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Last week, I interviewed for a mid-level programmer position. It ended up being the strangest interview of my life. I won't name the company, but it was not a startup and was full of people who have been in the industry for a while.

The first few questions were all negative, such as:

  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • What is your biggest mistake?
  • How often do you feel like a failure.

Then they got just plain bizarre. I'm completely serious; I was asked:

  • If Buzz Lightyear doesn't know he's a toy, why does he freeze when Andy enters the room?
  • If you had to be racist, who would you be racist against?
  • How many donuts do you think I can eat in one sitting?
  • If you found out that I could eat more donuts than you, would you feel threatened?

Every time they would ask these strange questions, I would laugh. But they would just look at me with a serious look and not even smile in the slightest. There was no questions about my experience, programming skills, strengths, interests, etc. They left me a whole 2 minutes to ask my own questions, so I thought to myself "WTF is wrong with these people?" and just said "forget it", and left.

Yesterday, I got a call from the recruiter saying I got the job. The salary is about $25k more than I was expecting. I was speechless and said I'd have to think about it.

I'm tempted to take the job, because I'm unemployed and have had trouble finding something for a while. But I have absolutely no idea what to make of this interview. Were they just messing with me to see how I'd react? Or are these people just crazy? What am I to make of this interview? Is this a real interview tactic, like seeing how I'd respond to odd questions?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow Oct 2 '18 at 5:53
  • Tl;dr: People are awful and interviewers think they're a super-genius if they do something which totally weird's you out. Further reading: linkedin.com/pulse/… – AJFaraday Oct 9 '18 at 8:26
  • If you take the job and eventually discover the real answer, could you please post it here? – Danny Schoemann Oct 9 '18 at 12:35
  • Gosh, I really want to say that if they ask stupid questions, they should get stupid answers. – tuskiomi Oct 16 '18 at 19:13

22 Answers 22

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I'm tempted to take the job, because I'm unemployed and have had trouble finding something for a while. But I have absolutely no idea what to make of this interview. Were they just messing with me to see how I'd react? Or are these people just crazy? What am I to make of this interview? Is this a real interview tactic, like seeing how I'd respond to odd questions?

Sadly these sorts of stupid questions are somewhat common in the tech field. It became a fad to ask "puzzle" questions, particularly when some of the larger companies like Microsoft, Google, etc, were known to ask these kinds of questions.

Some folks justify them by claiming "I just want to understand how you think" or they want to see how you "think outside the box" or "under pressure", etc. I was asked similar foolish questions during one interview - questions having nothing at all to do with the job or my ability to do it. I also had to ponder if I wanted to work for such an interviewer.

I think these kinds of questions are absurd. And I've never seen that such questions are at all effective in weeding out good candidates from poor candidates - which should be the sole point of all interview questions.

That said, I never condemn a company based solely on the quality of their interview questions. I believe companies in general do an extremely poor job of interviewing. For something as critical as attempting to hire a good employee, most companies appear to leave it to the whims of the individual interviewers. Few companies provide any effective training on how to interview. Most companies end up doing it badly.

I don't think your interviewers were crazy. And I don't think they were messing with you. I think they just don't know how to do any better. I think they are in general poorly trained.

If you want to take the job, I wouldn't let stupid interview questions hold you back. It's just one data point to be considered with all the others.

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    "That said, I never condemn a company based solely on the quality of their interview questions" - Yeah but you have to ask yourself if they model themselves with the tech giants, then how do they model themselves with pay raises? Promotions? Reviews? Work-Home balanace? Etc. – Dan Oct 2 '18 at 17:09
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    The number of job interviews I've been asked to conduct without having any training in how to conduct a job interview staggers me. And I've never been given a list or guidance from HR about what kinds of questions are illegal (and there are many where I live and work), or anything like that. I'm sure these questions are the result of someone who has no idea how to conduct a job interview, or even hates doing interviews, and is coming up with "crazy" questions out of desperation or protest or both. – Todd Wilcox Oct 3 '18 at 0:36
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    Are you a programmer ? I went through a set of interviews recently and in one occasion they just gave me a tiny test to complete but the questions asked were more general, not as obscure as OPs but general. The interviewer - the lead dev justified it by "I want to get to know you, there's only so much I can gauge by this interview, and if you can't code it wil become appearant in the first two weeks". He was much more keen on seeing if I'd be a good fit for the team. – Иво Недев Oct 3 '18 at 8:21
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    Just remember the coworkers you'll be working with have had the same interview. This means if they didn't ask anything technical, chances of them having good competence is very low. – NibblyPig Oct 4 '18 at 9:52
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    I was working at Microsoft when the edict came down about no more "puzzle questions". I'm not a big fan of the questions like "why is a manhole round". You generally don't get a lot out of watching someone try to answer a question like that. On the other hand, I did have a "puzzle question" that I'd ask with the intention of watching the candidate think. Even if he/she'd get the question right on the first go, I had a crowbar I'd throw in the gear to make him/her try again. Typically it took 10-15 minutes with me prompting before the answer. It the candidate didn't listen to my prompts, ... – Flydog57 Oct 5 '18 at 21:05
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The first questions are pretty normal in my experience. The latter questions are quite unusual, but it may be the company is looking for people that think well on their feet as well as critical thinking.

If Buzz Lightyear doesn't know he's a toy, why does he freeze when Andy enters the room?

This is actually the weirdest question, but might go towards figuring out how you work through abstract thought processes.

If you had to be racist, who would you be racist against?

Maybe they are trying to see if you can think outside the more typical "human" races.

How many donuts do you think I can eat in one sitting?

Critical thinking, how big is the donut and how hungry are you?

If you found out that I could eat more donuts than you, would you feel threatened?

Can you not be challenged in any way even over trivial things? Indicates a person that NEEDS to be on top; might be good or bad depending on what they are looking for.

Generally, not great questions in my opinion, but not something that would dissuade me from taking a job in a tough to find area when I'm unemployed.


I am NOT saying I think these are good questions nor claiming to know the actual reasons they were asked, but I could see why someone might see value in them. I started off as a software dev manager with basic chatting ("tell me about you") and a scripted tech screening, and a single puzzler. Over time, I dropped the puzzler and the tech screen. Tech screens can be memorized and don't prove anything with regards to capabilities; same with the puzzler. The latest format is still chatting (to establish basic communication/social ability) and a three-part, timed, coding exercise. I've found this to be far more reliable in establishing professional capability. The types of unconventional questions being asked in the OP's question are not unique and have somewhat commonly been used; even if they are not of value.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Oct 2 '18 at 16:14
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    Here's another fact you might have missed out on... all of these questions were asked on reddit. I would reverse question it and ask, "Raise your hand if you asked any question during this interview that can be found on reddit?" – Dan Oct 2 '18 at 17:13
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    I propose that the first question might also be an empathy/compassion/theory-of-mind test, because at their core, "compassion" is the ability to consider the possible mental ongoings of another mind, and "empathy" is the tendency to automatically/reflexively simulate some aspect of those possible mental ongoings. Asking "why does [entity] in [scenario] do [some thing]" usually requires using those mental faculties to answer well. – mtraceur Oct 3 '18 at 4:24
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    @JoeStrazzere Quite possibly. There is a finite number of decent questions to ask and if you google "tech interview questions" you can find almost all of them; if you go too far outside those, it becomes obscure, esoteric questions that rarely are answered. The coding exercises require a demonstration of that knowledge rather than a regurgitation. I held out on dropping the questions for years, but I felt I had better insight into the developer's skill by giving them fairly open ended tasks (write a method that accomplishes X) and seeing their implementation and asking them about it. – UnhandledExcepSean Oct 3 '18 at 12:00
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    @JanusBahsJacquet: You're right; I wasn't entirely fair. I would prefer an answer which showed familiarity with current interviewing strategies to answer "is this a real interviewing tactic?". This answer is contradictory "quite unusual" vs. "somewhat commonly used". – sondra.kinsey Oct 4 '18 at 20:43
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You're unemployed. They offered you good money for a job you were interested in enough to apply for. You should take the job.

That's pretty much all there is to it.

Interviews are always weird, you've just accepted a particular weirdness as par for the course. An odd interview is generally unimportant, but in the case where you need the job it's very much unimportant. Had they been openly rude, or the like, then you might have reason to be circumspect but oddity is not, in itself, a reason to believe that the job will be bad. Were you in the position to be selecting between job offers then it might be appropriate to let it sway you but in the case where you have a good offer and no job? Don't sweat it.

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    This answer does not attempt to answer the question. The question was asking what to make of the interview questions, not whether they should take the job or not. Even if that were the case, it would be closed for being off-topic. – David K Oct 1 '18 at 15:27
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    @DavidK On the contrary, it very much answers the question. But since that was not apparent to you, I will elaborate. – Jack Aidley Oct 1 '18 at 15:31
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    You aren't wrong, and while I agree with the suggested course of action this doesn't answer the question as written. – motosubatsu Oct 1 '18 at 15:32
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    @JackAidley To quote the only questions actually asked by the OP in the main post: "Were they just messing with me to see how I'd react? Or are these people just crazy? What am I to make of this interview? Is this a real interview tactic, like seeing how I'd respond to odd questions?" – David K Oct 1 '18 at 15:34
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    @DavidK The answer says, "Interviews are always weird... An odd interview is generally unimportant..." I think this pretty much gives an indication of what to make of the crazy interview questions. – silvascientist Oct 2 '18 at 17:19
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To be honest, I see something interesting about every question.

If Buzz Lightyear doesn't know he's a toy, why does he freeze when Andy enters the room?

If you were interested in sociology, you'd know that actually, this may be a sheep movement. Since all the other toys do it, Buzz doesn't want to be different and wants to fit in automatically, due to how our brain works.

If you were interested in psychology, you may think that he knows he is a toy, but tries to deny it as it protects him from feeling ashamed of being a toy.

These questions would tell an employer a lot about you, unless, of course, you answered with "oh, em, ow" and so there is really nothing that great about you. You can't think on your feet, which means the employer can't get past that barrier of your planned answers.

On one of the jobs I got, I made a conversation from something I was asked and the employers thought I was interesting because of it. I wasn't uptight, and showed them how I'd eventually be at work by being myself.

Anyways, just take the job.

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    Asking a question like that only tells me that you are interested in spending an insignificant amount of time speculating on absolute nonsense. Even if you were to do it correctly, it would still be a random speculation about a movie with no backing. – Clay07g Oct 1 '18 at 20:57
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    I would have failed that interview because I never saw the film and have no idea what the question is about. Perhaps they are trying to find people who would rather eat donuts than watch children's films, because they are racist against - er - cartoonists? – RedSonja Oct 2 '18 at 6:43
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    @Clay07g - I disagree. Being able to be profound and go into depth into a topic quickly - which has been asked by the way - is a sign of intelligence and sophistication to detail. It also proves that you have a certain level of humor to go along and the interest to get the job. Sure you could play the "this is ridiculous to me!" card, and I wouldn't say you'd be wrong, but there is more into it than you'd like to admit. Recognizing the reasoning behind the question may be another aspect, so an alternative is to go meta about it and eventually get into a more interesting conversation. – Battle Oct 2 '18 at 10:05
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    @Clay07g I disagree. Going in deep on a conversation about a topic you don't have data on and speculating is a sign of imagination. Culturally, we champion this skill in children and label it the building block for "out of box" thinking or "brainstorming". The people who end up signing the paychecks for engineers and software developers are the ones who supposedly selected the most feasible one of those streams and built something useful out of it. If this is "fake intelligence", it sure is doing a much better at life than its "real" counterpart. – iheanyi Oct 3 '18 at 0:01
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    @Rui F Ribeiro: I suspect you've never had to worry about where your next meal is coming from. I hate to tell you this, but our here in the world, working with idiots is sometimes (all too often in my experience) necessary for survival. – jamesqf Oct 3 '18 at 16:55
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Stress Interview

In the Marine Scout Sniper Platoon initiates would go through a physically grueling selection process, during this process the NCO's would routinely pull candidates aside for intense, off the cuff, and often nonsensical interviews. Stuff like "What's your favorite Pokemon?" or "Where do babies come from?" Any answer given would be hotly debated or openly criticized before moving on to the next equally bizarre question. Even the candidates favorite color would loudly be declared and demonstrated as wrong before they were pressed to answer some other pointless question. The purpose of this seemingly insane grilling of the physically exhausted candidates was to evaluate how the person mentally reacted to the unexpected when under extreme duress. The idea was to evaluate who could be counted on to be adaptable and alert even when totally exhausted and faced with a totally unforeseeable situation. It was also designed to see who would lash out at leadership, or crumple under stress, or lock up and shut down under intense conditions.

Stress interviews are also used in the business world to a more toned down degree. Particularly if the position interviewed for is highly competitive, fast paced, and involves a lot of immovable deadlines, extended periods of overtime, and high stress high energy work environment. They do not want to hire somebody who will begin lashing out at other employees, quit in protest to harsh deadlines and project guidelines, or refuse demands from management when the going gets tough.

As a final note, the racism question seems awfully loaded. The correct answer to that one would be to refuse to answer it and further state that you will not answer any questions about race, religion, sexual orientation, or political stance. It is actually a violation of your civil rights to be forced to answer such questions. (Assuming you live in the USA)

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    Perhaps. I work in the Criminal Justice Field so I tend to be a lot more sensitive and informed about civil rights. Frankly, even asking that question is really really risky and I am surprised that they did it. Any applicant who was not hired could easily press a lawsuit claiming that they were not selected based on a civil rights violation. I think I understand why they asked it, but I am pretty surprised HR allowed them to utilize it in the interview. – TCAT117 Oct 2 '18 at 4:46
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    My interview for Sheriff's Deputy Was sitting facing a wall while the sheriff, undersheriff, county attourney, and a comissioner watched silently as the Sergeant grilled me on use of force policy and civil rights questions, he was standing off to one side and I wasnt allowed to look at him. Was stressful enough that afterwards I was told one of the other applicants started crying. Definiteley a Stress Interview. Its a common interview tactic actually. – TCAT117 Oct 2 '18 at 6:58
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    @TCAT117 I recall reading a story from somebody whose interviewers decided that setting off the fire alarm and then pretending to panic would be a great way to conduct a stress interview. The fire brigade was not impressed. – Geoffrey Brent Oct 2 '18 at 7:00
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    The purpose of this technique is to haze the initiates, pure and simple. "We just wanna test their mental capacity" is a post-hoc justification, and you will find similar justifications in other organizations that haze, like college fraternities and sports teams. – ubadub Oct 3 '18 at 3:48
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    The presence of stress does not make something hazing. The presence of intentionally demeaning and degrading or abusive behavior that has no other objective than to cause pain and injury to another is hazing. A difficult interview is not hazing. – TCAT117 Oct 3 '18 at 4:50
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It's not massively common but some interviewers do like the whole "bizarre questions" approach.

The theory is that by seeing how you respond to questions that are outside of what you may have been able to prepare for they are seeing how you think on your feet and also are more likely to see the "real" you rather than a rehearsed performance for a job interview and it can be a way to expose the way the candidate's brain works.

If Buzz Lightyear doesn't know he's a toy, why does he freeze when Andy enters the room?

Say for example you responded with "I never thought of that!" it may suggest that you aren't someone who thinks laterally and analytically etc.

It's not something I'm a fan of personally as I believe the interview process to be a two-way street and I think you are quite likely to leave the candidate thinking you're either a bit mad or just plain weird.

Given you are unemployed however I'm not sure what you have to lose by accepting the offer?

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    I wouldn't say that "I never thought of that" indicates lack of lateral thinking, because I doubt many of us have ever thought about that. Now, if you just say "I never thought of that" and then stop and don't attempt to think through and answer the question, that's a different story. – David K Oct 1 '18 at 15:38
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    I'm not sure what you have to lose by accepting the offer? I think the OP is concerned these questions may be an indication the company operates in a weird and/or unreasonable way in general. If so, it might actually be better to wait for a job offer from a more normal company. – BSMP Oct 1 '18 at 15:44
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    @BSMP the OP mentions he's "had trouble finding something for a while", I think most of us would risk (and potentially even put up with) a little weirdness/unreasonableness under those circumstances (depending on personal financial circumstances of course) – motosubatsu Oct 1 '18 at 15:48
  • @motosubatsu What other reason would the OP have for asking? – BSMP Oct 1 '18 at 15:50
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    @BSMP I agree that may be partially/wholly motivating the OP to ask the question, I'm just advising that IMO the oddness of these questions isn't a strong enough reason to decline the offer in their circumstances. If they were already in a job my advice may well be different. – motosubatsu Oct 1 '18 at 16:10
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That was a weird interview, indeed.

What to make of it? The HR department is either run by a weirdo, or had a recent indoctrination on "non-traditional interview questions".

Key words: The HR department. Your job is not in the HR department. The interview says nothing about how working in the programmers department is going to be. There was probably someone from that department present at the interview and your decision to work for them or not should be based on the impression that you got from that person, aside from the weird questions.

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It sounds like these folks were actively trying to not conduct a traditional interview. Traditional interviews are often seen as re-enforcing existing biases in hiring, so doing something weird and different can counter some things like whiteboard anxiety that can hurt otherwise great candidates. Their intentions were probably good.

Anyway, what to make of it aside, what to do with it? Ask for another interview if you want the opportunity to learn more about the actual work. They got a chance to get to know you, now it's fair for you to want to get to know them better before joining. See if you can get some time with whomever would be your manager, and talk about their real expectations and current challenges for a while.

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You could be over-thinking it. The questions may not be designed for you... i.e. they're not puzzles designed to make you think critically. They're designed to flag weirdos in order for the interviewer to red flag and avoid them.

If Buzz Lightyear doesn't know he's a toy, why does he freeze when Andy enters the room?

If someone starts seriously rambling off an answer about this, I would red flag them in an interview. It could mean they spend too much time fretting over minutia, which could be bad in a programming environment. I want folks that will crank out code that's decent and then bug fix and optimize the best parts. I don't want someone fretting over two lines of code trying to optimize it to death for a petty gain when there's bigger fish to fry.

If you had to be racist, who would you be racist against?

If someone starts to easily and seriously ramble off an answer to this questions... I'd red flag and eliminate them from the hiring pool. Programming departments tend to be very multi-cultural, because you have to deal with different people both in the office and over-seas via contractors in China, India, etc. If someone obviously has some kind of hang-up against a specific race where they can seriously answer this question without hesitation.. big red flag. Especially if they could possibly be promoted to management. You don't want racists in management. You want managers willing to find and promote people under them based on merit, not inherited attributes.

How many donuts do you think I can eat in one sitting?

This sounds like a puzzle question. Just trying to get you to critically think. You would compare yourself, and how many donuts you can eat to the interviewer, and make an estimate. Because sometimes in programming you're having to come up with a best-guess on something to use for a prototype before more research can go into solving a problem.

If you found out that I could eat more donuts than you, would you feel threatened?

Again... a red flag question designed to filter out loonies. If someone can immediately and seriously start rattling off an answer to this... immediate red flag. It would mean they're neurotic, or putting their own personal feelings above accomplishing a team goal. In programming, you always have some programmers that can code more, debug better, etc. Nobody needs to turn it into a pissing contest, because everyone is working towards a common goal of completing a project. If someone gets their feelings hurt easily, then they're going to turn into a burden on the team.

So, if your answer to these started off with a confused look, a chuckle, and hesitation before answering... that's why you got the job offer. Because that's now a NORMAL PERSON should respond to weird questions like this.

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    Good answer, it explains each one of the weird questions rather well, IMHO. – Greenonline Oct 4 '18 at 20:24
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    It's curious how this answer starts with "You could be over-thinking it.", just to append a convoluted reasoning about a complex set of hidden motives behind each of the questions. – O. R. Mapper Oct 5 '18 at 10:37
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    So you're saying weird questions can be considered normal, as long as they are traps to detect people who give weird answers, disqualifying people who answer weird questions with weird answers? And the OP is over-thinking it? :-D – Dronz Oct 8 '18 at 22:47
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Regarding why they asked you these questions, and not questions about your experience: Likely they already decided to give you the job and just wanted to fill time with pointless exercises because It's Policy (TM). Which is dumb, but some companies do it. That's why you got the job despite not asking any questions of your own.

As for what was the point of these questions, it's possible there was no point. They just wanted to see if you had a sense of humour before joining the team, to see if you were a fit for the team culture. Especially if this was a final-round interview at a big company, they probably already decided you had the chops and wanted to make sure you weren't a drone. Which you passed!

If it was me, I would have used some of these questions as a jumping-off point for a reverse-interview. For example:

If you had to be racist, who would you be racist against?

My answer to this question would be something like "If I was to accept this position, is there a requirement that I have to be racist?" and see how they react. The way they react would impact whether or not I accept an offer; what I would be looking for would be to see if they just drop the subject immediately or if they continue to probe. If they continue to probe, then I would walk out of the interview, but if they drop the subject then they could continue.

If you found out that I could eat more donuts than you, would you feel threatened?

Once again, my answer to this questions would be something like "Is not eating a lot of donuts something that I should be threatened about in this company?" and see what they say. Truthfully, I wouldn't want to consider working for a company in which my donut-eating ability may contribute to whether I get a raise or promotion, so this would be a real reverse-interview question. The point of the question would be to find out if the company had any sort of extremely esoteric considerations for promotions or raises, as that would mean that promotion would not be merit-based, which is something I would be against.

That's how I would have handled it. But then again, you did it differently and you got the job, so I guess you did it right.

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    ELIZA, you're hired! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ELIZA – rrauenza Oct 1 '18 at 20:17
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    "it's possible there was no point. They just wanted to see if you had a sense of humour before joining the team, to see if you were a fit for the team culture. " That's a very important thing to find out at the interview stage, it would absolutely be the point. – K. Morgan Oct 3 '18 at 13:04
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    I'm not convinced of the reverse-interview examples. They make it sound like you are failing to see the hypothetical nature of the questions, instead taking even absurd statements at face value, which can indicate an inability to read between lines or understand other implicit cues. – O. R. Mapper Oct 3 '18 at 19:56
  • @O.R.Mapper The term "hypothetical" works both ways. It means "something which is not the case, but might be worth asking about just in case it happens". So, in terms of a reverse-interview, what I want to know is 1) Is this something that might happen within the realm of possibility?, and 2) If this is not within the realm of possibility, then why am I sitting in this chair right now instead of signing your offer letter? That said, again, the OP didn't do the same thing I did and he got the job, so maybe I'm wrong. – Ertai87 Oct 3 '18 at 20:30
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For whatever reason, correct or not, they have decided that technical questions in an in-person interview do not do a good job of separating good employees from bad employees. Instead, they are focusing on team fit questions. The point is not so much to test your thinking skills but to see how you respond to questions like that once you start taking them seriously.

I don't think that they are crazy per se. It may be a crazy concept. It may be a bad concept. But it is a concept that they are trying for sane, rational reasons.

Part of the issue is that if they ask you directly what they want to know, you might answer dishonestly. For example, consider the following questions:

  1. If you saw a wallet lying on the ground, what would you do?
  2. If your supervisor is out of the office, do you work or fool around?
  3. Will you take the extra time to really understand a problem before creating a solution?

These are pretty obvious questions. You wouldn't give answers like

  1. Take the money out of it and put the wallet back.
  2. Fool around.
  3. Of course not. I'll do as little as possible. If it looks like it's working that's good enough for me. You can always file a bug report if it's not.

Even if these are how you think, you wouldn't give these answers in a job interview. Because you wouldn't want to work anywhere that would hire someone like that.

When they ask you about Buzz Lightyear though, you feel more free to ascribe bad motives to Buzz. It's not obvious that saying, "Because he hates the stupid brat" indicates that you are anti-social. But that might be their takeaway from that.

The idea here is called projection. People tend to ascribe their own motives to others. So to get to people's real motives, one approach is to ask that person about others so as to see what motives that person ascribes to those others. Because the ascribed motives are often more honest than the motives that people give themselves.

When they say that they want to hire you after that interview, they're saying that they like what a look past your public face says about you. Assuming this interview method is not bunk (it may just be another fad that will wear out), the private you that they saw through your reactions to these rather silly questions was attractive to them. Take it as a compliment.

If you had a job and were considering quitting it to take this job, I might lean away from it. But if you're unemployed, what do you have to lose? Maybe they're right and you are a great fit for the position. Even if they're wrong, you'll get paid while you work there. If you decide you want a different job, you can look while getting paid.

If potential employers ask why you aren't staying at this job, you can say, "Well, I should have realized from the interview that it wasn't the place for me. They didn't ask any technical questions. They asked me about Buzz Lightyear and eating donuts." Most places will agree with you that they're nuts and understand why you're leaving.

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    Most places will agree with you that they're nuts and understand why you're leaving. is one of the best lines in this whole thread. – J. Chris Compton Oct 5 '18 at 17:04
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The interview was probably a required formality.

Having sat through an interview not terribly unlike what you describe, but on the other side of the table, I will say that it is likely they had already decided to they were going to hire you and the interview itself was an HR requirement.

Often in companies, a hiring manager cannot extend an offer until a "formal" in-person interview has occurred. Often these interviews are used for their intended purpose; to weed out candidates and select the best one. However, it is not uncommon for a hiring manager to have already decided to hire an individual based on outside factors. (Sometimes just off a CV or because of personal contacts or because there were few other qualified applicants, or... who knows.) In these cases, however, the interview must still be attended to because the lords of HR require it.

This then leads to a farce of an interview. They bring you on site and put you in a conference room. Everyone there already knows they are going to hire you. (although maybe you didn't in this case) So they go through the motions and entertain themselves at the same time. If they are looking for anything during this process, they are just looking for confirmation that you are not a jerk and they can work with you, and you'll be fun at happy hour.

So to answer your question, I wouldn't really make much of it.

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    That's terrible. It goes with the assumption that the interviewee would also not need actual information from the interview. Such assumptions are a major red flag! – Weckar E. Oct 5 '18 at 13:46
  • @WeckarE. Yes, it can be, but not always. Often times back channels have already addressed all concerns both ways. (The hiring manager knows and particularly recruited the interviewee over several weeks or months and the interviewee already knows everything they need to know about the position.) This happens much more frequently than you would think. – Justin Ohms Oct 9 '18 at 21:04
5

They are looking for information on how you perceive things. It is not about right or wrong answers but when you interview a hundred people with the same questions you tend to get categories of results.

For example I am often racist:. I like the Irish culture. My answer would be that I would be positive and the word 'against' is a false premise. That answer tells the interviewer many things. One being that I use the word racism as being unrelated to race, as Eire is a nation and ethnicity, not a race.

Many things can be ascertained. Then they just see if you fit.

2

The problem with the "standard" set of HR questions is that candidates are gaming the system. There are plenty of online material and even entire companies offering advice for developers on how to ace an interview. For example, vanhack offers a very affordable 5h/week interview practicing for people interested into Canadian sponsored visa jobs where a coach will teach you the best canned answers for questions like:

  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • What is your biggest mistake?
  • How often do you feel like a failure.

This is why I throw some weird questions at candidates, to check if the answers to the above are not just canned answers rehearsed hundreds of times. Some weird things I have asked:

  • What is your favorite superhero franchise
  • If you could have any animal as a pet, which animal would you chose and why?
  • If you could be any superhero, which one you would be and why?

There are no right or wrong here (although I never hire people who prefers DC over Marvel), they are just to establish a baseline on how articulated the candidate really is.

2

Those questions aren't that far off. I went trough a set of interviews recently. In one occasion the interview was much more general. Apart from a small programming test, literally 1 page T/F we just chatted general stuff. True my interview was much more ontopic but not too far from yours.

The interviewer - the leading dev of the company justified it by "I want to get to know you, plus if you can't code it will be pretty obvious pretty quick".

Given my CV he was much more interested in seeing if I'd be get along with the rest of the team rather than me writing code with pen and paper.

If I were you I'd definitely take the job. Sounds like a fun and good-different environment to work in. What do you have to lose anyway.

Also also, what's your online presence, is your CV showing off your work, did you share with them your previous work/apps on the stores/git repo ? If any of those is yes, then they most likely know how good you are at what you do.

1

I'd like to add to other answers that while these questions seem weird and pointless to interviewee, they can provide a good picture of the candidate's psyche and character to the HR. In fact, a competent psychologist can have a field day with the answers to these. They are purposefully designed in such way as to mask important questions that an interviewee would normally lie to.

Based on my limited knowledge of psychology, by feeling surprised and laughing at these questions you might have done very well.

I'm pretty sure I would answer all of them with all the seriousness and fail the interview miserably.

1

Interview is a two way street, and it seems that you got no insight about what you will be working on, which actually is an insight about the company.

Look them up on Glassdoor, but I would be cautious about taking that position.

0

Others have touched upon this, but the formal interviewing process, beyond the technical aspect, is a predictable, rehearsed Kabuki theater. And, yet, companies are looking for someone who will be the best fit for their culture, in addition to seeming like they have the technical chops.

How do I determine that when candidates are coached and rehearsed within an inch of their lives to give non-answers?

You ask questions out of left field, that they can't possibly be prepared for, and see how they manage it.

It was certainly less about the answers you gave, themselves, and was about how you handled the "out of the box," how "asymmetrical" your thinking is, your temperament, and your process when having to deal with the unexpected, on your feet.

If it bothers you enough to turn down a great, lucrative opportunity, that's up to you, I guess. Clearly it threw you more than they realize. Do you actually think they'll have you calculating how many donuts a co-worker can consume? If not, then I'm not sure why you'd be worried about it.

I was doing a Skype interview for a telecommuting position, and the question came up "what interests you the most about this position?" My answer: "The prospect of not wearing any pants to work" sent the interview completely off the rails, in a Seinfeldian direction, but they clearly liked that I wasn't this fear-conditioned automaton, and I was hired, though the job wound up not being a great one. Should I have turned them down because they were willing to hire someone who would say that? Should they have not hired me? I think I might not have been a good fit for a company so stuffy that they wouldn't laugh that off, so that actually was useful in determining if I might be a good fit for the culture, for both sides.

0

As a technical interviewer, I can at least say that the first three questions seem to be reasonable...although the third one is a bit awkward.

The first two questions are trying to tease out experience and humility from you. Exposing one of your weaknesses as a weakness is a common faux-pas in interviews, and this gives the interviewee an opportunity to explain their weakness as a strength.

For example: "I'm not as disciplined in TDD when operating on legacy code as I would like to be, so I started to read XXX books and start practicing this approach whenever I have to make changes to that legacy code."

"Biggest mistake" questions are fun for me personally since it gives the interviewee a chance to share how they learned from a mistake they made in their career. If you as a candidate have worked in the industry, at some point you would have made a mistake you could call "big". If you haven't, well, I've just called your bluff on your resume.

For example: "I accidentally released code which was aimed at a different environment than production. I learned quickly what we needed to do in that scenario, and the team and I rallied to get a fix out within 15 minutes to address the issue. What I learned was that the build environment needed to have a particular variable set so that the artifacts were built correctly, and that variable was not set when I did the release. I then pioneered a change to the build system so that this variable would be set based on the fact I was doing a release build as opposed to me having to remember it each time."


So let's get to the rest. All of the rest raise a massive red flag for me and I would not want to work at a company that asked these kinds of questions.

None of those questions do anything to assess your ability to think "outside of the box", nor do they tell you anything about what they expect of you when you're hired. Remember - you're interviewing them just as much as they're interviewing you, and I would be surprised if you didn't agree with me on this, but I don't think they've passed your muster.

It's tempting to hold your nose and take the money, but salary isn't worth stress or anxiety. I would strongly encourage you to keep looking elsewhere.

0

There is a common element that connects those 3 questions: American mainstream thought and this could be just simply a test of your adherence to it, respectively:

  1. You know the details of a famous American entertainment movie (of your childhood time, probably);
  2. You are aware that racism is a particularly sensitive topic in America;
  3. Donuts are typically associated to an American work environment, more than in any other country;
  4. How well you engage in a competitive battle over something apparently fruitless and harmful to your health just for the sake of proving you are better (American competitive mindset).

The lack of humour from the recruiters can also simply be due to:

  • they are required to be serious when asking these questions to avoid recruits to think the above are joke or trick questions;
  • the questions do not trigger any smile on them anymore, because they had repeatedly asked them.
-1

The first few questions were all negative, such as:

The only thing that comes to mind is that the interviewer is really asking "Give me a reason not to hire you." The obvious response is to not take the bait and give him one, and instead offer something that is positive.

Then they got just plain bizarre. I'm completely serious; I was asked:

Possibly this position involves talking with various business people where there is a high desire not to offend them, and the interviewer is testing your ability to be diplomatic instead of careless with your words so as to not offend these people. I once had a buddy come in for an interview then immediately bomb it with a single careless political comment.

If Buzz Lightyear doesn't know he's a toy, why does he freeze when Andy enters the room?

It's possible that they just want to see your ability to solve problems in a rational way. They don't expect you to have an exact answer, but they want to see you use logic and deductive reasoning to give a pretty decent answer. Same as asking 'How many ping-pong balls can fit in a 747'.

Another possibility is they want to figure out your personality to see if you'll fit in. Or at least amuse themselves with your answers.

Good luck.

  • 3
    THe naegative questions aren't looking for an excuse to not hire you. They're looking for the ability to self analyze and the humility to find weaknesses. If you try to make it into a positive, you've just failed the interview. – Gabe Sechan Oct 1 '18 at 17:51
  • 1
    I've herd multiple people that disagree with that statement, including myself when I was a hiring manager for a couple of years, and since neither of us were in the interview room and know for sure we'll have to disagree. Where I can agree with you would be to find out if the candidate has the ability to compensate for any perceived weaknesses, such as 'I don't know that off the top of my head, but the first three places I'd look for an answer are a, b, and c.' – Jim Horn Oct 1 '18 at 18:34
  • Yeah, trying to spin a negative question into a positive about yourself is a no-no. If I heard an applicant do that, my first thought would be: 'this person has no introspective ability; they're probably clueless and/or incompetent.' The question is really asking, "How good are you at analyzing your own behaviors and performance? And finding avenues to improve?" If someone can't come up with a valid self-weakness, they're not going to improve/adapt very well over the years (why would they? They already think they're great!) – Kevin Oct 3 '18 at 21:25
-4

Bit late to the party but could you have been an unwitting participant in a Rat Race/Dinner for Schmucks scenario?

i.e. one interviewer has bet another that he can make an interview so weird that the interviewee posts about it on stack exchange?

--OR--

Maybe they wanted to find your SE profile to see what kind of things you need help on/ contribute answers for

protected by Community Oct 2 '18 at 17:38

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