Nerd Guru

Because technical people need good soft skills to get ahead.

Monday, September 17, 2007

How about you: Worst interview question ever?

Tomorrow, I'll be at the University of Wisconsin screening candidates for HP openings at a job fair. In preparation for that, not surprisingly, I've been thinking a lot about interview questions. That led me to thinking about interviews I've gone on myself and I remembered an awful lot of really, really bad questions.

My two worst ones:

Q: "What is your GPA?"

This was asked of me on my first job interview, while I was still in college so school work was pretty much all I had as a background for programming work. This was a horrible question because the answer was on the sheet of paper that the interviewer's hand was on (my resume) when she asked it and had in her possession for a week.

Q: "Why are manhole covers round?"

While the obvious answer is "because the holes are", the intent of this question is to be a logical puzzle to test analytical skills. Unfortunately, I think it falls into the "either you know it or you don't" category as opposed to something you can walk through a thought process with. Incidentally, the answer is that because it's the only shape that cannot be oriented in such a way that the top can fit through the hole (contrast it with a square, for example, where the distance between two opposite corners is longer than any of the sides).

How about you?

What is the worst question you were ever asked on an interview?

Use the comments to submit your worst question.


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posted by Pete Johnson @ 9:53 AM   6 comments


At 8:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What is your favorite band?"

My reaction, "Are you serious?"

In the end, I said U2 because I though they were a band that most people liked. And I got the job.

- Jeanine

At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Esmit Pérez said...

I would have to first web development job, the interviewer (who later became my boss), said:

"In your resumé I see you know XSL, what the !#Q is that????"

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Chris Carpinello said...

"What is your biggest weakness?" There's no good answer. Thanks to people like Peggy Klaus (author of "Brag!"), at least I now know how to phrase a response.

As a technical interviewer, I like asking engineer candidates whether data should be compressed before or after it's encrypted. Following their thought process while probing their technical knowledge base typically provides much insight.

At 1:00 PM, Blogger Pete Johnson said...

@Anonymous - That IS a bad one. I'd guess they were asking to see what kind of personality fit you might be, but that's a pretty bad way of determining that. It conjures up images of the Office Space scene for me where Bob asks about liking Michael Bolton's music.

@Esmit - You know it's bad when you know more technology than the interviewer does 8).

@Chris - I like scenarios like your compressed/encrypted question. My favorite has to do with file system design for an operating system and advantages/disadvantages of a linked list approach to the nodes vs keeping a master table of all the entries (essentially, DOS vs NTFS). Now I've completely given that away to the students at the University of Wisconsin I'll meet tomorrow 8).

At 7:48 PM, Blogger Liz said...

Wow, I could go on for hours on this topic. One time an interviewer asked me "If you could be a fruit, what kind of fruit would you be?". Of course, I thought to myself "Why would I want to be a fruit in the first place? I really like being human." I think I said something about being a strawberry but I don't remember...I probably blocked the rest of the interview out.

The super-worst question I was ever asked was (I am not making this up) "How many gas stations are there in the U.S?" No, I wasn't interviewing with an oil company or a chain of convenience stores. The interview was at a bank. Anyway, I just laughed and said I had no idea. The guy told me that he was looking for me to analyze the question so he could see how I think. Yikes. What he wanted was for me to say, "OK there are 250 million people in the US and I estimate that each person has 1 car and you need 1 gas station for every X# of cars and so on." I didn't get the job but that was OK because by the time the interview was over I decided I wouldn't want to work with that guy anyway.

I always think that interviews work out the way they are supposed to. The job seemed great until I was asked a question that I couldn't answer and I didn't get the job. Sad ending? Maybe a little except that I would have had to work for a difficult person whom I decided I didn't really like by the end of the interview. So I think it worked out for the best.

By the way, I wrote an e-book of interview tips that I will give to anyone who emails me and requests it. Send your request to

At 6:46 AM, Blogger Pete Johnson said...


That fruit one is horrible, I agree.

I can almost understand the gas station one, but there are better ways of setting up a thought experiment, to be sure.

Thanks for sharing!


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