Andy Lester

Technology, careers, life and being happy

Tell me about weird, frustrating or bad job interview questions you’ve been asked.

| 4 Comments

I’m working on an article for SmartBear on handling bad or weird job interview questions, and I’d like to get input from you.  Have you been asked weird, insulting, inexplicable or just plain bad questions in a job interview?  Please let me know about them, and where you were interviewing, or at least what type of company and job was involved if you don’t want to name names.  I want to include real examples in my article and then include suggestions on how to effectively answer them.  I’ll also be discussing alternatives to these bad questions that get at what (I suspect) the interviewer is getting at.  I’m looking for first-hand accounts rather than questions you might have heard a friend talking about.

I’m sure many of you have had estimation questions like “How many light bulbs are there in the city of Chicago?”.  I don’t see those as weird if you’re interviewing at Google, where estimation and scaling are core competencies, but may be in other other contexts.  Have you been asked these sorts of questions elsewhere?  I get a sense from reading things online that these are asked by managers who think they’re cool questions, but without a business need for asking.

Please let me know in the comments, or email me at andy@petdance.com.

4 Comments

  1. During my past life as an academic, I was asked during multiple interviews whether or not I was married or had kids.

    And while this technically isn’t a question that *I*’ve been asked, it’s horrific enough that I feel the need to share. Back when I was in academia, I knew someone who, in the late 1960′s, was interviewing in a small college in Texas. The department chair was a Boss Hog-esque figure, rotund and smoking a cigar throughout the interview.

    Out of the blue, in the middle of the interview, the chair asked (in a strong Texas accent) “Say, now, you’re not of the Jewish persuasion, are ya?” He immediately followed up with “Not that there’s anything wrong with that! It’s just that the department has a weekly ice cream social every Sunday after church and, well, someone of the Jewish persuasion might not feel terribly welcome.”

  2. Apologies if this is not be helpful for your article, as it was in an interview I did before changing careers to tech. In late 2007, when Bush had spent so much money on war that there was nothing left for medical research, I’d been laid off as a lab assistant, and I was applying for any similar job I could find.

    I never enjoy answering the question about a time you had a problem with another co-worker and how you handled it. One interviewer, after I answered, explained that he was more interested in how I reacted than what I said. He was looking for indicators that I was angry, or that I couldn’t begin to choose from the many times I had a problem with a co-worker, or that I lit up because I enjoyed drama and conflict. Maybe a very smart interviewing tactic, but weird nonetheless.

    I said something like “I really like people, so I generally don’t have that problem, but sometimes you get along with some people more than others, so I just avoid people I get along with less as much as I can.” Honest, but emphasizing the positive. I didn’t get the job, but he said it was because he thought I’d be bored (the dreaded “over-qualified”), not because I failed his hostility test.

    Jack’s anecdote (OMG!) reminds me that in that same desperate cycle of 2007 interviews, I was also asked by an interviewer if I had a family, because, direct quote: “Women your age all get pregnant and leave.” So very, very illegal. I was speechless at that one and I still wonder if I should have taken a good lawyer friend’s advice to sue.

    When a third interviewer in the great futility tour of 2007 told me I was up against someone with a doctorate (for a somewhat menial, $24,000 a year job), I decided it was time to brush up my programming skills.

  3. I was once asked in a job interview for a web development position if I was prone to crying, because “this is a high-pressure environment.” I seriously doubt he asked that question of male applicants!

  4. Years ago while applying for a retail job, I was asked in the interview if I had ever told a lie. I said yes- cause it would be a lie to say no.
    Then he asked me if I had ever stolen anything. I made mention to a toy as a kid.
    Then he said to me, well, you’re a liar and a theif- so i’m not interested in hiring you. Not sure where that came from – but I was sure taken aback.

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