Hi, folks. I'm working on an article for DevSource.com that I think will be fun and useful, and I'd like your help.
Every techie here has been on a few job interviews. It's tough, from either side of the desk, because you're trying to prove that you're brilliant in a subject that isn't suited to a song-and-dance. You can talk about projects you've worked on; you can claim expertise with certain tools and languages; you can wave around references from clients or previous employers. But that rarely helps you demonstrate what you're best at -- whatever that is.
And then an interviewer asks a lame question that doesn't even approach that goal, such as, "What are your three greatest strengths and three greatest weaknesses?" As dumb as it is, the interviewer doesn't know what to ask; what he really wants to know is if you'd be a comfortable person to sit next to, 40+ hours a week, and if you're just BSing about what you know how to do.
Like I said: everybody's been there. We've all encountered *good* questions in an interview. We've all tried really hard not to roll our eyes when we're asked something pointless or offensive. So I thought I'd write a short article listing the best-and-worst, which you've asked or heard or heard of (which could also be a fun distraction here).
For example: the best job app I ever encountered was for a tiny compiler optimization company in Maine. The written form had the basic background questions, then some rather strange questions and a few brain teasers. The point of the latter wasn't to see if you could deal with engineering trivia, but to see how you addressed the problem. (That might have bugged me, except I knew the company owner -- we'd played D&D together, which is how I met him -- and he meant it. Playing a fantasy role playing game is another way to learn how someone solves problems and copes with frustrations, but that's another discussion.)
Anyway, a pair of questions on that list were the best I ever encountered, and I have used them when I've done journalistic interviews with famous people: "What's the most important thing you learned in school? What's the most important thing you learned outside of school?" Imagine for a moment that you had to answer those questions; they sure poke a hole through the puffery, don't they? You can only answer them as yourself, not with a "what makes me look good?" answer.
I did take that job in Maine. The company policy was that *all* the files were open, and everyone was free to look through them. So once, while waiting for a long compile, I pawed through the Interviews folder. I was astonished by the range of answers those two questions elicited. The company owner (who filled out his own form) had written "recursion" as the answer to the second question; someone else wrote "the importance of God and my family." That doesn't tell you *everything* about the person, but it sure tells you something.
The _worst_ interview question wasn't addressed to me, but was given to my husband. He was interviewing for a compiler job at, er, a large developer of commercial software. The developer who interviewed Bill asked several questions like, "How would you design a language parser?" and got very detailed. Those might have been relevant... except that it immediately became obvious that the developer/interviewer was asking Bill to debug the code he was working on right at that moment. I don't think it's part of an interview to do the other person's job.
So: what are the best interview questions you've heard? The ones you'd hate to be asked? Tell me what they are, why you judge them so highly or so poorly. I'll compile them, try to find some commonality (such as "brain teasers"), and turn them into an article. Ideally, it will both make you groan, and also help you say, "Hey, that's a good one to ask, the next time that HR puts me on the interview schedule."
Timewise: I'm hoping to pull this together by the beginning of next week. Please tell me how to refer to you in the article (the ideal is name/title/location, such as "Esther Schindler, a VB programmer in Phoenix"). While I bet this could be a fun discussion here, feel free to write to me privately (esther at bitranch.com).