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Blowing Up a Pointless Job Interview 692

Nemo the Magnificent writes "Ever been asked a question in a job interview that's just so abysmally stupid, you're tempted to give in to the snark and blow the whole thing up? Here are suggested interview-ending answers to 16 of the stupidest questions candidates actually got asked in interviews at tech companies in 2013, according to employment site Glassdoor. Oil to pour on the burning bridges."
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Blowing Up a Pointless Job Interview

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  • The ones I hate (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @10:56PM (#46009749)
    The ones I hate are the ones designed to make people angry for "psychological" reasons (they really just want to bait people), although nobody who has even read a book on the topic is involved. If it's not NASA, and even if it is and you haven't been warned that they would be such stuff, then it's not on. When the military do that sort of stuff it's not completely out of the blue.
  • (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 19, 2014 @11:22PM (#46009889)

    most of our employees have to do trouble shoooting at clients, so we give them a test early in the interview
    The candidate is seated in aroom with a secretary type person, who after a few minutes, says, hey are you a tech guy - my printer isn't working
    The candidates who say you need to download linux to install drivers don't get hired
    The ones who say, hey, no problem, the printer was unplugged, get to the next stage

    I actually thought a lot of the 16 questions were pretty good...fuzzy tennis balls at xerox and how does the internet work at akamai are ok questions, depneding on the job

  • by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @11:23PM (#46009905)

    Not true. It was not until later in my career that I started being asked stupid questions that had nothing to do with my expertise in interviews. Apparently, I learned later, the interviewer expected me to pull an answer out of my arse, then defend it to the death. This was for an engineering position, but his expectation was apparently that everyone who is any good's career should gravitate towards sales.

  • by grcumb ( 781340 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @11:25PM (#46009919) Homepage Journal

    For director-level types, not engineers ("How does the Internet work?"), especially with follow-ups to nail someone who has googled and memorized the canned "answer".

    This could filter out those who have the requisite charisma and social skills but who don't have a clue about the technology.

    A friend of mine once suggested that the best possible question you could ask of a potential sysadmin was, 'Explain how traceroute works.' There are so many levels of 'right' answer that you can determine whether the interviewee is a rank amateur or whether she's currently communing with the spirit of Ada Lovelace and spontaneously generating CS zen koans using the AI in her programmable calculator.

  • by TheloniousToady ( 3343045 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @11:41PM (#46010021)

    I once was asked the old job interview chestnut, "What is your greatest weakness?" I knew that you were supposed to lie and answer that one with a strength such as "I'm just too honest and hard-working." However, that technique always seemed too transparent to me, and I'm not a good liar. So, on the spur of the moment, I decided to answer it honestly. After that, the interviewer took a breath and said, "I appreciate your honest answer."

    I took that as a bad sign at the time, but everything else went well so I was hopeful overall. Ultimately, though, I got turned down for the job. I've always suspected that my honest answer was the reason. Maybe they were looking for a gifted liar. But the job opening was for a software engineer, not a used car salesman, so that seems an odd qualification.

  • Re:Be Careful (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Harlequin80 ( 1671040 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @11:52PM (#46010069)

    And seriously why would you have issues with these questions? You might think they are silly, but perhaps that is the point.

    There are going to be lots of crap things you have to do at work. Crap things "you" think are pointless and stupid and, despite what you may think, your employer knows that you don't want to do these things. They have their reasons even if you don't agree with them. If you respond like a cock in the interview you will be a cock to work with.

    Also lets take the tennis ball question, one that is so well known that I had never heard it before. It is a behavioural question. If the person sitting opposite me answers it accurately due to knowledge of aerodynamics it actually tells me very little. However if the person tries to guess, or freezes, or says "I have no idea" all tell you quite a lot about how they will approach their work.

    No it's not an exact science, yes a lot of it has as much reliability as homoeopathy, but you are making a decision to hire someone on a piece of paper that is going to be at least partially false, the word of people that person has personally picked (no bias there!) and the gut reaction based on a couple of hours of talking to that person.

    Having hired close to 40 people to work directly for me over the past 8 years I can tell you that I HATE the hiring process. And after hiring a number of people that have been downright toxic to my business I now work on the premise that I will say no on even the barest hint the person I am talking to is a wanker. I'm sure I have missed some amazing talent now as a result but missing someone brilliant is a small price to pay for not getting a terrorist (terrorist - Good outcome, bad attitude).

  • Re:Tame and lame (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Sunday January 19, 2014 @11:52PM (#46010079) Journal

    Actually, that question, while itself lame, does serve a purpose if the job requires creativity. They want to watch your come up with something different, and do it outside your comfort zone. If the interviewers are sharp enough, it will also give them a clue as to how you would fit into their culture.

    In my current job (originally as a sysadmin, now DevOps)? I went through a battery of technical grilling, then I was asked point-blank:

    "Is there intelligent life in Outer Space"?

    I answered yes, then asked to defend my position. I spent the next 45 minutes in back-and-forth debate involving my bringing out Drake's Equation, panspermia, extrapolation of odds, and many other related topics.

    I got the job, and quickly discovered the reason why... the company is chock-full of full-on geeks, many of whom have a passion for their respective skills, and share many common cultural touchpoints, which allowed me to fit in perfectly.

    It's stuff like that which you really cannot pick up on by asking dumb crap like "what is your greatest weakness."

  • Re:The ones I hate (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lgw ( 121541 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @12:07AM (#46010171) Journal

    Well, I don't know - I like to respond to blatant psychological probing with "are you testing to see whether I'm an $X or a lesbian". Either they get the joke or not, either way I find it funny.

  • by Moof123 ( 1292134 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @12:09AM (#46010187)

    Interviewers all too often forget that this is a two-way process. I am evaluating them as much as they are evaluating me. In a recent interview a manager (not the hiring manager) really started to put the screws to me about my job history, really harping on how long I'd been at certain places that are just plain normal these days. Engineering has become somewhat nomadic, moving on as contracts dry up, or after the place gets bought up to be run like a puppy mill.

    My takeaway was they were out of touch the industry they were looking to break into, and further probing by me bore this out. At that point I was still smart enough not to "blow up" the interview, as as others have noted, niche industries are alarmingly small and interbred. You never know who you will run across again down the road.

  • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @12:14AM (#46010219)

    Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

    I answered a similar question - What is your desired future position - in the self-evaluation section of an on-line annual employes performance review once and wrote "International Space Station". It remained the pre-filled, default answer for the next five years, before it was removed by someone.

    Here's basically what I want in a job: (1a) Sufficient pay, (1b) Flexible hours, (2) Interesting work, (3) Leave me alone. If I have a problem with any of those, I'll let you know. (Been continuously employed since 1987)

  • by houstonbofh ( 602064 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @12:15AM (#46010227)
    I have actually had problems with not showing appropriate stress when management expected it. I usually moved on soon after that became apparent.
  • Re:WTF #28 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @01:02AM (#46010449)

    Don't you mean "on" instead of "or"?

  • Re:um, yeah (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 20, 2014 @01:14AM (#46010497)

    Thats a legitimate description of a good day from someone who is ex-military.

  • by cervesaebraciator ( 2352888 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @01:18AM (#46010525)
    But wouldn't that be an honest response?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 20, 2014 @01:28AM (#46010567)

    Several years ago I was looking for a tech writing job. Found a local company advertising for a lead writer to (among other things) redo their user manuals for networking gear. I sent them my resume, the HR guy called, we spent an hour on the phone and it sounded like we had a perfect match. He asked me to download one of their user manuals (about 100 pages) from their web site and critique it and bring it to an interview. I grabbed the doc, spent about three hours reading and annotating it and writing up a recommendation (and it needed a hell of a lot of work).

    I get to the interview a few days later and the head of engineering is in charge, and the HR guy is there. Engineering guy obviously thinks there's no need for anyone, ever to employ a technical writer, engineers can do everything (which no doubt explains the train wreck I saw in the manual I reviewed), and was very rude. I stayed upbeat and polite, even though it was clear I had zero chance to get a job that he didn't think should exist, until he pointed to the marked up document I'd brought along and said, "I don't know why we would care about what you thought of our current work." I pointed to the HR guy and said, "I did this at his request. Who's doing the hiring here?" They looked at each other, and it was clear I had just poured salt into a fresh wound.

    The interview ended shortly thereafter, and when the HR guy walked me to the door he apologized for what had happened. I told him to keep my resume on file in case they figured out how badly they needed professional help. Never heard from them, and their manuals are still a train wreck.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 20, 2014 @01:47AM (#46010659)

    I do agree on the point that blowing interviews is a bit pretentious. But there are a lot of times an interviewer has clearly asked questions "over the line" or that identify this company as a terrible fit

    The only questions which are "over the line" are questions which are illegal to ask to start with, and even some of those aren't over the line. It's not at all uncommon to ask people strange or seemingly retarded questions which don't really HAVE a right answer, or a wrong one either. The point is to see how the person reacts and thinks, it's not a test of knowledge. Those are actually in many cases the better employers, because they are actually thinking about you instead of just running down a checklist to see how well you can bullshit them.

    About the only real exceptions are things related to ethics. A big one these days is asking for passwords to things like Facebook or your email. I always refuse, politely, and if they start to seem miffed or claim it really is required I laugh out loud and say "Heh, that's a good one, you almost had me. Wait, you're seriously telling me you'd hire someone who is both dumb enough to give out their password to a complete stranger, and unethical enough to violate the agreement they had with that service? What kind of company IS this?"

  • by phoenix182 ( 1157517 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @02:03AM (#46010751)

    My personal fave:

    After the spending the first gulf war in the military and then working a decade in extremely active security companies (we're talking 200+ combats a year and solo commercial and industrial armed alarm responses) I was ready to break into IT. On my first interview (for @Home phone network support) the hiring panel asked me "how I would handle the extraordinary stress of having to deal with people who were so very angry with me".

    I started laughing like a lunatic, and couldn't stop until the tears were rolling down my cheeks. I realized they were horrified at my behavior and had been serious. I asked if they'd even read my resume and cover letter, and when they hemmed and hawed I explained further.

    It went something like - "Look, 6 months out of boot camp I spent a night in ops watch at a flag command as the 4th link in the chain of nuclear response...that means that had anything happened I would have been one of the first people to get the ball rolling towards global nuclear armageddon. In security I was called upon to rush alone into a warehouse in the middle of the night with hundreds of thousands of dollars of merchandise all around me and find out if it was on fire, or if a half dozen armed criminals were robbing the place. I had to put myself (unarmed and unarmored) into melees with a pack of armed gangbangers out for revenge over a recent shooting. I had to restrain psychotic killers who were on PCP before they could murder the 19yr old nurse on duty. Look I realize you take your job seriously, but quite honestly none of you have the slightest idea of what stress or anger are. Next question please."

    I figured that was gonna wash me out in a heartbeat, but surprisingly I got the job.

  • ebay interview (Score:5, Interesting)

    by swframe ( 646356 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @02:09AM (#46010809)
    I walked out of an interview at ebay. In the middle of the interview, they told me the position had been filled but they wanted me to talk to one more person to complete the process. I didn't know until after that it was a "stress interview". The interviewer was clearly enjoying watching me struggle. The first question the interviewer asked was which java packages I felt comfortable using. After I told him, he said "those are the ones I won't ask you about". The best question from that interview: "If you were given a technical design document how would you tell if it is good without reading it?" Later, I ended the interview when he told me I couldn't use the whiteboard to make it easier for me to show him the answer.
  • by Gamer_2k4 ( 1030634 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @02:33AM (#46010917)

    "Do you have any weaknesses?" "Yes, I hate stupid interview questions"

    I think I actually found a decent answer to this question. "I value stability so much that it sometimes acts against my best interests. For example, if I hadn't been laid off from my last job, I would've preferred to stay there as long as possible, even if it meant not looking for better jobs. The stability of an existing salaried position was too attractive to voluntarily let go."

    Paraphrased, "Yeah, my weakness is that if you hire me, I'd like to work here until I die." Hey, I got the job.

  • by PNutts ( 199112 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @02:38AM (#46010941)

    And from the movies:

    Q. Can you lift 50 pounds?
    A. It depends. 50 pounds of what?

  • by YukariHirai ( 2674609 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @03:38AM (#46011217)

    I once was asked the old job interview chestnut, "What is your greatest weakness?" I knew that you were supposed to lie and answer that one with a strength such as "I'm just too honest and hard-working."

    Not necessarily. My mother has been on the asking end of that question, and one of the candidates she was interviewing gave the honest answer of being lazy. She gave this candidate the job, because it shows A) honesty, B) the ability to assess one's own flaws and therefore work around them, and C) lazy people tend to come up with good efficient solutions to problems. A and B are what she was really testing when asking that question.

    It's also worth noting that being too honest and hard-working are actually pretty serious flaws in a potential employee. Someone who's too honest might say something to a client/customer/whoever that they really shouldn't. Someone who's too hard-working might push themselves too far and fuck their health to the point where they'll leave a critical hole in the workplace when it finally catches up to them.

  • BBC (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @04:09AM (#46011303) Homepage

    I was interviewed for a position at the BBC, back in the early days of digital TV, working on their digital "teletext" service (i.e. that pseudo-HTML stuff they shove down the DVB channels).

    Application went fine, was asked to interview (from thousands of candidates). Went in, did some tests (technical, editorial, etc.). Seemed to all be going well. Went to interview where the panel were half-technical, half-management.

    Was all going alright right up until the last question. It was so wrapped up in management-ese that honestly, even as a vaguely intelligent person, I could not understand what it meant (let alone provide an answer). It was literally that impenetrable, and not even something that made any sense whatsoever. I couldn't even begin to waffle some management-ese in reply, it was that bad.

    So I told them. "I don't understand, sorry". They repeated it, word-for-word. "No, no, I heard. I don't understand what you're asking." This went on for several minutes. The management in the room looked quite annoyed. Meanwhile, the techies in the room were making a show of writing a large "tick" (check) symbol on my application in front of them and grinning inanely.

    Sadly, I think the management overruled or outnumbered them, and I wasn't offered (though I was told that I still came quite close).

    To this day, I still can't even remember what the question was (it was just random words strung together than didn't even seem to ask a question), let alone work out what kind of answer they wanted. And, surely, if someone doesn't understand something, what you want them to do is stop you and say "Sorry, no, I don't understand", not plough on regardless making up some rubbish?

    Needless to say, I actually felt quite sympathetic for the people who DO have to work under that person all the time.

  • Re:Tame and lame (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@wo[ ] ['rld' in gap]> on Monday January 20, 2014 @08:41AM (#46012213) Homepage Journal

    That sort of thing is illegal in the UK, and the entire EU I believe although doubtless there is some regional variation. The law is that workplaces must provide a reasonable environment for all employees.

    If you desperately need a job or simply move office within a company and find yourself in a "culture" that is hostile to you and which requires, as in your example, an unhealthy and discriminatory work-life balance (discriminatory because clearly no single parent or person with an illness/disability that limits their ability to work long hours would ever be able to take it) then the company needs to change it.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter