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Real question that was just asked in interview for a tech job: "Finish this sentence - We're going to party like..."

What's the best answer for a curveball question like this? Is it better to go with a serious answer, or your best one-liner?

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There are a few possible goals for a question like this. The first is looking for self-confidence and how the candidate handles the unexpected. You could throw a cliche in there (such as a song reference) or something humorous.

The second goal is to look for a cultural fit (e.g. sense of humor, recreational preference). If you like partying, you will no doubt have a good answer to the question. If you do not, answering it will be harder.

Personally, I think these types of interview questions are absolutely awful. They tend to attract people like the interviewer (similar experience, humor and outlook) because they get the joke or reference. They tend to alienate those who are different (e.g. candidates from non-English speaking backgrounds or other countries).

Meanwhile, the interviewer can feel smug and superior that they have asked a question the candidate did not answer satisfactorily. If you receive several questions like this, I would seriously consider working elsewhere. The interviewer is subtly enforcing that you will work for them, not with them.

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    @JimG. I suppose it is a bit of an inside joke. That's right before 32-bit EPOCH time overflows. I hope that's enough time for the authors of certain specifications that insisted on EPOCH over the ISO standard to come to their senses. Probably not. The leap seconds will probably get them first. Regardless, I would pick a date that would make the interviewer ask me why I chose it instead of going for the song lyric. – ColleenV parted ways Jan 24 '15 at 23:52
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"The question is underspecified. What use is the company going to need this answer for? Marketing? Risk management? Team building? What's the intended audience, and what message are we trying to send, with what subtexts?"

I'm being blunter than here than I would be in the interview, but I'm trying to make a real point. You aren't interviewing for party dude/dudette. You're there to sell them on your problem solving skills. Perhaps on your diplomacy too, in which case i'd definitely take the sting off it by making this quiz more interactive and perhaps giving the flippant gut-reaction answer first... but the "right" answer really is the one you'd give if Manglement threw this at you on the job -- find the question behind the question and give the best answers you can find to that.

At least, that's how this INTJ engineer reads it. Other contexts may have other best answers, but I can only give you the ones, a d the rationale, that work for me.

  • Perhaps this should be a comment instead of an answer? – ColleenV parted ways Jan 25 '15 at 14:13
  • @colleenv: expanded on why this is, in fact, an Answer. – keshlam Jan 25 '15 at 16:26
  • I think asking for more context is a decent strategy and I agree a more diplomatic spin would be warranted. Maybe not start out with "It's underspecified" (aka a bad question). I might use "interesting question" which can lead into asking for more detail. – ColleenV parted ways Jan 25 '15 at 18:40

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