|The elusive square manhole cover|
I found the answers first, and sadly, I knew what the questions were.
If you haven’t seen the questions before, consider yourself lucky. Very early in my career, I lost out on a job because of these two:
1. Why are manhole covers round?
2. There are three switches in one room and one light bulb in another. How can you tell which switch controls the bulb if you can only make one trip from the switch room to the bulb room?
The goal of these questions is ostensibly to assess your problem solving skills.
Given that none of the people I hire will ever be working with manholes, testing lights or studying angles on analog clocks, I take a different approach in interviewing. There are two questions I ask everyone I interview.
“What’s your favorite Internet product and why?”
To some extent, I don’t really care what your favorite product is. I interviewed one woman whose favorite product I considered to be a dumb product. I pushed her on all the reasons I thought it was stupid, and she was able to defend her position. She thought the interview had gone poorly, but I recommended we hire her. She turned out to be a great hire.
I’m also looking to see what you look for in a product. If you picked it because it’s blue and blue is a pretty color, that’s not very interesting.
The product someone picks can also tell me about how deep they’ve dug into the Web. Bonus points for picking a relatively obscure or new product.
“How would you improve it?”
There are no perfect products (not even mine). Once we’ve established your favorite product, I want to know how much you’ve thought about it. Good product people are those who are thinking all the time. They get annoyed when things don’t work right and think “if only it did…”
If you’ve thought critically about it, you should be able to make some solid suggestions. Suggesting improvements that already exist in the product shows that you haven’t really explored it.
I’ve found these questions to be more effective than trite questions like “What’s your biggest weakness?”
My biggest weakness is that I don’t know how to use a manhole cover to turn off lights in a room I can only visit when the hour and minute hands are at a 7.5 degree angle.