As a nomadic technical mercenary, I’ve been the victim of a lot of job interviews. I’ve been subjected to all manner of technical interviews, employment screens, and tests. Behavioral, group interviews, competency based interviews, panel interviews, phone interviews, unstructured interviews; I’ve been through them all.
This has given me some unique perspectives on the subject.
Luckily, as a consultant, the employer has had such a hard time hiring people within their process that I get to bypass much of the asinine processes. I get hired, and more often than not, I get offered a job later.
For a long time, I had some very strong opinions about how some of the major tech companies were interviewing, so much so that I would have never even consider applying to work for any of them.
This week, it seems Google came to the same conclusions, but from an employer’s perspective (Google: GPA’s are Worthless) after applying analytics to interviews and hiring outcomes.
I have to agree with Google’s conclusions.
I can’t tell you how many bad interviews I’ve had. Most people are naturally bad at interviewing, but some are truly terrible, especially when they want to be like Microsoft or Google.
For a while the fad was to ask questions that the interviewer didn’t know the answers to or inane brain teasers. Microsoft pioneered the interview puzzle, and the fad quickly spread to other tech companies.
Unfortunately, when you use puzzles as a litmus test in an interview, you end up basically hiring people who are good at puzzles. The world is full of PhDs who are intensely smart, but are completely impractical, and would rather mull over an academic problem than actually crank out working code and ship a product.
I’ve worked with these kind of people.
Some of my favorite interview questions:
My personal favorite interview question is, “where do you see yourself in five years?” I don’t get this one much anymore, but considering I have a lot of years of consulting experience, but I usually answer, “Well since this is a six month contract, probably working somewhere else.”
This year I interviewed for a large company that does security software and was asked, “how many sockets can a process have open at one time?” My answer was it depends on the OS, and then gave my best answer for Linux. The interviewer replied, “oh, I didn’t mean Linux, I meant OS/2,” and then told me about a customer support issue that occurred two decades ago.
I’ve only had two puzzles pitched at me during interviews, and it does nothing but frustrate the interviewer.
Sometimes it went like this:
“How many golf balls can you stuff into a 747?” The interviewer smirks.
“Is that a big problem here at XYZ Corp?” I ask, perplexed.
“It’s one of our standard interview questions. It gives us a way to see your problem solving methods.”
I sigh. “Well what is the galley configuration?”
“I don’t know, what do you mean?” he asks annoyed.
I explain, I’m a pilot and Boeing made several configurations, a cargo configuration, four-engine double decker…”
“oh the standard configuration.” I nod.
“Do you want the aircraft to fly?” Interviewers head tilts 30 degrees. “There are weight limitations and you have to be cognizant of the center of gravity. How much do your golf balls weigh? Are they standard golf balls? Do you want it to take off with full fuel? Fuel weighs…”
This goes on until the interviewer gives up and changes the subject.
Once I was asked “How many dimes stacked on top of each other would it take to reach the top of the Empire State building?” It was at the end of an all day gauntlet interview.
My response: “That is a stupid question. The dimes would never be able to be stacked anywhere high enough to reach to desired height. A slight breeze would topple the stack. And I think dimes aren’t uniform in thickness, so they won’t stack very well, unless you glued them together. If you glued them together, the easy answer is it would be the desired height divided by the thickness of the dimes, provided you could secure them properly to keep them from toppling. However, you would probably have to have enough stuck down in the ground, and made sure the glue was strong enough so it didn’t sheer off, because if it wasn’t perfectly vertical the dime-pole would topple and probably kill someone.”
They decided to go with another candidate.