Saturday, January 26, 2013

Interview: Penguin, Sombrero

“A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?”

I would enjoy this question as an interviewee because there seems to be a lot of flexibility with this question to define myself without being out right wrong. To answer this question, I'd consider the role I was applying for and perhaps even what has already gone with the interview.

If the interview has already been very light humored, a strict engineering/science role, or any other scenario where I want to demonstrate a realistic characteristic, I would treat the scenario as a more real-life scenario. I could go with that it is a penguin so it wouldn't say anything (assuming it was a real penguin); he is there because I am being tested on how I would react. If I was allowed to ask questions (if they were checking my evaluation skills), I'd ask if it was mechanical or if it was real. I'd ask if it was going to be part of my new project. If asked about the sombrero, I'd say that it was for comic relief or red herring.

I think in most cases, I'd rather go with the expanding on the scenario to demonstrate ability to think outside the box (primarily because that is what I enjoy doing). Like, "Hola!" and he's going to be either my trainer or work partner or "wing"-mate. Or, "I'm lost. Is this Mexico?" because the penguin is lost. I could also expand on the story depending on the reaction. I'm sure people have thought of wittier ideas, but make sure not to spend too much time thinking about it. "How much am I being paid to be a prop for this interview question?" "He better be worth it or you are going to owe me big time, [interviewer's name]!" "Why is it so hot out there!" "Have you seen my poncho?" "Have you seen our tour guide? He's a chameleon wearing a parka."

I think this question allows you the opportunity to show an ability to assume unrealistic assumptions, handle unknown scenarios, ability to analyze, ability to break down the problem. On the social aspect, you demonstrate your ability on how to handle pressure (interviewer may question your assumptions), humor (if you expand on the scene), acting (if that's the job role), or even question the interviewer.

I think importantly relax because these types of questions are not typically filter questions. This question is not made to find the best possible answer. It typically is a good sign because the interviewer is digging for unique attributes... or on the other hand, interviewer doesn't really care because it was a question they had to ask so only the best ones will stand out which means mediocre ones will not affect your position. The worst thing to do is not answer the question, get nervous, or say how absurd the question is (unless maybe your interviewing to be a lawyer or venture capitalist or some role that requires you to challenge the oddness). Some other notes to consider: make sure to see how the interviewer reacts and change the style accordingly.


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