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


Companies that think themselves terribly clever often have the urge to prove it.

So when you wander along to interview with them, confident in that petrified way you have, preparation is vital.

But what sort of preparation?

Take a look at these nine interview questions from Apple (as posted by candidates to Glassdoor) and see what you might answer (or not). Warning: Some of these are terrible mind-twisters.

1. I want to do cow counts in the U.S. What is your approach?

One approach would be to ask if the interviewer has recently had a mental health checkup. But this question--asked of a technical project manager candidate--is designed to see how you might organize a difficult project. One not-good answer: "I'd look it up on Wikipedia." My suggestion: "Contact a cow-counter."

2. Are you smart?

How many Americans would leap instinctively to the reply: "Hell, yeah." This question reminds me of the (probably apocryphal) Cambridge University essay question: "Define courage." One candidate allegedly wrote: "This is" and walked out. Are you smart? The smart thing might be to answer: "Dunno. You tell me, smartass."

3. You put a glass of water on a record turntable and begin slowly increasing the speed. What happens first? Does the glass slide off or tip over, or does the water splash out?

You know that this is an engineer's question. You know that you have no idea, unless you're an engineer. Of course, one answer might be: "What's a record turntable?" Another could be: "Which idiot put a glass of water on this turntable? Fire him and give me his job."

4. How would you break down the cost of this pen?

Of course, this was asked of a global supply management candidate. I'm sure there would be some terribly sensible, rational reply. The first impulse coming out of my mouth would be: "Cost? Oh, cost can be defined so many ways. There's the monetary cost, the labor cost, the human cost. Then there's the psychological cost of having to reply to someone who can't work out the cost of a pen for themselves."

5. If you had to float an iPhone in midair, how would you do it?

Honestly, some of these questions are so absurdly easy that they're hardly worth the effort. Surely the answer must be: "I'd take the bloody thing on a plane." Failing that: "I'd take it on my next space mission." There really is a sensible answer to this? Go on, tell me.

6. How would you describe an operating system to someone?

One of those homer questions, this? Or perhaps I mean Homer Simpson questions? Here's how I'd begin: "There is no such person as 'someone.'" That would floor the interviewer, wouldn't it? It depends on whom I have to describe it to. To a child: "It's something only grownups need to know." To a techie: "It's a phrase thought up by techies that sounds like it was thought up by techies." To a green person from the planet Plim: "It's something we invented in the hope we could be half as clever as you."

7. A man calls in and has an older computer that is essentially a brick. What do you do?

This question, asked of customer service types, cries out for sympathy. Here's an idea. You say to the customer: "Sir, have you ever thought of building your own house from scratch?" Or perhaps: "Madam, have you heard of Sotheby's?" Surely the idea is to make the customer feel good, before you explain he has to buy a new computer that will cost him thousands.

8. What is the difference between sympathy and empathy?

There's no need to ask this question of engineers. These words refer to emotions that they've likely only heard others talking about. But how do you find a spontaneous answer for this one? How about: "Sympathy is feeling sorry for the person who bought a PC. Empathy is feeling sad because I bought a PC too"?

9. What's the most creative way you can break a clock?

I feel sure that this one stimulates florid responses. I feel sure that some bright spark might offer: "You tell a police officer your name is Ahmed and you've made a clock." There's a problem inherent in this question, however: Who decides what is creative? I know that Apple fancies itself as the most creative company in the world. But in doing so, Cupertino makes the assumption that what it says is creative truly is. Is creativity to be judged today? Or do we leave it to those who come afterward to judge what we have wrought? You know whom I mean: Millennials.