Thursday, February 7, 2013

Interview: My Take on Using Oddball and Riddle Questions (negative)

My Take on Including Oddball and Riddle Questions in the Interview Process (negative)

As much as I enjoy answering questions that are based on riddles, puzzles, oddness, or other unrealistic scenarios, I do not find these particularly helpful to the interview process. First, I do not think it helps weed-out any candidates. Second, the interviewee may already know the solution or answer to the question. Lastly, most interviewers do not seem to understand the purpose of the question. They may have their place like as an ice-breaker or a warm-up or in theme to a specific company, but in general, there are better questions.

An interview question should provide some insight into what type of person the interviewee is. This insight should provide information that will allow the interviewer to rank or eliminate the candidate. Because open-ended questions are subjective in nature and cannot provide definitive skills, this type of question tends to be one just to eliminate a candidate. So for an experience interviewee, this really is really matter of not giving the wrong answer to a question that has a billion and one not incorrect answers. Thus even an amateur or someone trained for a minute can bypass this answer, so the question is not a strong "weed-out" question.

If not an elimination question, that leaves providing some positive or negative impression of the candidate's answer. Ideally, the question is supposed to be unique enough that no one has heard of it. Word still gets around, so the candidate pool results will be corrupted typically favoring the latter candidates. But let's assume that you can control it, candidates may or may not figure out the answer. That in itself is not useful because that really is not the point of the question. The rest may have different experiences thus providing different levels of detail. Someone from NYC can provide a better details story than someone from Tulsa. So, one cannot rank even by detail. Worst case, is that someone  may happen to know the specific answer, then the entire pool has now been contaminated.

Even accounting for the different possibilities, most interviewers do not even know the purpose of these questions. Because this lies in my interests, I have been able to answer these types of questions and usually end up also providing other puzzles or oddball questions. The interviewer typically ends up coming back to me for an answer. Was I any better skill-wise to all the other candidates? Unlikely since I had only 3-5 years of experience at the time. I did not apply for a job that expected good interviewing skills, so I do not find it fair that I had an advantage because I knew how to "play" this type of question. I also do not find it fair that others may not how to "better" answer other types of questions. This in itself will skew the choices of my responses.

Unless the job calls for amazing imagination where you judge by how original the idea is, most jobs do not care for it even if they claim that they value such out-of-the-box thinking especially the larger the company is. In most corporate companies, people have already been there for a decent amount of time. The managers or employees with seniority and tenure typically expect "underlings" to follow orders to protect their domain. They may claim that they want an open discussion, but in most cases, one must always understand the position and wordings of new ideas. There is some value to small-sized companies because it does provide some interpersonal information, but unfortunately, most small-size company interviewers ask only because they read it in an article who I found even more impressionable.

So there you have it, my thoughts on the value of this interview question. If you're an interviewee, this should be a super easy question. This is also a great opportunity to impress on intangible skill-sets for the impressionable (ie amateur, rookie, etc) interviewers. I've asked this a few times but did not get a lot of value out of them. It has been a long time since I have been pulled to help with interviewing, but if you happen to have me, just smile and have fun with the question but don't make it too long. Most importantly, follow up with the correct answer after the interview and how that would impact your made-up story.

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