or not, who would it be?
This is a goofy question that I can't quite understand the point of. If someone thinks this reveals something about the person answering, then I don't know if I want to work for that person. My answer, "You, right now" (if they won't do it, just leave the interview). My rating: B+

2. If Labatt gave you a million dollars with the condition that you'd have to pay it back in three years, what would you do with it?
Assuming this is for a position where a person has to actually make investment decisions, it could be a good question. But for regular people I think it badly conflates risk aversion, financial savvy, current capacity to take a loss, and ability to properly estimate current capacity to take a loss. Too many variables.

My answer, "Figure out how much interest I could get on it with a recognition that I can't afford to lose the principle." My rating: A

3. If you only have one choice, do you prefer to work on time or correctly?
What a stupid, stupid question. What the hell are we talking about here? Are we talking about selecting the correct cables to hold up the suspension bridge or are we talking about making sure there are no typos in our report? And how badly does someone need the report, and by how much are we going to err on those cables?

My answer, "It would depend completely on the circumstances, sometimes errors are inconveniences and sometimes they cost people their lives. Sometimes missing deadlines is an inconvenience and sometimes it costs millions of dollars. There is no meaningful way to figure out which is more important in general." My rating: D

4. How can we move Mount Fuji?
Come on now.

My answer: "Well, the first thing to do would be to start negotiations with the government of Japan and locally with the people who would be affected. Moving an active volcano seems like a pretty big risk of completely devastating the island it is located on, so you might be talking about razing Tokyo. Once you've convinced millions of people that this project is worth it and figured out where they are all going to go if the largest city on earth is buried in lava, you obvious have millions of crazy people willing to help you. So at that point, you move it the same way they built the pyramids, chunk by chunk with a never-before-seen amount of manpower." My rating: F

5. If you were an inanimate object, what object would you be?
I mean, the clear answer is 'a corpse' because if I were an inanimate object right now, that's what I'd be, but presumably that isn't what they are asking, and it wouldn't go over well.

My answer: "A corpse." My rating: B+

6. What would you name a book about your life at this point?
I think if you have an immediate answer to this you are either in the midst of writing your memoir or you are an insane narcissist. Maybe that's the point of the question. If you don't hem and haw and say, "Wow, I don't know" then they should stay away from you.

My answer: "I don't think it's a good idea to pick a title for a book before it is written. I'd probably want to make a clever pun about Borderline Personality Disorder." My rating: C

7. How do you get a plastic ball out of a cup without touching the cup?
This is even worse than moving Mount Fuji. This kind of question tells you that they are looking for a particular answer and will judge any other answer to be a violation of the unstated rules of the question. This question tells me not only that I don't want to work for the person asking it, but also that I don't want to do business with the company.

My answer: "I'd just reach in and take the ball out with my hand without touching the side." Their reply: "Uh, you can't, the ball is too big." My answer: "Oh, okay, I'd just let the ball fall out because the cup is upside-down." Their reply: "Stop being a dick." My reply: "Lowering something sticky in, cutting the cup in half, shattering the cup, tilting the surface the cup is on, asking someone else to get the ball for me, blowing the cup over, pushing the cup over with a stick, putting several more plastic balls in until the cup is full enough of them that I can take the top one out and noting that you only asked me to take 'a' plastic ball out of the cup without specifying that it had to be the ball already in the cup, using similar logic to take a plastic ball out of a bigger cup that I can just reach into that I brought myself, tongs, bringing the cup into a zero gravity environment and waiting for them to drift apart, filling the cup with water so the ball floats out - it was that last one that you wanted, wasn't it?" (Seriously, my guess is that they are looking for 'fill the cup with water') My rating: Fuck off, you are not clever.

8. If you own a grocery store and you have to sell apples, how would you determine how many different types of apples would you sell?
This seems like a pretty good question that will actually tell the asker how you approach unfamiliar situations.

My answer: "Since I don't know anything about the grocery business, I'd probably start by looking at other grocery stores and trying to carry the same kinds of apples they do. Once I had some appled in the store I could look at how each kind sold, and occasionally experiment with other kinds of apples to see if they were valuable additions. Of course, the amount of time and effort I put into these experiments would depend on how much of my business actually depended on apples - I wouldn't want to spend a disproportionate time make decisions about apples that end up having a negligible effect on my business." My rating: A

9. How will you keep HootSuite weird?
This isn't even an oddball question. Apparently HootSuite is a business that depends on being weird. This is the equivalent to a "How would you keep our business efficient?" for a company that values efficiency.

My answer: Who knows, but obviously I had better have one if I am applying to work at HootSuite. My rating: Shouldn't be on this list.

10. How many traffic lights are there in Canada?
A simple question to see if you approach problems.

My answer: Step one is to define how much time they really want me to spend on this question in the interview. Step two is to define the terms (is a 'traffic light' an entire intersection that is equipped with lights, or is it a single lamp?). Step three is to estimate how many traffic lights are in Toronto based on my knowledge of the city (how many major blocks there are east to west and north to south), and scale that from Toronto's 2.5 million people to the population of Canada. Obviously Toronto is an exception, but I don't even know which way it is an exception. There are way more traffic lights but also way more population density than in rural areas. If Toronto has a thousand intersections with traffic lights, that would mean one set of lights for every 2.5 thousand people. Does a town of 10,000 people have 4 traffic lights? Does it have more or fewer? I really don't know. At any rate, I'd guess Toronto has more than a thousand but way less than ten thousand, so I'd put Canada in the 20,000 range and be pretty confident I'm within an order of magnitude. My Rating: A

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