The interview cycle is in full swing. I came across a post on Contractor UK about tricky questions posed by interviewers, which I think are just jaw-dropping. Someone needs to have a reality check and stop taking themselves so seriously. I have nothing against difficult, even impossible, questions in an interview situations. Most of the time they are great indicators of the way someone approaches a problem, and they provide a good starting point into a conversation about technologies, techniques, associated issues etc. But the examples here are pretty silly.
“You’re in a dark tunnel and someone slaps you in the face. What do you do?”
Should you have a bit of Krav Maga under the belt which emphasizes protection through offense, your reaction might be to cover your head, flail the elbows in the “drunken monkey” maneuver and lunge in the attacker’s direction, turning their attack into a fumble before removing them as a threat. However, apparently not what an interviewer wants to hear! A perfectly sensible self-defense strategy dismissed off the cuff. Why?
“This insinuates that the person is prone to react in a stressful scenario aggressively and without hesitation. These hypothetically aggressive questions can also increase a person’s tension there and then, which could mean that they are susceptible to stress and prone to make dramatic responses and reactions.”
Umm… yeah. It could also suggest that you have previously thought about such a scenario and are prepared for it in the event of it happening. That’s kind of what self defence is supposed to teach you. You’re probably not going to deck your manager in a meeting, though. Unless the meeting’s in a dark tunnel. And he slaps you.
Hiding is also not a good idea. “This generally indicates that the person cannot adequately deal with sudden events, resulting in an alarmed state of mind, freezing in a stressed scenario.” Seems to me like it might also be a sensible reaction. Someone hits you, you avoid getting hit again then worry about how to get out of the situation.
The preferred solution?
“I would first try to figure out from which direction I was hit and then find the fastest way possible out of the tunnel. Analysing the immediate situation first, and then consider the options that would solve the event. This answer indicates that the person will take a calm and calculated approach to a possible problem situation. That all the possible scenarios should be considered before any direct action is taken.”
It doesn’t take too much analysis to work out to run away from where it hurts. While you’re standing around analyzing, you get a follow through to the groin. Hmm… great solution.
Other gems include expecting candidates to be calm and collected after making them wait for 45 minutes (while their kids are waiting to be picked up from school), and hoping that people calmly ask police officers whether it’s them they’re yelling at to get their hands up. Right.
If you’re asking behavioral stuff with right or wrong answer, you should probably drop it. Questions of the “what-if” nature are useful only if they lead to an insight into patterns of working, problem solving or similar and lead to a wider discussion. A candidates reaction to getting slapped has as much place in the process as an interviewer in a dark tunnel.
A great example of how to do it right is described in Joel Spolsky’s The Guerilla Guide to Interviewing.