Yet more weird and wonderful interview questions

  | James Innes

     

Continuing the series which looks at some of the weird and wonderful questions that some organisations like to throw at candidates in interviews, more examples have been taken from “The Interview Book” and “The Interview Question & Answer Book”, written by best-selling author and the founder of The CV Centre and The Resume Center, James Innes.

Here are more examples of questions which have been asked by the like of Google, Apple and Facebook, and how you might answer them.

Question: What would you do if the sun died out? (alternative and related questions: What would you do if the world ended? What would you do if time stopped?)

The meaning behind the question

At first sight, it seems like a ridiculous question. But James Innes personally believes this is one of the best interview questions ever because it is so hard to answer. How they respond reveals an awful lot about the candidate – their general knowledge, their ability to think on their feet, their powers of reasoning, their sense of humour, etc.

Your answer:

The bad news is that you’d probably die out too! Without the sun, most life on Earth would disappear pretty rapidly – including the vast majority, if not all, of mankind. Would any humans survive? Well, some surely could – for a while. But not indefinitely.

But what is meant by ‘died out’? Does it simply stop shining? Does it vanish completely (with obvious gravitational repercussions)? As it happens, it’s theoretically impossible for the sun to just stop shining – or to vanish. When the sun actually dies, in the sense of burning up all of its Hydrogen fuel supply, it will take the Earth with it. In fact, life on Earth will be destroyed well before the sun first expands into a red giant (swallowing up the whole planet) before finally collapsing into a white dwarf because we’ve only got about another billion years to go before all the water on the planet evaporates as the sun becomes just 10% brighter than it is at present. But, hey, you can get a lot done in a billion years!

Example:

I would think that if the sun died out then I’d probably die out too! I think it’d just be a matter of time. It depends on what precisely you mean by ‘died out’, of course. But, generally speaking, without the sun, life on Earth would be very severely compromised – and especially so for Homo sapiens. It’d be a good time to be a microorganism living in the Earth's crust, I reckon!

Question: What do you do when there is no answer? (alternative and related question: What do you do when you don’t know the answer?)

The meaning behind the question

This is a question which has been asked by Microsoft question.  And the answer to this forms the basis for many of the tough questions that you may be faced with where either there is no answer or you just can’t think of it on the spur of the moment! This question is easier as it allows you to explain clearly your own approach to problem-solving. The interviewer will be interested in your approach and may well ask you to illustrate your answer with an example from your work experience.

Your answer:

The interviewer wants to discover your approach to simple problems that require an immediate response and to a problem that is not so urgent but harder to solve.  You need to show that you can cope when instant answers are needed but are not so impulsive when you have more time. If you can think of a situation in the workplace that demonstrates how you went about solving a problem that initially didn’t have an answer then this is the time to bring it up.

Example:

I think there is always an answer, even if some are difficult to find or implement. I’d like to think I was good in a crisis and would try to find an answer taking into account all the information that was available to me at the time. If I had more time then I would consult others and do some research to see if I could come up with some other options. For example, in my current role, we had a situation where nobody knew the answer. But, by discussing with my colleagues and doing some online research, we came up with a viable and practical solution. I can elaborate on that if you wish?

Question: How many dogs in the world have the exact same number of hairs? (alternative and related questions: How many birds in the world have the exact same number of feathers? How many fish in the world have the exact same number of scales?)

The meaning behind the question

This is a real interview question, posed by Capital Asset Exchange & Trading, an impossible-to-answer question clearly designed to rattle a candidate.

Your answer:

As you are unlikely to know the answer (!), simply keep your composure and use the politicians’ old trick of admitting you don’t know but not actually saying so in so many words!

As it happens, there is an answer of sorts… If you plotted a statistical distribution graph of all the dogs in the world then there is going to be a range of number of hairs that all dogs have, for example, all dogs will have more than 100,000 hairs and less than 20 million. Within that range, given how many dogs there are in the world, there will inevitably be many dogs that have the same number of hairs. OK, so that’s not a precise answer – but it is a precise methodology and one which will undoubtedly impress the interviewer.

Example:

I’d like to give you an answer but, unsurprisingly, I don’t have enough data to hand to do so with any great accuracy. I’d need to know the minimum, maximum and average number of hairs – and also how many dogs there are in the world. Even then, it would inevitably be an approximation. But, given how many dogs there are in the world, I’d say that plenty of them have the exact same number of hairs as another dog somewhere else in the world.

Interviewers ask these questions to test your reasoning ability and to observe how you cope under pressure. The answer is not important – the interviewer has probably got as little idea as you when it comes to the correct answer to most of these questions! It is how you get your answer that matters. So keep calm, take your time, keep smiling and let them see that you can think on your feet.

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