Boss Man : Oh Fair New Mexico

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by Karen Fayeth

Crib Notes – Oddball Interview Questions Answered!

You wanna cheat a little? I’ll help you. C’mon, over here.

You didn’t get this from me but…

Yesterday in the SFGate I read an article that gave examples of “oddball” interview questions asked by Silicon Valley companies.

Interview Questions


As I read through them, I found them quirky (like most Silicon Valley companies) but not really that all that odd.

Given that I’ve got twenty years of being a manger under my belt and for most of the twenty years I have been recruiting in one form or another, I actually was pretty on board with many of these questions.

For the past two years at my current employer I have consistently either been interviewing for myself or sitting on interview panels. I’ve thought a lot about the all truly terrible candidates I’ve seen and how I wanted to take each of them aside for some coaching.

So many good people just can’t find their way around a curveball interview question and that can really hinder their chances at getting hired.

When I started reading these so called “oddball” questions in the article, I thought about how I would answer them (or I would want a candidate to answer).

From there I decided to make a cheat sheet. Think of this as my free interview coaching and mentoring for the people out there hustling and trying to get a job. We all deserve to earn a paycheck and sometimes that barrier seems unreasonably high.

I have shown the question exactly as stated in the article and in parenthesis is the job role that this question applied to.

Here we go:

1) Describe the color yellow to somebody who is blind? (flight attendant)

First off, as a longtime interviewer, I think this is a genuinely lame question. You are just trying to throw the candidate off their game. Perhaps that is the goal.

However, since this applies to a flight attendant, I believe the interviewer is trying to see how you can apply complex concepts (such as, oh I don’t know, FAA regulations) to someone with no frame of reference for those concepts (such as any clueless airline passenger).

Here’s how I would answer it:

Since a blind person does not have visual cues to reference I would want to reference their other senses. When I think of yellow in other sensory terms, I might, for example, ask the person how it feels when they are outdoors and feel the sun on their face, because that is how yellow feels to me. Or ask them to think of how a freshly cut lemon smells because that also invokes the color yellow for me.

2) What is your favorite 90’s jam? (customer care)

As this is a customer care role, they are looking to see how relatable you are. Instead of trying to impress the interview panel with your knowledge of obscure indie rock, I suggest going a bit mainstream with an edge to show you have some verve but you can also relate to the common person.

Here’s how I would answer it:

There are so many groundbreaking artists from the 90’s but I have to go back to the band that for me really defines the 90’s music, and that is Nirvana. Kurt Cobain’s complex musical genius stands up today. I can’t help but crank up “Smells Like Teen Spirit” every time I hear it, even if it’s just playing in Muzak form on the elevator.

3) If you were asked to unload a 747 full of jellybeans, what would you do? (IT support manager)

The interviewer is trying to get at the candidate’s thought process for solving big problems. I suggest giving them a pretty detailed answer to show how you assess the root cause of the issue and put a plan in place to resolve the problem.

This is one area where A LOT of candidates fail, in my opinion. Almost all interviewers ask some form of this question, i.e. show me how you solve a problem. Most candidates are unable to show me how they get from point A to point B to final completion. It drives me batty.

Here’s how I would answer:

First I would need to assess in what form the jellybeans were loaded onto the 747. Are they neatly wrapped in boxes? Then I would assess how many and what size boxes and then form the appropriate team to efficiently load the boxes onto pallets and schedule forklifts to quickly remove them from the plane then work with logistics to get them delivered to their proper location or locations.

If the jellybeans are loose on the plane, that is a much bigger problem. First I’d have to assess if they are piled up to the doors and how I can crack open that door without losing a lot of the cargo. I’d consult with experts in the jellybean packaging field to understand how to load out the jellybeans into boxes or other appropriate packaging and then obtain that packaging and other equipment that might be needed. I would then form the work team to first package the jelly beans then find the right crew to offload the packaging onto pallets and then forklifts to allow logistics to them move them their final destination.

4) What did you have for breakfast? (retail clothing sales associate)

This question is just intended to get a candidate out of the rote answer and response mode. Fine. Kind of a lame way to get there if you ask me, but okay.

How I would answer:

This morning I had a homemade breakfast burrito that included eggs, non-dairy cheese since I am lactose intolerant, green chile and some pinto beans. I like a nice mix of protein and carbs to start my day. And I washed all of that down with a nice soy latte. Gives me a good base for the day’s energy requirements without pesky drops in blood sugar.

5) What would you do if you were the one survivor in a plane crash? (Trust and Safety investigator)

Okay, given the job role being considered as a safety investigator, I don’t really consider this one an “oddball” question at all. This is right in their wheelhouse and I think anyone with these skills applying for this job would have a solid answer.

Here’s how I would answer it but I may be off base given the job function where I have no experience in this function:

Immediately following the incident I would quickly determine that I truly was the only survivor and would make sure I gave aid to any other passengers who may still be alive. If I am genuinely the only person alive, then I would stop and assess the situation. First I would look to see if the communication system of the plane still works. Am I able to contact someone for assistance? Then I’d also look for flares or other ways to flag down help.

From there I would study the surroundings. Where am I? What are the prevailing conditions, i.e. am I in the water? Am I in the snow? Is it very hot or cold? I would begin by constructing some form of shelter against the elements. Then I would search the plane’s remnants for food and water and collect those together in a single location. I would also begin looking for a source of heat. Then I would need to consider the potential dangers and find ways to prepare. For example, am I in the woods and is there potential for bears or wolves to attack? Then I must take proper precautions with my food and water and maybe a means of defense if needed.

(this response could really go on and on in my opinion, but you get the idea where I’m going)

6) If you woke up and had 2,000 emails and could only answer 300 of them, how would you choose which ones to answer? (Rotation program candidate)

This is just another form of “here’s a problem, show me how you would resolve it”

Here’s how I would answer:

I’d take a first run through the email to see if any of the subject lines list “RUSH” or “URGENT” and attend to those first looking to be sure there was not a long chain of conversation on the issue and if it was already solved.

Then I would sort the email to look for groups of long chains of email conversations and then review them based on subject line to determine which take priority then only open the very last item in the conversation chain, as that will contain all of the prior information. If that last email resolves the problem then I’d move on to the next chain of email.

7) What’s your favorite Disney princess? (fast food crew member)

I personally balked hard at this question, I think it’s not really a suitable question, but again, designed to throw the candidate off their game to see how they think on their feet.

Here’s how I would answer:

While every Disney princess has their merits and detractions, I think I would say my favorite is Ariel from the Little Mermaid. Why? Because for better or worse, she had a clearly defined goal and a clearly defined methodology for obtaining that goal. While I may or may not completely agree with how she went about it, I respect that she got results, i.e. marrying the Prince.

8) Who would win a fight between Spiderman and Batman? (medical simulationist)

This is another of those not really oddball questions given the job role. In this scenario they are genuinely looking for the candidate to create a simulation and then run it through.

I have to admit, this one is going to be a bit hard for me as I’m not that well versed in the superheroes, but here’s my shot at it.

Here’s how I would answer:

What we’re looking at here are people with different sets of skills and tools at their disposal. Spiderman’s talents are a bit more organic, he’s strong, he moves well and he’s got that webbing that he can use very well to his advantage.

Batman comes fully loaded with a lot of sophisticated gadgets that he can employ at his disposal.

So who would win the fight? Well, that’s tough to say, but given the backstory and maturity of the superheroes, I tend to lean toward Batman. He’s older and more experienced and very savvy about the world. Spiderman is a bit younger and more impetuous. He has moments of brilliance but also has made some big mistakes.

Also, Batman has very little to lose while Spiderman has more family and a girlfriend to fight for. Given the battles, usually the one that has nothing to lose will fight the hardest.

9) How many people flew out of Chicago last year? (software engineer)

Ugh. What a question. What the interviewer is looking for is not that you can quote the number off of the top of your head but how you will go about getting to the number. Again, solve a problem and show me how you’ll do it.

Here’s how I would answer:

Well, since I don’t retain this sort of data off the top of my head I cannot give you an exact answer, but let me tell you how I would go about gathering that information. It could be as simple as a Google search of the question, but I’d want to be sure that in addition to O’Hare and Midway that I am accounting for all small regional airports and airlines.

If a simple Google search could not net me the answer then I’d expand my search. I am sure that there are many statistical bureaus (often used by marketing agencies) that have this kind of information readily available either for free or at low cost.

If that doesn’t work I would then try contacting FAA personnel to find the answer. I suspect that the FAA would be curious as to why I’m asking the question, so I’d want to be able to define the use of this data and make any assurance that I’d keep data confidential if needed.

As a last resort, I would compile a list of every airport in Chicago and then call each airport directly to request the information.

10) If you had a machine that produced $100 a day for life, what would you be willing to pay for it today? (research analyst)

Another question that doesn’t seem so oddball when you look at what job role is being recruited. This one is pretty hard to answer off the top of my head. And another example of here’s a problem, show me how you’d solve it.

Here’s how I would answer:

This machine would provide me an extra $36,500 a year. I would then want to consult actuarial tables to understand my personal life expectancy and then run a value analysis of that $36,000 over the remaining years of my life to understand the total present value in today’s dollars.

Then because I am a negotiator I would set a range of 15% to 30% off of that number because I think that while the machine has value, there is also upkeep and maintenance to consider and also I just like to get a deal. I’d also investigate why the person selling the machine would get want to get rid of it and bake that into my negotiation plan.

(Probably not the right answer for the job role but that’s how I’d play it. If they wanted me to actually quote a number I’d ask for a few moments and some scratch paper to work it out.)

11) If you were a Muppet, which would you be? (Executive support)

This is kind of a cute and fun question. I like it and wonder if I can add it to our list of questions for candidates. This gives a moment of lightness and shows how the candidate thinks on their feet.

Here’s how I would answer:

This is a tough question because each Muppet has their advantages. I like Fozzie Bear because he’s funny and very kind and incredibly supportive of Kermit through trials and tribulations. I like Gonzo because he’s a risk taker and doesn’t get discouraged when he fails. But ultimately I’d like to be Kermit, he’s talented, smart, kind and he knows how to keep that show running show even when chickens are flying out of cannons and monsters are eating the guest host.

12) Why is the earth round? (software engineer)

This must be an engineering question because this one stopped me in my tracks. That will really throw a candidate off their game.

Here’s how I’d answer.

The earth isn’t actually round, it’s more of an elliptical shape.

If they follow up with why is the earth an elliptical shape I’d take what tiny bit of knowledge I have and say it’s because of gravity. For example, when I put a magnet in a pile of iron shavings it will pull them into a circular shape. The oval shape is easiest to form for nature to build and highly aerodynamic as earth hurtles through space.

(starting to drift into making things up at this point! Time to wrap up this answer.)

13) How many gas stations are there in America? (Senior financial analyst)

This one again seems to fit the job role they are recruiting for. They don’t expect you to know the number but to explain how you’d get there.

My answer is going to be very similar to the number of people flying out of Chicago question.

Here’s how I would answer:

Well, since I don’t retain this sort of data off the top of my head I cannot give you an exact answer, but let me tell you how I would go about gathering that information. It could be as simple as a Google search of the question, but I would want to be sure that I understand that all gas stations are included in the data set. Do we include Hawaii and Alaska or just continental America? Do we include the US territories?

If a simple Google search could not net me the answer then I’d expand my search. I am sure that there are many statistical bureaus (often used by marketing agencies) that have this kind of information readily available either for free or at low cost.

If that doesn’t work I would then determine if there is a government oversight agencies for all gas stations that may have this information available.

I would also want to ask the person requesting this information if they need a precise answer or a ballpark. That makes a significant difference in the level of effort to get this data.

14) You have a 1 mile long x 1 mile wide private island you wish to turn into a resort. A plane requires a 2 mile long runway to take off. What do you do? (QA analyst for a gaming company)

Another question that seems oddball until you see the job function. A good QA person should know how to look at a problem and look at a lot of possible solutions. I am not a QA person but I can take a good run at this question.

Here’s how I would answer:

Simple, I’d see about getting a seaplane to transport guests to and from the island. No terrestrial runway is necessary.

If the seaplane is not feasible, then I’d consult with the proper experts in building sturdy runways over water (many exist, the San Francisco airport is but one example). I’d need engineers to assess the ground under the water to see if it can support the pylons. And I’d need to understand the cost to build such a runway and run through my business plan to see if the expected income from the resort could cover the enormous debt outlay to build the runway. I’d also check with the airlines to see if they would help subsidize some of the costs to build the runway.

15) Given 25 swimmers and a pool with five lanes, what is the minimum number of heats needed to determine the three fastest swimmers in the group? (data scientist candidate)

I’d suspect a data scientist would rattle the answer off the top of their head. I’m just a lowly MBA so I would ask if they want the exact answer or understand my thought process on how I’d get to the answer. Assuming they want a number I’d ask for a few moments and some scratch paper to figure it out.

Here’s my answer and I’m pretty sure it’s wrong:

5. I’d run each heat with a swimmer in every lane, which would take five heats to get all 25 through. I’d time the heats and then I’d know who was fastest. If I’m not timing the heats then I’d need a sixth heat for all of the first finishers from the beginning five heats.

16) How much do you charge to wash every window in Seattle? (sales operations candidate)

Okay, this is a really long list of questions and I’m getting tired and a little cheeky at this point. I’d probably snap off something like “enough to cover costs and make a reasonable profit” but what I do know is that, like many of these questions, they are looking at how the candidates will show how they get the information.

Here’s how I would answer:

First I would need to do some data mining. How many windows are there, how much is my cost per window, how many windows can be washed in a day, how many crew members do I need per buildings and how fast does the window washing need to be completed? Then I would run some data modeling to understand my costs and establish my projected profit margin on top of costs.

Then knowing that any customer wants to negotiate, I would work to understand where my gives and takes are. Can I cut costs back in some area (i.e. smaller crews that would take longer to complete)? I would pad my profit margin going in with the original quote knowing I will give some of that up.

I’d also look to see if any or all of the work can be subcontracted out if window washing is not my firm’s core competency.

————
Okay, I can’t believe I was actually inspired to answer all sixteen of these questions, but I was. Mild OCD can be a beautiful thing sometimes.

But to be honest, if this even helps one person get their thinking straight so they can go in and knock out an interview, than I have done a good thing.

I actually had fun with these questions. I suppose I like a good (quirky) challenge.

I’m curious if anyone out there has better ideas for some of these questions. I’d love to hear your take!








Image by Barun Patro and used royalty free from FreeImages.com.




Met The King In Paris

The other morning I woke up a little fuzzy-tongued and slightly headachy. As I groaned and lifted myself up from the mattress I thought “now why in the heck is my head throbbing?” Then I blamed my pain squarely on the two glasses of wine I’d had with dinner the night before.

It was a brand I had heard some good reviews about. The grapes came from California’s central coast. I learned from a wine tasting class that the central coast’s warm foggy weather is better for whites and blah blah blah just give me some wine.

While this particular purchase wasn’t a cheap bottle it also wasn’t an expensive bottle. Nice enough to have with a homemade summer dinner, possibly nice enough to take to a friend’s house for dinner, but nothing to give to the boss for holiday cheer.

For me I judge wine not by its “nose” or its “legs” but by my head. If I feel a little like my brain was extracted and cotton stuffed in, then I know it’s not a good wine. If I have my usual one to two glasses and feel good enough to go into work without the assistance of copious amounts of coffee, then green light, that bottle is welcomed into my home.

So as I pondered fuzzy brain, I thought about what wines have given me the worst headaches in my life.

Well, of course, bar none was an evil bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 shared with my roommate in college. It was her idea and a fantastically bad idea. Cheap. Horrible. And I had the shakes the next day. Bad.

But….

I also got an awful headache the next day from sharing a top notch bottle of Dom Perignon with coworkers as we celebrated a huge success over dinner. I had, yes, two glasses of the stuff and it did quite a job on my head.

In the early days of my career, there was a C-level executive who invited a select group of employees to a holiday dinner. He took us to some very exclusive Bay Area restaurants and made it a point to order the most expensive bottles of wine on the list. On three occasions I was invited to these events and I drank wine massively out of my price range. Bottles I couldn’t even look at without the help of a wealthy Fortune 100 executive. Some of those bottles were the most amazing wine I’ve ever had. Some were rather rough around the edges.

I suppose it just is a matter of taste, not cost.

Oh, and while the Mad Dog is probably my worst ever experience, I wouldn’t actually call that wine. The worst bottle of actual (i.e. unfortified) wine I have ever consumed came into my life just over a year ago. I was in England on extended stay and I decided to buy a bottle to have with takeaway food in my hotel room. I went to the local Tesco and picked a bottle that came in around £15 (about $20). On that day I chose a South African sauvignon blanc. I’d never had an African wine so I thought that was cool.

Well, my love affair with South African wine was a brief one. That stuff was rough. I had a glass and a half and felt wobbly in the knees all the next day. The next evening I decided to try it again, got about two sips in and poured over half of a bottle down the drain. : shudder :

Life is too short.

So while all of this may sound like wine snobbery, it really isn’t. It’s just a matter of what tastes good and doesn’t cause physical pain.

I’ve been to the top of the wine list and suffered. I’ve been to the bottom shelf and suffered. I’ve been to the top of the wine list and enjoyed. I’ve been to the bottom shelf and enjoyed. It’s all a matter of personal taste I suppose.

So to wrap up my semi-wine snobby post, I’ll conclude by saying I’ve also met the King (of beers) in Paris (Texas) and had a nice time, too.








Image found here.




Oh. It’s You Again.

I see, well, as much as I asked you not to come, Mr. Monday, you have invited yourself into my life anyway. Fine. Harrumph. I know you feel you need to arrive here promptly every seven days, but rest assured no one here looks fondly upon your visits.

Why oh why can’t you be more like that beautiful boy Mr. Saturday? He’s always kind, generous and quite well behaved. I enjoy being in his company and revel in the smiles he brings. It’s so difficult after living in the sun and light that is Mr. Saturday to have to endure your sour puss face, Mr. Monday. I mean really. Can’t you arrive here with a little more class and grace?

You are all clanging alarms and car horns and rush rush rush after long glorious Saturdays of lazy fingers trailing in the lake and dandelion seeds on the breeze.

Ok, maybe if you can’t find it in your heart to emulate Mr. Saturday, might you perhaps try to be a bit more like Ms. Thursday? She’s still a work day but she comes with softer edges and kinder words. She still starts the day with a clanging alarm but her traffic is a little calmer and she doesn’t fill my email inbox with nonsense before 8:00am. She waits a little. Comes on a little less strong. Understands the needs and wants of the average corporate drone.

Shoot, at this point I’d take it if you would act a bit more like Ms. Wednesday with all her midpoint optimism.

But no, you Mr. Monday insist upon being a creep. A grump. A crufty ol’ toad and I, for one, don’t think that’s very nice.

Oh, you say you were quite kind to me on that last President’s Day three day weekend? Yes, that was true. Quite civil you were that day. You are nice exactly four times a year. Four nice government approved holidays that bring me you, Mr. Monday, wearing madras shorts, sunscreen, a big floppy hat and a rakish look in your eye.

The other 48 visits during the year you come on with a bad attitude wearing severe gray suits with sharp shoulders. Your unkind spectacles giving me clear insight into the horror of the week that lies ahead.

Why must this be so? Why can’t we capture the beauty and harmony of those four holiday Mondays more often? Loosen your tie a little!

But no, you feel you must be severe. And so I say…

Harrumph, dear Monday. Harrumph on you.








Image by user ltz and used royalty free from stock.xchng.




Well, You Asked!

There are many things in this world that I take evil glee in doing. Taking a flyer forced into my hands on the street and walking it right to the trash can. Hanging up on telemarkers. Shoulder bumping the oblivious spandex clad ladies on the nice wide walking path who won’t move over after I’ve moved over.

This is but a few examples.

This morning brought an especially fun one. You see, yesterday I had to call in to Very Large Telecom Company to make some changes to my mobile phone service. These were not changes I could make in a store or online, I was forced to call in.

After being on hold for fifteen minutes waiting for “the next available operator” and listening to a litany of bad advertising, I was finally connected to a call agent. Now, to be fair, the call agent was very nice and rather helpful.

She did tell me that Very Large Telecom Company would have to assess a “one-time fee” for making the change I was making.

I questioned this, “Let me get this straight…I’m only making a change in how this is billed and I always pay on time and I have been a long time customer and you are still charging me for this!?!?”

“Yes, ma’am, that is our policy.”

Well that cheesed me. No need to unload on the lady on the line, she’s just a minion.

“Oh fine,” I snapped, “Just make the change.”

Then it took another fifteen minutes as the call agent waited for their computer system to respond. Waited. And waited. And waited.

All in, the call took forty minutes of my time. FOUR ZERO minutes. Whisky. Tango. Foxtrot.

So, this morning, Very Large Telecom Company called me and asked me to take a survey regarding my experience yesterday.

Oh I do love it when I get to take a survey after a crap experience.

When I bought my first car, I was treated so poorly by the shark of a salesman that when I was sent a survey from the car manufacturer, I not only filled out the form, I attached three pages with details, figures, facts, dates and times. The shark was demoted to the used car lot and I was given several free tanks of gas. It wasn’t even the free gas I was after, I just wanted SOMEONE to know how poorly their employees were representing them.

Also, it should be said, if I get really good service and I am asked to take a survey, I will gladly answer the questions and sing praises. That kind of behavior should be rewarded. After managing two different call centers, I happen to know that often times these survey results are used in annual performance reviews for call staff.

So this morning, on every question that pertained to the call rep, I gave very high scores. She really was very lovely, and certainly stuck in a bad situation.

On every question that pertained to “call length” and “time to resolve the issue” I gave them the lowest possible marks. One on a scale of one to ten.

Look, Very Large Telecom Company doesn’t give two rat’s butts about my one on a scale of one to ten but hey, they asked.

It kind of felt good to say my piece. Felt good in that evil glee sort of way.

I do love me some survey.







Image from Savage Chickens by Doug Savage.




What Hell Has Been Wrought On This World?

Dear Robert Gaskins,

It took only one short Google search to learn that you are credited as being the inventor of a little software program known as PowerPoint.

I’m sure you are a very nice man, Mr. Gaskins, and your idea and invention started out as something good. Positive. Meaningful.

From what I’ve read you sought to make the business presentation easier and more professional. No more copying slides and text onto clear plastic film and showing it on an overhead projector.

Your idea was so good that you got venture capital from Apple and ultimately the product was acquired by Microsoft. Your little dream is now loaded, by most estimates, on over a billion machines.

This software program was a big step up in terms of sales presentations and other business presentations. It brought a layer of graphic design and professionalism to the talking points of any business meeting.

However, today, on this eve of Christmas in the year two thousand and twelve, I am no fan of yours, Mr. Gaskins.

To be fair, it’s not your fault that the business world has taken something you created for good and bastardized it, but as with eliminating pesky vampires means you have to make sure you get that one lead guy, you are just going to have be the focus of my ire.

As I sit here working in my mostly empty office building, the one thing I have to accomplish this week is a PowerPoint deck.

Let’s stop here and discuss all the names for what to call a PowerPoint presentation. Apparently we’re all too cool to call it a PowerPoint presentation, it’s a deck. A preso. Slides. Slideshow.

Whatever. It’s evil. It’s probably evil mostly because we in the business world are all too uncreative to really use the software as it is meant to be used, as a tool to emphasize talking points when giving a presentation.

But it’s not that anymore. Oh no. It’s the whole presentation.

Last week I had a meeting with the boss to talk him through my rationale for why I need three additional headcount on my team. He nodded, gave me feedback and generally agreed.

Then he said, “Put that all into a deck so I can send it to Big Boss. No more than three slides.”

One hour of persuasive conversation needs to be put on three slides with no more than six words per bullet and six bullets per slide. Then these three slides are to be emailed to another person and I don’t get to explain any of my rationale. No, the Big Boss is just supposed to try and figure out all the crannies and crevices and nuances of my business case from just eighteen bullets (six bullets per slide, only three slides).

No one can be expected to make heads or tails of an eighteen bullet point slide deck without someone to walk through it. But decisions will be made based on those eighteen bullets. If I craft them correctly, I get much needed help for an overwrought and overworked organization.

Get those eighteen bullets wrong and we get another year of exhaustion and not enough hands to do all the work.

What was always intended to be an aide to the conversation has now become the conversation.

And that’s just crap.

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas, Mr. Gaskins. Because of your little invention, on this Christmas Eve I am cranky as hell and worried about the fate of my team for the next year.

I feel the weight of eighteen incomplete sentences with cool transitions and maybe even a fun graphic weighing heavily on my mind.

You’ll forgive me if I don’t offer you any egg nog.

Besos,

Karen








Image from Call Me Cassandra.




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