Interview Q&A as Corporate Mirror

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Interview Q&A as Corporate Mirror

Job fair

Humphreys Job Fair - U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, South Korea - Photo by Rick Kim

Job fair

Humphreys Job Fair – U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, South Korea – Photo by Rick Kim

Glassdoor posted its Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions, and they are – as advertised – quite odd. Judging by their weirdness, one can only imagine what the answers look like. But unconventional questions are a good thing. One reason is because these question types get people thinking in creative ways, an increasingly relevant asset in the new economy. Another reason that goes unnoticed is that such questions can be effective transmitters of corporate culture. Basically, the questions signal to the candidate attitudes about how the company works and the values it prizes – without any formal or explicit explanation.

Job seekers should keep this in mind even though interviews are nerve-wracking enough as it is. As with all things,questions provoking unscripted responses can be taken to extremes. Google developed a reputation, mostly unfounded, for asking so-called brainteasers. These questions were more Zen koan than actual lines of inquiry. They may be useful in minting new monks, but not so helpful in finding the best programmers and data analysts.

The lurid book, Are You Smart Enough to Work At Google? makes it sound like brainteasers are company policy, but they really aren’t. But when Apple asks “If you were a pizza deliveryman how would you benefit from scissors?” I can see the inner workings of this question, and how it reflects the Apple brand. Apple obviously isn’t interested in the plight of pizza delivery professionals. The emphasis on geometric shapes, metallic implements, hands-on usage, and unorthodox problem solving (is there really a problem?) make such a question more than a lark, and maybe a suggestive indicator of what really matters to a world class innovator like Apple.

Xerox is also an innovator, but its chief innovations seem to recall a bygone age. So their question “Why is a tennis ball fuzzy?” strikes me as a bit antiquated, but more or less in keeping with their corporate identity – for better or for worse. In the same way, should anyone really be surprised when veteran management consulting outfit, McKinsey & Co., asks “If you were 80 years old, what would you tell your children?” And so we see, sometimes the answer is hidden in the question.