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Strange Interview Questions === No Job

June 18th, 2008

I was asked a series of questions during an interview that I’ll never forget.

The interview was at a successful company in the process of growing from a start-up. They offered a fantastic work environment, each developers got dual LCD monitors, state of the art machines, fooze ball, and to top it all off, they had a cafeteria with gourmet chefs¬† – I even had lunch there, it really was good food! It could have been a great place to work, but… the interview left me running for the door.

Some of the unnerving questions:

Do you smoke? Does anyone in your family smoke?

It turns out that they had a strict no smoking policy written into their contract. Yup… You had to sign, that you and your family will remain smoke free (including second-hand smoke) for the duration of your employment.¬† While I don’t think smoking is smart, and can see some benefits of having an explicit no smoking policy – still… this question didn’t seem right.

Potential benefits of a strict non-smoking policy:
More productivity (no cigarette breaks for employees), an odour neutral working environment, fewer employee sick days, cheaper corporate health insurance, and it could filter out potential drug users.

Draw backs:
Rapport with the interview team was immediately shattered, it’s probably illegal to ask this question in the first place. It was an invasion of privacy (if you’re demanding this, what’s next?). It felt very Orwellian (would they have Big Brother monitoring us too?), confusing (how can I control second-hand smoke?), and just weird (would I be fired if someone planted a pack of cigarettes in my desk?).

Do you play video games?

There was another sigh of relief when I answered “Not really”. I don’t play video game – well… aside from playing Tony Hawk on my classic Play Station every 6 months or Pong on my cell phone. I have better things to do than play video games, even if it’s doing nothing – like watching the paint peel off my wall (clearing my mind). Seriously though, I’ve watched family members and friends drain their lives into video games, as a result I’m not crazy about video games (but the Wii is fun). This question, like the previous was another negative hit for my employment prospect.

Potential benefits of having non-gamers as developers:
Better rested and more productive employees (they wouldn’t be staying up all night playing World of Warcraft), fewer sick days, and more focused employees (web surfing for game tips would not be an issue).

Draw backs:
Being a gamer doesn’t say anything about your performance as a developer. I started to get the impression that productivity really matters to this organization. I felt confused (why is this so important? Is there something they’re not telling me?), and it was another blow to privacy (why do you care if your employees play games?), and a blow to trust (will I have to answer questions like this everyday? I’d like to maintain some freedom, what if I decide take up gaming?).

Do you have a problem with being at work at 8:30 sharp every morning?

Now scenes from A Clockwork Orange are flashing through my mind – I’m being strapped in a chair, eyes pried open, hands chained to a keyboard, I’m being interrogated on the events of last evening, followed by a nicotine breathalyzer. OK… they didn’t embrace flextime. This organization was not a good cultural fit, too many weird questions, interview was officially over in my mind.

Potential benefits of a regimented routine:
You know when your employees should be at work.

Draw backs:
Going to work could feel like boot camp or the army, demanding rigid hours could imply a lack of trust in your employees, demands like this would certainly engender turnover, and companies with high turnover are bad places to work because there’s a cost for turnover.

Some smaller companies might like to know their candidate at this level, and if that’s the case then take them out for a couple drinks or dinner – try to learn these questions, don’t outright ask them. Questions like these might hurt the reputation of your organization, after this interview I was resisting the urge to run for the door.

What kind of interesting interview questions have you been asked in the past?

Author: Adam Kahtava Categories: Interview, Musings Tags:
  1. April 18th, 2008 at 05:57 | #1

    What a bizarre set of questions. You’re probably better off for just leaving the interview. It’s no business of the company if you smoke or play computer games – those are perfectly legal activities. Odd, very odd.

  2. April 21st, 2008 at 05:58 | #2

    I had a job interview that went well and the manager called to tell me he always takes a candidate out to dinner before making an offer to get to know them better. OK, I didn’t see a problem with this until he mentioned I was to bring my husband and his wife would be there.

    We went, it went well, and I got (and took) the job. After working there I did discuss this issue with him and others there and why it was very discriminatory.

    What if my spouse had been obnoxious (he’s not but that’s not the point) and got into an argument. What if I had a bi-racial marriage or a same-sex partner? Why was his wife’s opinion going to count (he had told me she was good at screening – but she didn’t work for the company).

    I did ask him at one point why he chose me over the other candidates and was told his wife liked me better. That’s sweet but why not hire me because of my skills.

    A lunch interview is great but a family interview is bad.

  3. Adam Kahtava
    April 23rd, 2008 at 05:59 | #3

    @Maggie

    A family interview? Now that is unreal. I can’t believe how far some organizations will take the interview process.

    Out of curiosity, how long did you continue working with this organization?

  4. April 23rd, 2008 at 06:00 | #4

    2 years. It was good they hired me since most companies wouldn’t give me the time of day and I knew I needed to have a current job in software. They ended up getting bought out which is mainly why I left. I learned a ton though.

  5. April 26th, 2008 at 06:01 | #5

    Adam,

    This interview wasn’t bad and the questions weren’t invasive at all, but this one did stump me! : – ).

    You go into a warehouse with 100 rows of lights, all off. On the wall beside the door there are 100 light switches which correspond to the 100 rows of lights, all in the down position. You (starting from the left) go pass the wall of light switches and toggle every switch. Then you walk by the light switches again (always from the left) toggling every second switch. You do this until the final time when you walk by you toggle only the 100th switch.

    How many lights are on? Which lights are they? Is there a formula for which lights are on and off? If so, what is it?

    It was a phone interview for a job with RIM that I really wanted and I got too nervous and didn’t think through it properly. :-).

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