The Silicon Valley Voice

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Ask Me No Questions

With all the fun activities available to you these days, it’s difficult to imagine that a company would expect you to jump through hoops, simply for a chance at employment. After all, you could spend your days behind the local Whole Foods Dumpster diving for organic arugula.

Still, some employers think they’re so darn special that they expect you to change out of your sweats before coming to the interview and they can also make you sweat.

Part of the new harshness on the side of employers is a desire to turn your job interview into a quiz show. That’s right! They want to ask you questions — “ridiculously hard questions,” if we are to believe a recent Nicole Hardesty article on The Huffington Post.

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“As tough as the job market has been in 2010, many top-flight employers aren’t trying to make the interview process any easier,” writes Hardesty, who reports that “job site Glassdoor.com has sifted through 80,000 interview questions shared by job seekers providing us with some of the most odd and difficult questions asked by top-flight employers this year.”

A good example of the company as inquisitor is Google, which admittedly offers a number of wonderful benefits. The ginormous salary and galloping stock options are nice, but if you ask me, there’s only one reason to become a Googler or Googlette — free “It’s It” ice cream sandwiches in the company cafeteria.

And the question to expect as you sit down for an interview to become a Google People Analyst: “How many basketballs will fit into this room?”

If you slept through that lecture on nonparametric modeling of dependencies for spatial interpolation at MIT, better bring 20 or 30 basketballs to the interview. If it doesn’t help you visualize the answer to the question, it will certainly show that you are prepared. If that doesn’t work, you can always throw the basketballs at the interviewer until he or she whimpers submission and offers you the job.

If a project manager position at Epic Systems is your dream job — and how could it not be? — be prepared to wrap your mind around this brain teaser: “An apple costs 20 cents, an orange costs 40 cents and a grapefruit costs 60 cents, how much is a pear?”

I’m not sure of the correct answer (if there is one), so I suggest you simply sit back, rub your chin and respond with a question of your own — “a pair of what?”

Apparently, fruit questions are very popular with high-tech firms because Apple has its own variety: “There are three boxes, one contains only apples, one contains only oranges and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled such that no label identifies the actual contents of the box it labels. Opening just one box, and without looking in the box, you take out one piece of fruit. By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?”

This is not an easy question to answer, which probably explains why most of the people working for Apple today come directly from high-level positions at the produce department at Safeway. If your career path has not focused on fruit questions, and all you have to offer an employer is a Ph.D. in computer science and an MBA, your best chance is to show that a what’s-in-the-box question deserves an out-of-the-box answer, such as “Fruit flies live for 8 to 10 days, during which time, females lay around 500 eggs. By the way, did you know they’re having a great sale on pears at Epic Systems?”

To nab a sales position at New York Life, you have to face this question: “Why do you think only a small percentage of the population makes over $150K?” The answer is obvious! Because the majority of the population is obsessed with thinking about fruit.

Of course, the company where everyone wants to work is Goldman Sachs. Fortunately, they have a very simple and difficult question: “If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?”

No question on the answer to this question. “Why would I ever want to get out,” you say with a smile. “Being a pencil in a blender is much better than coming to stupid interviews where people like me, who only want to work, have to answer idiotic questions from jerks like you.”

Bob Goldman has been an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company in the San Francisco Bay Area. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com

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