In the NaNoWriMo excerpt I wrote this weekend, my characters were avoiding doing anything by debating why “tricky questions” are so prevalent during interviews. By “tricky question,” I mean something that has nothing to do with practicality, but might win you a bar bet or provide suitable blogging material (for me).
For example, I was once asked a question like:

Suppose you’re dealing four people cards, and you get interrupted. When you come back, you forget where you left off. How would you resume dealing?

My answer, “I’d ask the other players or have them count their cards,” was apparently too pedestrian. The interviewer was unamused when I asked why dealing playing cards was a time-critical task. When I play, it’s for the social aspect, like trash talk. (Okay, playing slow minimizes how much money I can lose.)

I think he was looking for me to get “the trick,” which is to start dealing the cards in reverse order. So, if you imagine a baseball diamond where you started dealing counter-clockwise. You left off at one of the bases, you don’t know which. The solution is to deal clockwise, starting with home plate (the dealer). Because the cards are evenly divisible by the number of players, and you’re working in the reverse order, you’ll always end up dealing an equal number of cards to the players.

In press write-ups, HR people claim the interviewers want to see how a candidate thinks. I’ve had enough of these questions that I think that’s a load of dingo’s kidneys. What seems more plausible is the interviewer wants you to get close enough to their pet answer (and there is a preferred answer) so they can have a little egoboo helping you finish the last part.

An answer you do not want to give is “That’s a pretty bad idea because (explanation doesn’t matter). Why would anyone want to do that?” Or, in the case of my character’s experience, answer the question in a way that’s very different than what the interviewer intended. I have done both — it doesn’t get you closer to the job.

One day I hope to have an interview that measures one of my keenest strengths: being a smart aleck. In the meantime, I’ve started a list of impossibly stupid questions to use as ice breakers for a nervous candidate. For example, “How would you fix a toilet on top of Mt. Fuji?” or “Using a roll of duct tape, a squeegee, and the business advice from a parrot, build a frozen yogurt franchise.”

If the candidate laughed, they’re in my good graces.

5 Responses

  1. I like your interview questions. Also, your answer about counting the cards is what I would say. I’m not too confident in the dealing backward thing. 🙂 But then, I’m no mathemetician.

  2. And then too there are the non-tricky questions.

    During a group interview for a job, as I was working may way through a series of technical and procedural questions I had one person ask me if I considered myself more of a “Scotty” type engineer or a “Geordi” type.

    At first I thought it was an attempt at trying to lighten things up, but when I laughed and he kept on staring intently, waiting for me to answer I answered the question as best I could.

  3. And then there are the non-tricky questions the other way. I once asked a candidate what he would do if a coworker – a team member, on his team, that he shared an office with, specifically – were always surfing the internet when he saw the guy’s screen – never doing work.

    I was watching how folks would handle it; my preferred direction for an answer was to indicate they’d talk to the guy first, then bring it up if it continued. I got a wide variety of answers that in some way involved one of those two, since it’s fairly obvious what the worst possible answer was, right?

    Well, not to one guy, who replied simply that he wouldn’t say or do anything, because it was the other guy’s business and he wouldn’t want to get involved or upset anyone….

    That one floored me.