Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

 

Interviewing people can be terribly dull.

It's a dance to which you hope both parties know the steps.

Sadly, what sometimes happens is that the interviewer isn't in the mood and the interviewee has read one too many articles entitled "How to Ace a Job Interview."

This creates the elegant equivalent of the early rounds on Dancing With the Stars.

Some world-renowned entrepreneurs have their favorite questions, however, or so Business Insider tells me. These try to truly gauge the interviewee in as microcosmic a way as possible.

Here are my favorites from these famous faces and others. And, well, a couple of other ones. We'll start with the good ones.

1. On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?

This one is a favorite of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. You might think that it's exactly the question you'd expect from the CEO of a company whose management not only is known as weird but relies on it. However, shouldn't everyone ask this one? How pulsating it would be to hear all the different answers and learn how the interviewee practices self-awareness. We're all weird. It's simply a matter of gradation, right? I'm a 9.3. And you?

2. What is your spiritual practice?

I disliked this one before I liked it. This is apparently a question asked by Oprah Winfrey when she was interviewing candidates to become president of her own OWN network. My first instinct was "What a nosy thing you are, Oprah." But then you realize that this isn't a religious question. It's a genuine inquiry about a person's spirit. A less New-Agey way of asking it would be "What do you do to stop yourself from going nuts?" I do hope that "golf" was an acceptable answer. 

3. What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

This one's used by Ashley Morris, CEO of Capriotti's Sandwich Shop chain. All it requires, surely, is for you to show your ability to give spontaneous and interesting answers to entirely unexpected questions. In essence, it asks: "Hey, if we're on a business trip, sitting at a bar or in a deathly painful client meeting, are you the sort of person I don't mind having on my side?" I do hope that "golf" was an acceptable answer.

4. What are you really not very good at?

This question was asked of me by one of the all-time brilliant people in advertising -- Mike Hughes of The Martin Agency. (Think Geico ads and many others.) Hughes, who died in 2013, was entirely frank about his weaknesses, which let me think he was a person of great and unusual decency and allowed me to be entirely honest about mine. No, of course I didn't get the job. I told him my weakness was golf. (Well, no. Not really. But I'm not going to tell you, am I? I don't want a job from you.)

5. What would someone who doesn't like you say about you?

This is the chosen one of General Stanley McChrystal. Or, at least, that's what he told Tim Ferriss. This requires a certain level of honesty -- though how useful honesty is in business I'm not sure. It also requires excellent storytelling skills. How can you describe someone who dislikes you in a way that makes him or her seem not hateful and wrong, but curiously insightful, though occasionally inaccurate?

6. Tell me something that's true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

This gem is apparently offered by famed PayPal mafioso and very clever investor Peter Thiel. There's a beautiful subtlety to it. Do I tell them that global warming is clearly caused by mice? Should I declare: "The 49ers will win next year's Super Bowl"? It's a brilliantly mischievous question that not only asks you to reveal some little uncomfortable truth, but may potentially force you to defend what many might think is indefensible.

And now for the slightly more questionable questions.

1. Why are you leaving your current job?

This is apparently Jack Welch's favorite question. It assumes that you are leaving your current job, rather than merely seeing what someone else might think of you and you of them -- and how it might all work when the two of you are in the same room. But isn't it a touch lazy? It invites whining. It invites the giving away of secrets from your current employer. At its heart, it feels terribly unimaginative to be a favorite.

2. A hammer and a nail cost $1.10, and the hammer costs one dollar more than the nail. How much does the nail cost?

I worry about this sort of thing. Apparently, this is a popular question from Jeff Zwelling, the COO of ZipRecruiter. My translation of it is "Let me show you that I'm cleverer than you." If you get it wrong, case proven, m'lud. If you get it right, you get a pat on the head from teacher.

3. What is your favorite quote?

I know the quote industry does very well. I understand that this question, a favorite of Hasbro senior vice president Karen Davis, pokes at what inspires you. But why reach for the words of others instead of asking for the interviewee's own? It feels a touch academic. Those that walk around with the words of others embedded in their brains sometimes use them as a crutch and sometimes are merely called Professor of Unapplied Philosophy. I don't suppose "School's out" would be a very good answer, would it?

4. Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.

Of course this is a Google question. It's enjoyed by Laszlo Bock, the company's HR boss. Please forgive me for sounding bemused, but what's an "analytically difficult problem"? How is that different from, say, a difficult problem? Bock's explanation for why this question is so profound goes like this: "You get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable 'meta' information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult." That's wonderfully analytical. But that use of the word analytically feels a little too anal for me. Which, I suspect, working at Google would too.

Published on: Dec 3, 2015
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