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Recently in this same interview How to answer "write something on the board"? but at the very end I was also asked question "What does zero mean to you?"

And I took a few seconds to think and respond with "Zero means nothing and everything. We live on very big zero. And no matter what we do in life it will always end up in a bigger zero than what we started." which is confusing to me why I said it.

I know answer to this depends on person to person and there is no one correct answer. But in future interviews if I get similar questions how should I answer them without sounding weird?

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    Maybe they were checking how pretentious you are... – Max A. Jun 28 at 17:03
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    I'm not sure it does a lot of good figuring out how to prepare for weird questions - because any time you don't have a normal interview, it will always be a different weird. – thursdaysgeek Jun 28 at 17:13
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    Damn, was this an interview filled with moronic questions?! If these are the general sort of questions you had in that interview, I would have come close to terminating the interview early. – berry120 Jun 28 at 22:02
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    @JaneS If that's what they were after, the people asking those questions need serious training before they're ever let loose on a candidate again. – berry120 Jun 28 at 22:14
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    @berry120 Oh, I don't disagree, just trying to figure out why someone would ask a BA that type of question. If the interviewer was more on the technical side, at least this question would make some sense. – Jane S Jun 28 at 23:02
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Paraphrasing the answer on your other question, "Don't be a smart alec in interviews". If it is not clear enough, ask.

In this case, ask something like "That depends on the situation. What context are we talking about?" If you still get something mysterious, go for a simple answer, like "Well, it could be the start of something".

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    So instead of assuming any context I should always drill down and try to understand what exactly the other person is looking for and if not clear then go with something simple? – Rohan Jun 28 at 17:08
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    @anal yes I second what Lucas said. If not sure ask, that shows you are willing to learn. – DarkCygnus Jun 28 at 17:13
  • I would try to do that but I have concern like the interviewer might think I am trying to avoid the real question by asking too many questions or I don't understand the question well enough. – Rohan Jun 28 at 17:30
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    Context is key here. Without it, the question itself is dumb. – Mister Positive Jun 28 at 17:52
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    @anal in your previous question you mentioned that it was an interview for the business analyst position. One of requirements in that role is to take a vague requests from a business people and transform it to a very clear set of requirements by asking more questions, clarifications, etc. Basically I suspect that the reasoning for the interviewers frustration was that they've got an impression that in a case of unclear request you would simply made something up and deliver something completely different from what customer/business wanted – AlexanderM Jun 28 at 18:01
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You mention in your other post the interview was for a Business Analyst position.

With that in mind, I would reframe the question as:

As a Business Analyst, what does zero mean to you?

A few answers come to mind:

1. "Zero" is very often a special case, needing special handling

For example, suppose you are displaying search results. If you get one result or ten, there is no problem, you display them. If you get zero results, by default you would see a blank page, and this is bad. Instead, you would at least want a message (which must be written specially) to report "No Results". You might even want search again to look for "similar" matches instead of exact matches.

2. Divide by Zero can often cause problems

Suppose you are running an e-commerce store, and you need to show the price per kg for each product in the store. If you are selling a digital product, this could legitimately have a weight of zero. It is possible, that the division would cause a poorly built application to crash completely. As a BA, you should think ahead for this problem, and specify that N/A should be shown, or the field be hidden entirely, if the product has no weight.

3. Zero can often be an indication of bad or missing data

Again, thinking of an e-commerce store. It is possible that an item could have its price set to zero. This is almost certainly a mistake, it is not intended to give the product away for free, and could have been done because the product is still in the process of being created, and a price has not been set yet for the product. There should be filtering in place to hide such products from the customer.

Of course, each of these could be expanded, and you maybe have ideas of your own. But, all in all, I don't see this as such a bad question.

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This all really needs to be filtered by context. The interviewer who asked you that probably doesn't actually care about what you think zero means, it's likely a question designed to see how you react.

Some jobs are best performed by people who take things literally, at face value. If that's the case, you might say,

Zero is the integer immediately preceding 1.

Other jobs are best performed by people who are naturally inquisitive, and who seek to clarify situations that aren't clear. In that case, you might ask some questions yourself, before answering:

Zero can mean many things - what's the context you're asking about?

If you were interviewing for a data job, you might talk about the difference between zero and null.

If you were interviewing for a creative job, ...well - you'd say something creative!

In the end though, as with all interview questions, you want to be honest versus trying too hard to give the right answer, and you want to try to tailor your answer to the job you're interviewing for.

  • Yep! They are testing your capacity to bullshit on the spot ... to mask being nervous ... to say you can do it regardless of the circumstances. This happens often in military service. If you're ordered to do 500 pull-ups, something you, anyone, can't do, you do not retort, you say yes and get to it. If it turns out you can't do it and the drill instructor asks if you're quitting you say no and you jump back on the bar and hang. .... see part 2 – Randy Zeitman Jul 1 at 21:30
  • Part 2. One easy and credible reply is to supply someone else's answer, even someone famous, spin it into a way to express a skill, and say you've never yet found a reason to disagree with it. "What does zero mean to you?" Answer: "Dozens of things. In fact not too long ago I took a creativity test where they ask an open question like that to see how many answers you can come up with in sixty seconds. I scored third best out of fifty people. But I also recall that Warren Buffet said "There's nothing like zero to become #1." so I'll go with that. – Randy Zeitman Jul 1 at 21:34
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It's quite frankly unanswerable. So you could clarify by saying something akin to:

What context are we talking about here?

...or similar, then see what they say.

Honestly though, it's an utterly pointless question, it's not got a clearly defined answer, and it's not clear what the interviewers want you to do in that setting. If your attempts to clarify it don't lead anywhere, I'd honestly just say:

I'm afraid I can't answer that question. I'm still really unclear on the details of what we're after here.

If I had multiple questions of this nature in an interview, and a simple request for clarification didn't get anywhere, I'd be close to walking out the door (I almost certainly wouldn't take the job even if I was offered it.)

At best it's incompetence, and the interviewers are vainly trying to see how you'll cope with ambiguity in the job (which is of course not something that can be meaningfully tested by asking that question in an interview.) At worst it's a power trip and a question designed for you to fail it, whatever answer you give or whatever clarity you seek.

  • @Joe A person who is asked successive open ended questions and not getting it is going to be asked more to see how long it takes to figure out what's going on. Why would it possibly mean it's not a good fit for you when you now understand this is just an alternate interview scenario. – Randy Zeitman Jul 1 at 21:44

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