The question "Is coconut a fruit?" may sound like something you might overhear at Disney or on the hit game show Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, and yet it's also something you could hear in an interview at Apple.
While it's unclear if this was actually meant to be an interview question or simply a side note from a distracted, jellybean-eating interviewer, it was indeed asked during an interview, according to a post on Glassdoor by an interviewee-turned-Apple-employee. Despite how bizarre it is in nature, in many ways, interrupting a candidate's thought with a trivial and completely random question is a genius interview strategy that will reveal a lot about a candidate in a matter of seconds. So much so that it will go unrecognized as an interview question by many interviewees and instead be viewed as a distracted interviewer.
It's not whether you know the correct answer (which, for the record, is it's classified as a fruit, and more specifically a drupe), it's how you accept the question, tackle the answer, and get back on track. Chances are, you're not going to actually see "Is coconut a fruit?" listed in any list of interview questions suggested by Apple HR, but you may unknowingly get tested by an interviewer with such tactics.
When a candidate is up for a coveted position at Apple, a seemingly distracted or disinterested interviewer may be very unsettling for an interviewee. A generic and off-topic question can quickly rattle an interviewee into malaise, thinking their candidacy is out the window. Whether they're able to maintain composure, focus, and professionalism are key--but so is their ability to roll with the punches and show both patience and demeanor.
In other words, will the candidate accept--if not, embrace--the random question or will they be dismissive and attempt to redirect the interviewer to the tough interview questions they expected--and likely prepared for? What does this reveal about the candidate and their ability to stay on track while also staying open to new perspectives and willingness to explore the curiosity of others? How well does the candidate take a question and what's their process for providing an answer to that question? And how comfortable are they with the unexpected?
It's not just how easily a candidate can be thrown off their feet, but also how they work (and think) within a distracting environment. Will one interruption throw off their focus completely? Is it how they respond to others when presented with something they may find trivial or uninteresting?
After all, the $5 billion Apple headquarters, Apple Park, appears to be more aligned with entertaining--or being entertained--than pushing pencils. In an environment that shares many of the same features as a commercial cruise--complete with several basketball courts, a two-story yoga studio, a theater, a bar, and around three times as many people--the question of how well someone is able to focus amid a highly sensory environment is crucial in gauging one's potential for success within the company and within their role.
Lastly, it also reveals a candidate's ability to regain their former train of thought and get back to their previous task. One's ability to refocus quickly after an interruption makes a world of difference in productivity levels, and a major difference between average performers and high performers.
Apple has become well-known for its laid-back--and very human--approach to interviews and a working environment. It's evident that Apple places a lot of value on a candidate's character in addition to their work experience. Finding the right combination of experience and character can feel like seeking a needle in the haystack, but investing the time up front and asking the right questions will help you find the right people for the role and your company. These seemingly small practices are vital ingredients in the recipe for startup success, and they're what can set a startup apart from the pack and make it a part of the next class of unicorns.