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My favorite interview question (nczonline.net)
227 points by antouank on Sept 22, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 207 comments



> Sometimes the scope of this question is too big for people to grasp and they get stuck.

The ones who appear stuck could be the reasonably clever ones who know that the question's purpose is to reject poor-fit candidates. The extra time is needed to think about how to "game" the question to avoid looking like a poor fit, not because the question has a large scope. (And that includes avoiding haplessly looking like a poor fit even when the candidate knows he or she is actually a good fit, just by fumbling a rejector question.)

Even those who could instantly blurt out a honest answer aren't going to do that, if they know what is good for them. For instance "On Monday, I start getting paid $150K per year to work on new widgets for my toy open source GUI library, that nothing uses other than the demo calculator, text pad and mini paint program."

All the discussion stimulating questions about what languages you'd like to be using and such are just pieces of rope to hang yourself with. Especially the reversal "what would you absolutely not want to do?" You probably don't want to give a passionate discussion about things you refuse to do.

Suppose the job you're interviewing for is in fact close to ideal. You want to be doing exactly what they're doing and paid about what they pay. You have the skills and are in fact a great fit. But, oops, you can't say that, because it's indistinguishable from the bullshit that someone completely naive would blurt out.

All this kind of thinking is going to chew up many seconds of time, and create awkward silences.


I completely agree with this.

My ideal job? I get paid a hefty salary (presumably by an eccentric patron or institution because who else would front it) to read around in the OED, essays, philosophy, novels, and whatever else catches my fancy, occasionally writing up responses or pointing out interesting or striking connections. My remit also includes writing doggerel, shaggy dog stories, and academic papers. I think I'd be really good at that, and I'd definitely enjoy it, and I could absolutely start on Monday.

But you know what? I've never, ever interviewed for that job, and I never will. I'm interviewing for this job, which presumably I know something about and chose to apply to, even though it's not the ideal. (It's something even better: it exists.)


And the ironic thing is whilst if you give an honest answer you end up sounding like you have a massive sense of entitlement[1], the answer the interviewer is actually looking for is fuelling their own sense of entitlement: i.e. the type of environment they're offering is close to the ideal way you'd spend your time rather than merely very acceptable, financially rewarding and well suited to your skills.

[1]mine would include elements of yours, but I'd probably also enjoy spending next week coming up with strategic initiatives for socially useful causes, travelling to exotic events to make deals with interesting people and having teams of people with actual skills around to turn my half-baked creative ideas into something worthwhile. Give me a big enough trust fund and I definitely could start doing that on Monday, but back in the real world I'm perfectly happy earning my crust doing things which people actually want to pay me for. If you asked me what I'd ideally be doing based on what actually exists that I might be remotely qualified for and the answer's pretty much a blank canvas, because once I'm expected to make that compromise I can also happily trade socially useful end for intellectually challenging means, massive amounts of autonomy for really great collaborative environment etc. and find fulfilment in many different ways.


I also fall into this camp: my ideal job is quite far from realistic or pragmatic, which is why I'm now here, interviewing for a job that I think I would realistically enjoy and profit from.

And the key to this distinction is that I am quite willing to compromise on various aspects of my actual job, so I couldn't tell you, for example, that I like a 75%/25% split on coding to people interaction, because I'm honestly pretty flexible there. I will take any job I like enough where they'd take me, so it's not really about my ideal pragmatic job, it's about what set of qualities are weighted more or less.


I actually quite like the question. As somebody who has done some hiring, if you've got past the CV perusal stage then it means I think you're probably good enough and I want to hire you. Trouble is, there are 5 candidates and only 1 position.

So I have to come up with a way to kick your tyres, and try to figure out what you're like to work with. What do you love and hate? What kind of person are you?

You might prefer me to ask more transparent and common questions, but how will I know you are not just giving rehearsed answers from a book? So I ask questions that are a bit more oblique and original, designed to raise genuine discussion.

How do you answer them? Be honest! It's not an excuse for me to get rid of you, because I really want to hire you so I can end the extremely dull hiring process and get back to my day job. I'm looking for how you answer the question, not the exact words, but whether you clam up, tell a joke, go on a long-winded story, get all excited, or whatever it is that you do.


> if you've got past the CV perusal stage then it means I think you're probably good enough and I want to hire you. Trouble is, there are 5 candidates and only 1 position.

I thought we had a shortage...


That "shortage of tech talent" balloon has had more than a few pins pushed into it ;)


Right, but the OP just describes what an honest answer would look like, and it appears that it wouldn't satisfy any of those objectives beyond establishing that "this person has some cool interests".

And that's the general problem with these kinds of questions: each asker has some secret purpose for the question, and if you don't know that purpose, it's almost impossible to know what to emphasize so that it optimizes for that purpose.

So then, unless you're really trying to test the candidate's ability to guess a purpose, it's not going to be informative about those things you want to know.


So the OP's answer was "On Monday, I start getting paid $150K per year to work on new widgets for my toy open source GUI library, that nothing uses other than the demo calculator, text pad and mini paint program."

- The question said "you're on your dream salary", but you've specifically said what that salary is, so I know that money is at least a thing for you (maybe in a good or bad way, but something for me to explore with you)

- Open source is important for you.

- You haven't mentioned working with other people, so you're an "individual contributor".

- You say "nothing else uses it" so you're not particularly motivated by fame and success, more by achieving things on your own terms.

If I was hiring somebody to work on some obscure but necessary library we needed built but could open-source, you might be perfect. On the other hand, if you were applying for a managerial role your answer would raise some flags. And that's the whole point - I'm trying to figure out whether you're a good fit for this role.

If you gave me an optimised answer where your dream job exactly matched the job spec you're applying for, it would indicate you're either trying to convince me to give you the job by being a least a little bit dishonest (not necessarily a bad thing - perhaps if this job involves sales), or you genuinely are a great match for this role.

Either way, I'm not going to hire or fire you based solely on your answer to this question. It's just a lever to get you talking about yourself. So give the answer that feels comfortable for you to give.


> Either way, I'm not going to hire or fire you based solely on your answer to this question. It's just a lever to get you talking about yourself.

If this truly is your motivation, say as much in a preface to the question. I'm dreadfully sensitive to the smell of people actively refusing to ask the question that they actually want answered. I don't like this smell. It causes me a large amount of trouble and anxiety while I attempt to use my insufficiently-developed psychic powers to divine the real question.

I'm fairly certain that I'm not the only one who suffers from this affliction.


That's good feedback, and I'll think about a way of prefacing these open-ended questions with an explanation.


I completely agree. The "wiseguy" in me would say: "That's a trick question, my ideal job takes Mondays off."

But I wouldn't answer with a "wiseguy" response. Why? Because it could also be construed as laziness. More realistically, I'd have to gauge the interviewer....and I'd reckon most interviewers would be the type of person who wouldn't find the answer amusing.


> The "wiseguy" in me would say: "That's a trick question, my ideal job takes Mondays off."

So say it. If your future boss loves someone with a quick sense of humour, they might laugh and give you a bonus point.


If I were the interviewer, you would get bonus points for being risk-taking and funny.

As long as you followed up with the actual, hopefully reasonable answer after that :-)


But what if "take Monday's off" (to work on whatever personal side projects I want) is my actual, reasonable answer? Now I've just shot myself in the foot.


It's to start a conversation. A good interviewer would probably say "okay, Mondays off for personal projects, good idea. What would you do on Tuesday?"


If you were funny, intelligent and competent - and if it was only Mondays you wished to take off - I would try to work things out for you :-)


Lazy why? You can describe an imaginary job such as ambassador to a Caribbean nation in great detail. It doesn't have to be realistic, because it's a dream job.


It's a trick question. The interviewer wants an answer which shows that the interviewee has a 'Realistic self-view'.

> If a 22 year old tells me they want to be CEO of Google next week, for example, it looks like either their perspective on their skills is flawed or they didn't really grasp what I was asking. In that case, I say something like, "remember, you're starting this job on Monday. Are you ready to be CEO of Google on Monday?"

Similarly, 'are you ready to be the ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago?'

That said, the US has a lot of lousy ambassadors who get the post because they raised millions of dollars for the presidential campaign. Given how inept George Tsunis was as a nominee, I think you could manage an ambassadorship without a problem.

So ... great answer!


I agree entirely. Typically when I have to stop and think for a few minutes during an interview, it's because I have to devise the "correct" answer to the loaded questions handed to me. It's annoying that it's this way, but once in a great while I get a wink from an interviewer that understands what I am doing. Last time I got the wink, I got the job.


This is kind of a horrible question. If you are working towards doing something else in the future, you would like to be doing that - and being trained for it - realistically you won't be, you'll be doing the job you are being interviewed for.


It's so clearly not about the future, since it's about the very next Monday.

The question is a positive way of asking, "What would be the best position and environment for you, right now", so the interviewer can see if they fit the actual position without negative questions.


A few people in this thread have ignored the very next Monday aspect of the question. I guess it could go either way in real interviews - either people are stressed and miss the next Monday bit, or the interviewer very carefully stresses that bit - but still it seems to weaken the question.


I don't know how the interviewer phrases the question exactly but I hope the "next Monday" part isn't meant as a "gotcha".

Because once you start talking about "ideal this and ideal that", you're in fantasy land (because here in the real world there is no ideal) where anything goes and by next Monday I'm an expert in whatever... unless you're really clear about the constraints.


It's a gotcha. From the article:

> The phrase "starting Monday" places the job in a specific time. It's clear that we're not talking about a position you will one day aspire to, nor are we talking about a dream job that can't actually exist. If a job is to start on Monday, you don't have time to learn new skills or gain experience. You are what you are, professionally, and you need to come up with a job that you can effectively perform next week.


I've been hunting around for a little while for the right job to move into, and so I've done quite a few interviews.

And there definitely have been moments when I've been trying to figure out whether the question I was asked was just part of a standard script the interviewer has to use (and thus is as simple/obvious as it appears) or is trying to accomplish something more subtle.


Realize that an interview is more like a date, and the question is merely a means to a conversation.

i.e. the interviewer depends as much on the interviewER, as it does on the interviewEE.

i.e. The questions you ask do matter, but what matters far more, is how the interviewer judges the interviewee on those questions.

I've worked with Nicholas Zakas before. He is a sharp and thoughtful person. Plus, he has probably given this question hundreds of times, to have a strong BS detector. And there will be several followup questions, to separate the wheat from the chaff. I bet he is going to get what he wants, from this question.

Is this the only question that can identify great candidates? No. Is this one good one, that fits his evaluation style and his values? Yes, and that's what he is sharing with us.

[About me: I run http://InterviewKickstart.com in the valley. We prepare candidates for technical interviews, and deal with a variety of these situations every day]


It's an ok question, it just reveals who has a realistic grasp on what a real job is versus a fantasy job. I think that distinction becomes pretty obvious to anyone who's been working awhile, so the question might be redundant.


"reveals who has a realistic grasp on what a real job is versus a fantasy job"

Yep, I think you may have said it best. All of the people in this thread who are throwing out nonsensical silly answers just aren't listening to the entire question. There's a really specific set of rules and most people here are ignoring them and the purpose behind them.


Why? He's asking about ideal. Yes, supposedly constrained by your knowledge and abilities. "Superbowl winning quarterback" is not a realistic answer for most people. But saying a very generous salary with an equally generous amount of time off to work with the community and do research around $PASSION (that's relevant to $IDEALCOMPANY) seems a reasonable response to the question as posed even if one knows it's not a realistic goal.


Would you provide a summary of each rule? It sounds like you know them very well.


If there are rules, that throws honesty out the window.

Proof:

Either the rules don't require any honest inputs, or else they do.

If they don't require honest inputs, then the outputs aren't honest; they emanate from the rules.

If the rules require honest inputs, then what are the rules for other than to massage the honesty into something else? The way you get a honest output statement from a honest input statement is not to apply any rules.

:)


The rules from the article. That should've been read before posting.


There's plenty of discussion in these threads that doesn't require knowledge of the article to read. Go take a look around. :)

What's more, I got the core lessons of TFA from reading the better comments in the discussion. I'm sure I saved a fair bit of time.


"The ones who appear stuck could be the reasonably clever ones"

I used to be terrible at interviews because I couldn't help over-thinking every question to minutia levels even if I was aware that I shouldn't be doing that in an interview context.

I just couldn't turn my brain off from thinking about all the what-ifs and corner cases which in some cases I'm absolutely sure made me come off as someone who was "lost" on the question but was really actually thinking multiple levels beyond what the interviewer was expecting and still branching down. And this, when combined with the stereotypical programmer trait of not wanting to say something wrong in public makes it really difficult for some people (eg. younger me) to 'think through the problem verbally' with a stranger.

It may be self-serving to think this, but IMO this sort of thinking is actually really useful to have as a programmer but it really fucks you on traditional interviews.

I eventually learned to compartmentalize it and just short circuit myself when interviewing, but it took a really long time to do this, even after I was well aware it was a problem.


To whom the intention behind the question is obvious it's also obvious that cheating and gaming is not a valid option here. Having an honest answer improves the candidate and that's not related to the actual job at all.


The interviewer will have to be the judge of whether the client is gaming or not. For reference, I had to spend a couple of minutes just thinking to myself what would be my dream position.


> Suppose you could design your dream job that you'll be starting on Monday. It's at your ideal company with your ideal job title and salary. All you have to do is tell them what you want to do at your job and you can have it. What does your job entail?

Funny thing about that to me. What I'm doing matters less to me than why and with whom. I certainly know the kinds of software development and management tasks that I enjoy doing the most. But when I look back over my fondest memories and the biggest high points of my career, it's always about the team. It's who I was working with, what we accomplished together.

I've been self-employed for the last several years, and that experience has helped crystallize the importance of the team. I'd seriously consider cleaning toilets and changing bedpans if it was with the right team for the right reasons.

That's not likely to happen, though. So to bring it down to a more practical level: working on going-nowhere legacy software that does something important with a great team of people all pushing for excellence-- that would be great for me. But doing the kind of software development I enjoy the most, with a team of pretentious primadonnas who don't really care about actually putting projects into the done-basket, for users who don't really want to use the software-- that's a hell job. I speak from experience.


   What I'm doing matters less to me than why and with whom. 
That's a perfectly reasonable answer (fleshed out a bit) to the question.


This is a pretty bad question. Since I know what job I'm applying for, I will tailor my answer to fit the job. You're hiring me as a developer? OK, my ideal job is a developer, i love building things and getting down to the nitty-gritty. You're hiring a manager? OK, my ideal job is a manager, i love being part of the bigger picture and breaking a project up into small pieces is my forte.

An interview should just be there to weed out people with immediately obvious problems. Use 3 month probations to determine if they are a good fit.


This is where the BS detector goes off and where a lot of follow-up questions are needed.

What about building things and getting down to the nitty-gritty appeals to you? Why?


He's a developer he should be able to drill down into those fairly easy. Sure if you're just trying to weed out people who aren't actually developers, (or managers or whatever the job title is) the question might work. As long as they lie on the first question and say their dream job is whatever job you're offering.

The question is bad because it's basically encouraging you to lie--along the lines of "what is your greatest weakness".

I'm a developer and I love it, but my dream job would be philanthropic roboticist who designs swarms of robots to build affordable housing for the impoverished, and my dream salary would be $100 billion dollars per year.


   The question is bad because it's basically encouraging you to lie
No, it really isn't. Being unable or unwilling to engage with the question meaningfully is a useful signal in an of itself.

But think of this another way around: Sometimes hiring managers are currently trying to fill N positions, with a few more that are opening soon but aren't even posted yet. You may be interviewing for job A when and even better fit, job B, is on offer if you don't play around with this sort of questioning. It's a shame to miss opportunities like that...


Being able to understand when to game the interview question (always, no exceptions, ever-- just remember that faking sincerity and warmth is part of gaming all questions properly)

You're engaging with the question by gaming it effectively. After all, they're hiring you for your ability to reconfigure your mind to be a tool for solving whatever task. Gaming questions properly demonstrates a spry mind.


> Gaming questions properly demonstrates a spry mind.

Gaming questions properly demonstrates a willingness to deceive. There exist people who are quite clever and flexible, but entirely unwilling to deceive a potential future co-worker or employer.


Do you think "what is your greatest weakness?" encourages you to lie?

If you ask "what is your dream job, and your dream salary" you will get a dishonest answer 9 times out of 10. Why encourage dishonesty. Why not just ask "what do you like about being a developer?" Or "describe your ideal developer work environment?"

>Sometimes hiring managers are currently trying to fill N positions, with a few more that are opening soon but aren't even posted yet. You may be interviewing for job A when and even better fit, job B, is on offer if you don't play around with this sort of questioning. It's a shame to miss opportunities like that...

This question isn't going to help very much with that because almost everyone is going to lie and say their dream job is the job they are interviewing for. And if they don't lie, they're going to say that it's something like billionaire philanthropist, President of the United States, or Batman.


As the author states in the article, there is a limitation of "you start on Monday". This rules out the billionaire philanthropist, POTUS, and batman.

What is your dream job given your skills, your resources and ability, that you could operate at within a week.


And yet he says you can set your own salary. I'm pretty sure I could operate just fine on monday as a billionaire philanthropist given that I get to set my own salary.

Setting aside hyperbole, I can think of several practical things I'd rather do than what I'm doing now, but I don't do them because they don't pay well, and I enjoy my current profession well enough.

If I could set my own salary, I'd like to run a barbecue restaurant, write for a newspaper, make computer games, or build robots. However, none of those pay well enough (or I lack the credentials--and time to get the credentials--to make them pay well enough), so they are relegated to hobbies.


The salary isn't the point:

> I immediately exclude discussion of company, title, and salary, because these are the things people think they want but can't really affect my decision.

> So by stating that these three things, company, title, and salary, are already taken care of, it frees candidates to think about what really matters to them.


Salary matters in that it allows you to pick jobs that aren't ordinarily practical.

Most people have something else they would be doing if salary weren't a constraint. So the honest answer isn't likely to be a job like the one the candidate is interviewing for, but most people will be dishonest and say that the job they are applying for is their dream job because that's what they think the interviewer wants.


> The salary isn't the point

Except it is. I earn 3x more as an enterprise developer than I could as a games developer and work significantly fewer hours.

The truth is spending time with my family, and having the money to support them, is more important than having my "ideal" job.


HE specifically says you can NOT set the salary.

> It's at your ideal company with your ideal job title and salary.

This means that your title/company/salary is already set in the question.


No, he just says you don't discuss it. It's my ideal salary. Who else get's to decide what my ideal salary is other than me?


I guess you're right. But I also think you're missing the point. The point is to focus on the work itself, not the surrounding information.


The problem with "what is your greatest weakness?" and the like is that the person asking doesn't actually want an honest answer.

I'd probably re-word the OP's question a little bit to make it more clear, but it is a fundamentally different style of question, and can be quite useful.


There's an inherent frame of mind disconnect in this question. As long as the interviewer is able to engage with the many frames of mind someone might approach this question with, then it'll work.

One possibility: I want my job to look like this, pay in this salary range, I want to learn these things, get better in these areas, build some cool tech, etc.

Another possibility: I wouldn't mind getting paid exorbitantly to do whatever I would want if money weren't an issue. However, I could also answer your question as "what job do I realistically think I can get, from an economic supply/demand perspective, while still maximizing my enjoyment of the job?"

I inherently think in terms of the second perspective, so my answer may be inherently at a disadvantage because my "ideal" is unrealistic, but then if you wanted the pragmatic version I'm sure I could give you an assessment of my skills and what jobs I think I'm a good fit for, that I would enjoy doing.


> but my dream job would be philanthropic roboticist who designs swarms of robots to build affordable housing...

Unless you have been curating a very specific set of skills during your spare time, I believe this line of reasoning would be cut off with the "And you are ready to start doing that Monday?" followup.

That said, I'm curious because that's a very specific off the cuff answer - is it entirely pie in the sky? Do you have a background in robotics? Are you playing around with it in your spare time?


My degree specialization was in embedded systems, and I designed all of the hardware for my current startup. I've also been known to play around with robots.

There are plenty of other things I would love to start doing full-time on Monday if I money weren't an issue; start an indie games studio, write a novel, or teach.

Instead these are hobbies. I'd say most people have some kind of hobby they'd do full-time if it paid as well as their current job.

But these are all hobbies,


What does it even mean in this context to start doing something? In my circles, the first step usually is to review the respective literature and poke it with a stick to see what works. I can't think of anything right now that this would not work with, thus, I'm ready for anything. Nobody said I had to do a good job off the bat.


Pretty much this. Anything I want to do, nobody is qualified to go do it on Monday. But they can start figuring out how to do it.


If that's your answer, it's a terrible answer to the question from the linked article.

The question asks for:

1) Company 2) Job title and description 3) Salary

with the qualification that you're starting on Monday.

You just said something silly that doesn't answer the question asked.


The question doesn't ask for company, job title, and salary it just asks what you'll do at the job. He says you just tell the company what you want to do, how much they pay you, and the job is yours.

The author actually bars discussion of those 3 topics--so you never tell him any of them.

That being said, my answer was obviously meant to be snarky. The questions is silly and most people will lie about it. If you are trying to determine whether someone will tell the truth when pressured to lie, it's a good question. If you want to find out how good someone is at bullshitting interviews, it's a good question.


Is such a 'probationary period' a common thing? Seems like it would be very inefficient since the majority of the hiring cost is up-front.

As a candidate, I would be attracted to an offer from a company saying 'we like you, you're hired!' much more than one saying 'you can have this job for now, but we might take it away in 3 months if we don't like you.'


Its common in many european countries. After the probation period ends, employee protection laws kick in, e.g. you cannot simply fire an employee after that period.

IMO it's a good way to learn about each other without the negative consquences for both parties. (Not only the employer has a disincentive to fire after the probation period: Leaving as an employee in Germany means you're blocked from the higher variant of unemployment benefits.)


Same in Brazil.


It's how things work in Ontario, Canada, at least. Every single job I've ever had had 3 month probation periods. It was always great as a student finishing the probation period right around the time you were going to quit to go back to school.

It's just standard here, nobody is shocked by it. It's beneficial to both the employer and the employee. Don't like the company? You can leave with an hour's notice.


Also completely ubiquitous in the UK.

I've never heard of a UK company offering any professional role (software or otherwise) that doesn't have a probationary period written into the standard contract.


It is very common in my experience, and in some places entrenched in law if I recall correctly. It's also not uncommon for benefits to be contingent on this period.


In the US I would never consider any such job. I've got a family to feed and I can't dick around with a "maybe you'll have a job in 3 months, maybe you won't" type job.

I nearly quit a job I had when they suggested doing that to new hires. I knew immediately that we'd never get any good candidates in that way, as the good candidates will have legitimate offers from other companies where they weren't "on probation."

If labor laws in the US actually protected normal workers, it might make sense, but since they don't, it's entirely favorable to the employer and unfavorable to the employee. Right now, if I don't like a job, I can still quit whenever I want, so that's no loss.


Since a majority of the U.S. is at-will employment anyway, a formal probationary period isn't needed because it's built in to the law. (Unlike some other countries where it becomes much more difficult to fire an employee, as noted in other comments.)


It's common in Brazil too, but with the exception of companies who abuse it to hire temp people every 3 months, you won't lose your job unless you give a reason to be fired.


The follow up questions are going to kill you though, if the interviewer is any good.

This is actually a pretty good question, handled properly. I don't disagree that probation is useful in ways you can't reproduce in an interview, but you should be filtering well enough that you rarely drop someone during the probation.


"The follow up questions are going to kill you though,"

I don't buy that. If I was applying for a job as a social worker, is about the last thing I want to do, I could pretty easily say the kinds of things that a social worker needs to do. And that is far from my current career. I could trivially answer the follow up questions for any position in a tech company.

If you disagree - I'm a developer, have done light team management. Specify the questions you think I, or anyone on here would fail for whatever position you want.


Tailoring answers to what you think the interviewer wants to hear is part of any interview question, and being able to do so well shows a certain level of empathy or at least awareness that would make me think you'll be able to communicate well.


Most experienced interviewers can smell that a mile off and will pull you apart like slow-cooked meat.


Yes, my point is that, as a semi-experienced interviewer, when I see somebody doing it well, it at least shows me they're smart/aware enough to understand what I'm looking for – which is not always the case, surprisingly enough.


This seems like kind of a trick question. The vast majority of interviewers want to hear what they want to hear, or at least have you agree.

We've all been conditioned to expect this. Then, here comes along someone with a different question where if you answer it differently, you probably don't get the job.

In my mind, I'm going to ask, "Is this a serious question? Are we just filling time?"

> Are you ready to be CEO of Google on Monday?" If they say yes, then I'll probably entertain myself by asking how they'd run the company while mentally moving on to the next candidate.

This question...it just seems so loaded and I have to disagree. I can get a 'no' vote (which is enough to end the interview process) because I give a silly answer to an uncertainly question.

If I say, "I want to build apps for non-profits" is that going to sink me during a QA interview? What if I say, "I want to enable non-profits with tech?" during a product or project manager interview? To me, both of those things are heavily intersected. But it seems like I can get stopped right there. God forbid if someone says they want to be a stay-at-home parent.

I'm going to cold read you and tell you what you want to hear.

I feel this question is less-than-helpful because it doesn't really extract any extra information yet is approached with a different angle to make the question intentionally tricky and make good candidates fail.


>> Are you ready to be CEO of Google on Monday?" If they say yes, then I'll probably entertain myself by asking how they'd run the company while mentally moving on to the next candidate.

> This question...it just seems so loaded and I have to disagree. I can get a 'no' vote (which is enough to end the interview process) because I give a silly answer to an uncertainly question.

It's a silly question, and the commentary about moving on to the next candidate shows ugly dismissiveness. What if the person sitting across from you COULD be the next CEO of Google, and you're blowing off a great find? It's not like there's only one person on Earth who is qualified to be the CEO of Google. Plenty of people could do it. I'd argue that the higher you go up the chain of command at any company, the less specific a skill set the position needs, to the point where many more people out there could be CEO of Google than could be Principal Compiler Technologies Engineer.

As others have mentioned, mostly the question is silly because, like most behavioral questions, the correct answer is: take some time to figure out what the interviewer wants to hear and feed it back to them.


> What if the person sitting across from you COULD be the next CEO of Google, and you're blowing off a great find?

Then hopefully you're not on Google's CEO interview committee, and the candidate is overqualified for whatever position you have, and hiring them comes with a risk of being unable to retain them when the much greater opportunity comes knocking, leaving you where you started but a couple of months down the line.


At least when I am the interviewer, the detail of what you say is less important than your humility, humor and at least some level of enthusiasm/passion for software/work. Hopefully in addition to your technical competence (but this is not the question to assess it) :-)


Pose a game-fantasy question and you get gamed fantasy answers.

"Realistic self-view

The first thing I try to figure out is if this person's job description matches their skills. If a 22 year old tells me they want to be CEO of Google next week, for example, it looks like either their perspective on their skills is flawed or they didn't really grasp what I was asking. In that case, I say something like, "remember, you're starting this job on Monday. Are you ready to be CEO of Google on Monday?" If they say yes, then I'll probably entertain myself by asking how they'd run the company while mentally moving on to the next candidate."

This isn't telling you anything about what the candidate can actually do. It's telling you whether you as the interviewer think the candidate is capable of doing what they say-- and you probably have only minimal prior knowledge. It's also telling you that you didn't form the question with enough qualifications if you're receiving answers which you consider to be outside the realm of expected results. I'm also going to go ahead and say that there are 22 year olds who could be the CEO of Google next week, whether or not the author has faith in them.

I really hate interviewing for this very reason. Every question is a trick question. Every question must be gamed. Every question that you will ask (be forced to pose in order to game the situation of having a question for them) will be dodged and gamed similarly. In light of that, this question by the author isn't so bad. Interviewing is going to be a joke/crapshoot/have no real correlation to ability to do the job no matter what, so I guess this question isn't so bad. I'll admit, I had fun with thinking of my answer-- but I know the author wouldn't ever accept it if I answered genuinely in the fashion I wanted to in an interview with him. Showing too much ambition in a job interview is quite dangerous from my experience.


"I would love being paid for programming an IA that substitutes you and all your kind so I don't have to stand another job interview in all my live"

Yep, way too much ambition.



@Harryh, thanks for the laugh..:)


Why does anyone think these crazy questions have any relevance to work. Work is called work because its not play. Play you do for fun. Work you do for money. People who get paid to play are in professional sports.

I never understood why anyone thinks these questions are relevant and frankly I wouldn't want to work for someone who thinks he can figure out a personality with a few minutes spent in a discussion when everyone has their date face on.


Wow, another arbitrary interview technique of dubious worth. Yay...

"Are you ready to be CEO of Google on Monday?" If they say yes, then I'll probably entertain myself by asking how they'd run the company while mentally moving on to the next candidate."

Why does a young candidate believing he can be CEO of google mean he can't work for you as a javascript developer? How do already know how good this candidate is at business? After all, google was founded by 20 year olds with 0 business experience. Some would argue it went wrong when suited business people took so much control over it (6 adds on a search result today).

Ultimately though, my larger point is that what objective evidence is there that this technique is any better than a coin flip? If none, why are you telling us?


Years ago, when I was in college the first time, I was a tech support supervisor at a large retail store.

All candidates had to take an online personality test. The test was a joke. It asked things like

"Have you ever stolen anything from work (including little things like a pencil)?"

"Do you think it's ever ok to break the law (including minor things like speeding)?"

Many people who took the test assumed it was trying to find out whether they'd lie on a test and that saying yes to these questions was the correct answer.

Other people guessed correctly that the test wanted you to answer as if you were the perfect retail automaton.

The point is that the test punished honesty. And even if this question doesn't necessarily do that, i.e., the interviewer might be fine with answers that include "professional athlete", "swimsuit photographer", etc..., many candidates will think that it does. They will assume that they are supposed to say their dream job is the job they are applying for.


These tests are so odd. But maybe, as you've pointed out, they are simply screening for people who are aware of when and how they need to lie.

It used to be fashionable to ask "what is your greatest weakness" in interviews. I always considered it an unfair question, but I was on an interview panel once with a guy who loved to ask it, and I couldn't stop him.

I slowly realized that it does reveal show a person handles an unfair question that he or she absolutely should not answer truthfully, but without stammering or being obviously evasive.

Like I said, I wouldn't ever ask this question, I consider it to be a bit of a trap. But maybe the people who are asking it are simply more cynical people who are checking to see if the candidate is an equally aware cynic? Just a bit more interview hazing, I guess.


If you're interviewing someone at a professional level who has more than 5? years worth of experience then commonly a problem in an interview is that the candidate thinks they should "win" by answering correctly. They've done enough interviews at this point that they know 80% of the useful questions you can ask. Sometimes it feels like 'winning' has become ingrained - since mostly people don't need the specific role ... it will be one role they are interviewing for amongst a few - instead they should be trying to understand whether the role/company will really be a good fit for them (and vice versa).

The 'what is your greatest weakness' question can be quite a good indicator of that mentality - the candidate will give you a carefully chosen weakness that they think you will think is a strength (if that makes sense). I do use it from time to time, but mostly towards the end of an interview where I've (hopefully) built up a picture of the person so have some ideas on areas I'm concerned about. If I get the obvious 'marketing' answer then I'll probably try and gently point out it will do neither of us any good to land-up in a situation where the person is in a role they can't do or won't be satisfied with. In a way the nature of the response is of interest - it should be an opportunity to discuss why it's an area of weakness and what sort of development they are considering, and for the interviewer to consider how important that area is within the role or culture.


INTERVIEWER: What's your greatest weakness?

INTERVIEWEE: My greatest weakness is that my canned response to that question probably won't satisfy any interviewer that asks it. Even with unlimited preparation time, knowing that someone, somewhere will ask it of me eventually, this is the best I can come up with. So now you have to ask a follow-up question to try to peel back a layer of canned response.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything about you that you think you could improve?

INTERVIEWEE: Well, yes. There is a severe bug in the inner layers of my canned response that I was never able to get rid of. It has an infinite loop.

INTERVIEWER: So you have trouble debugging?

INTERVIEWEE: There is a severe bug in the inner layers of my canned response that I was never able to get rid of. It has an infinite loop.

INTERVIEWER: I'll just mark you down for "smartass".


I also have asked this question many times, but have been unable to get anything useful out of it. I usually end up with one of three responses:

1. Verbatim definition the positions job description. 2. I'd be golfing or laying on a beach. 3. My attempts to probe deeper lead them to specific answers and I end up with my dream job and not theirs.

The article is a little light on details about your follow-up questions. Care to share some more?


Of the employees you've hired after hearing their answers, how have they all been?


The "ready by Monday" part is apparently the author's vague way of saying, "picture a job that is ideal in every way except that they won't give you any time to train or otherwise come up to speed on new skills or technology."

For me an ideal job is one where I get to learn some new things, not just plug away at stuff I'm already really good at. An ideal job needs to stretch me a bit, allow me to grow and develop. Once the author explained what was meant by "ready by Monday" I couldn't really come up with an ideal job. A good one, but not an ideal one.


It is also a hypothetical question that's intended to give insights into the candidate's thought process without giving an incredibly leading question.

You are also free to imagine a position that would allow you to maximize the value of your current skills and explain how that position would also allow you to grown and develop new skills.


I don't think the author meant that you needed to be 100% proficient at the job on day one. As in his example the goal is to avoid answers like 'CEO of Google'

At least, if I was asking the question, I would be encouraged that you want to expand your skill set.


This is a bit of a tangent but ultimately related.

Back in my WoW raiding days a common question we'd ask candidates, If you could design an encounter what would the mechanics be?

The way a person would answer would show a lot about them. A good raider would go into detail talking about obscure details, talking about past encounters they liked/disliked. You'd even hear hints of their cross class knowledge as they'd talk about how to overcome the difficulties of their imaginary encounter.

The worst raiders would respond with simple DPS checks, or stupid mechanics that would prevent other classes from being competitive.

:.:.:

To be clear positions were pretty competitive. Really most Top 50 US guilds are roughly aligned in skill level, the differences you see in positional rankings are normally just time spent within instances. As RNG became the rule of thumb from Sunwell on :\


Take in mind that I'm not familiar with WoW but I do have extensive (and I mean extensive) experience on WC3 as you read this:

> If you could design an encounter what would the mechanics be?

Is actually a different sort of question than that posited in the OP. Your answer to this question would be more specific, as you are asking for mechanics - the other question is more open-ended and has many more opportunities for pitfalls, as has been much of the discussion here on HN.

And this is all context of the applicant aside. Certainly some of the most brilliant minds play WoW (and getting a job at blizzard is tough!), but at the same time, you will also have to sort through additional chaff that would have already been filtered out in the resume before the OP's question was even asked.


The goal is the same.

You're asking a highly opened and loaded question to ascertain knowledge of who that person is, and what they're looking for in an ideal experience to see if your goals align with one another. My goal was more oriented via Sun Tzu's 5 essentials of victory.

>He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks.

Fundamentally these are culture questions. Does this person fit within the company culture of the position your offering?


This comment just blows my mind! I remember when I stopped playing pen-and-paper RPGs regularly. It was after an intense Sunday session that felt more like an unproductive work meeting. I remember thinking "fun shouldn't be this much like the work I'm dreading going to tomorrow."


High end raiding is a lot more work then a game.

2-3 hours per night of highly focused extremely performance critical labor.

Follow with 1 hour of meetings where you discuss performance, review reports of your guilds performance vs other outfits. Write reports about this, discuss potential strategy initiatives and if there is a need to recruit I.E.: Hire new talent.

At the same time you need to manage monetary income. Your outfit sells off good its acquires during raids, and you use this to purchase materials your raid group needs in game.

Its literally a business inside a video game :| If it didn't take me 6 years to realize that. In retrospect I wish I could list it as management/leadership experience without getting laughed out of boardrooms :)


You know, you probably could list that. I'd find it interesting on a resume. Just one line like "Ran one of the top X raiding guilds in World of Warcraft", followed by some bullet points about your duties.

I wonder whether I'd have a more rounded skill-set had I played more games like that, rather than solo or adversarial one-on-one games.


The question removes responsibility from the interviewer, and puts all the pressure on the candidate. Many candidates are in situations when they'd be willing to accept something less than "ideal". This is especially true in countries where youth unemployment is high. If someone is seeking perfection, rather than just survival, they probably already have a job. Therefore they'd be being headhunted, and the hiring manager will be trying to attract them, not filter them out. I've taken some horrendously underpaid internships simply to keep me off the streets. Did I admit my desperation at the time? Of course not. Were those jobs a perfect match for my skills? Not exactly. But did I get the job done, answer to my managers, and learn some new skills? Absolutely. Even though my current job isn't totally perfect, it's better than most others I've had before. The value of stability and years of continuous work experience are more important to me than the minor inconveniences I'm accustomed to here.


My favorite question to ask as the interviewee is kinda isomorphic of that one: "If you could spare $10,000 of the engineering budget to fix anything in your business right now, what would it be?"

I also like the similar: "If you could spend one week fixing anything in your app, what would it be?"


These are great questions. I'm imagining my answers, and the answers of people on my team, and I think they'd reveal quite a bit about us: personality, priorities, outlook, whether we'd rather fix people problems or software problems.


They are also highly contextual. If I've been self-employed for 5 years, selling an app but only making $30K/year - ie, not poor, but well below market - and decide that it's time to "get a real job", then there likely isn't something in my app that $10K will easily fix.


The intent is that the job seeker asks these questions of the place that's hiring, not the other way around.


My apologies! I missed the "as" in "to ask as the interviewee".


> The phrase "starting Monday" places the job in a specific time. It's clear that we're not talking about a position you will one day aspire to, nor are we talking about a dream job that can't actually exist.

Wait, what? Because it starts Monday, it can't be a fantasy dream job? That's a non-sequitur.


You failed to read the interviewer's mind. No job for you!

I really despair every time I read these interview threads. The number of hoops you have to jump through, the questions that require "just so" answers (I'm a 8 out of 10 will get you a fail for being too overconfident by some, and a fail for not being high enough for others), measurements based on everything BUT the one thing that matters - on the job performance, interviews where all information is hidden to the applicant.Take this article: you dragged me in, forcing me to take a day off with pay, and only then tell me the actual requirements of the job? Thanks. Why didn't you put that in the job description, an email, or tell me in a pre interview phone call? What a waste of time.


The OP's question is one that an interviewee would love to hear if they've saved up money and are actually searching for their dream job, while living comfortably on those savings. This is the real annoyance with the employer-employee relationship: the lack of any genuine relationship. Most of the time, the employer wants the best talent without having to pay for it or compromising on anything, and the employee just wants the highest salary/package possible.

The real win would be this: I find a company whose product I truthfully want to invest my interest in. You realize my potential and pay me the $150k I am worth compared to the $80k I make now, considering I routinely provide the quantity of work you get from 3-4 juniors at $50k each, at a superior quality where every line of code written isn't adding to the technical debt.

Oh, and I'll take my 4-5 weeks of yearly vacation instead of the 2-3 bullshit weeks you expect me to be satisfied with. If only more than 1% of the companies out there actually owned a product worth being excited about. :(


I start training to become Batman on Monday. If the interviewer suggests that that sounds far fetched, then Robin.



> Wait, what? Because it starts Monday, it can't be a fantasy dream job? That's a non-sequitur.

He is just making a point that what they are discussing is not what will be the reality. Probably to be 100% sure that the candidate don't misunderstand that he is supposed to describe the ideal job and not the 'actual' job.


This doesn't seem like a very useful question, since a lot of people if answering completely honestly would probably name things in other fields they're specifically not doing for money or other logistical reasons ("writer", "dolphin trainer", "skydiving instructor", or whatever).


Not being in your ideal field is a useful data point.


No it isn't. Everyone has pipe dreams about things they imagine they'd like to do, it's human nature to fantasise this way. All it tells you is that they have a basic level of imagination. These ideas appeal to us precisely because they're unrealistic, and outside of our experience and day-to-day life, and probably not achievable. That lets them retain a haziness that obscures the difficulties, compromises and risk that actually pursuing them would inevitably entail.

If somebody volunteers that they'd rather be a professional surfer than a software developer, then spends the whole interview bringing it up, then that's a red flag. If you explicitly ask them to spin a flight of fancy then judge them for not having pursued it, then you're an extraordinarily unfair interviewer.


You are assuming the interviewer is looking at it in a black and white fashion. I was more pointing towards the more mundane goals.

For instance in game development there are lots of roles including designing and developing. If I am hiring a developer and you say you want to design that is a very valuable piece of feedback that doesn't exclude you from the position. For instance it could mean that of the two positions one may be a better fit because it involves more architectural work.

In your example that isn't nearly as useful, wanting to focus on your hobby is not a negative at all.

An example of a problem would be hiring for a legacy system and having someone say they want to work with the latest and greatest tools. The reality is that isn't going to happen and the fact that you are going to be looking out for another job quickly means it would be better for both of us to avoid the hire (again all things being equal).


Really? How so? I have lots of dreams but there is only one reality. I have to choose which of my dreams to follow.

If we posit a dream world, with a different set of constraints, then why shouldn't you expect the answers to be different?

If you ask for one dream job, and I have 9 dream jobs, including software developer, dance instructor, and grad student, how do I provide the example you're looking for? If I choose wrong, how does that affect my job chances?


No Hire. As a software developer, 110% of your passion should be for code, followed by a couple of harmless, minor interests like bicycling or craft beer.


Nice sarcasm, combining the mathematically impossible language of a mid-rank manager with the conformity a capitalist factory owner wants. Long-haired freaky people need not apply! No union organizers!

Out of curiosity, I looked up the history of '110%'. https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=give+110%25&ye... shows that 'give 110%' started in the 1960s.

Reviewing Google Books, 'give 110%' comes from sports. "Sports, Games, and Play: Social and Psychological Viewpoints" (1979) https://books.google.com/books?id=yKNMmmec8jgC&pg=PA114&dq=%... gives a lovely contextualization:

> So we devise terms to describe our heroes an heroines and place them on pedestals so they may act as models. We develop a whole new jock vocabulary that incorporates all of the cultural models. Our winning athletes ... give 110%, they never say die, play with pain, or give till it hurts.

Then in the 1980s, the sports term started to get used in business. One of the earliest matches for "110%" I found used in this context is an ad in the Rotarian, a publication of the Rotary service club. In 1986 you could by a computer that was "110% IBM" - https://books.google.com/books?id=EDYEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA62&dq=11... . Within the next few years, the phrase became much more widespread. I think this 1989 ad for Mennen brand deodorant https://books.google.com/books?id=dmuI3YaWtAIC&lpg=PA7&dq=11... makes a clear connection between sports and the managerial class.

Then by 1991 there was the business book 'The 110% Solution: Using Good Old American Know-How to Manage Your Time, Talent, and Ideas'.

Sports, boosterism, and business school, all wrapped up in one conveniently impossible phrase. The language of jocks now fully repurposed to maximize production.


I never said there was a right and wrong answer, I said some answers could bring to light that it isn't as a good a fit as everyone (you included) would like.

Simplest example is tech stack. If it is COBOL job and you say you want to work in Haskell that isn't a no-go thing, but depending on how passionate you are about it, it does point towards you not lasting long due to discontent.


And yet another incentive to game the question and lie.


If you are going to lie you better be passionate about it. The primary goal of that kind of question is to get you to be excited.


When I was at Nortel, they sent everyone on the "Seven Habits" course. The instructors led everyone through an analysis of what was truly important to them.

They also bragged that something like 25% of attendees changed careers within the year. :)

Life's too short to not be doing something you really want to do.


>Life's too short to not be doing something you really want to do.

By that metric, a vast majority of the world is wasting their lives doing things they don't love. Unfortunately, they are not in a position to quit their day jobs and pursue that dream.


Right, and this kind of platitude is an oversimplification. There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to fulfillment in life. For example, do you have children? Perhaps it's more important to you to be a good father and provide for them, even if your job is somewhat mediocre.


Life's also too short to spend it chasing a career that doesn't exist or that you can't make a living at.


If you can't make a living doing what you want, it's probably worth spending your life creating what you want so you can do it for a living.


How well does living in a cabin in the woods, chopping wood, and hunting and gardening for food pay?

Edit: To clarify, a lot of people in the professional world just take it as a given that everyone wants to be in the professional world for the rest of their lives. I'm trying to make the point that a lot of us are only here because it's the best option out of a number of crappy alternatives.

To even ask "What would your ideal position be?" implies that the interviewee wants to work professional jobs for the rest of their lives. On the contrary, most of us don't. If we had an out that allowed us to leave the office for the last time we would take it in a heartbeat. That doesn't make us bad workers, but it's worth considering the fundamental assumptions behind your interview questions before you ask them.

A lot of people have professional lives that are an endless series of compromises where they have to choose the least-worst option repeatedly. You rapidly lose your enthusiasm for a life like that.


No, it's not. The answer is to stop defining yourself by how you earn a living. Pretty good basketball players, pretty good singers, pretty good poets (hell, even the best poets) can't make a living what they love. That doesn't mean they should stop writing poetry or singing or playing basketball. It means they should find a job they like, and continue to do what they love on their own time.


All of their time is their own time.


"A well-ordered society advances the good of each and all of its members, so that there is no one from whose gaze or plight we have to avert our eyes, no one whose complaints can be met only with lies or pious nonsense about following one’s dream."

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v21/n14/jeremy-waldron/the-plight-of-th...


This is a 1% problem.


Remember that they have to be ready Monday, which rules out a lot of the more fanciful stuff.


And incidentally rules out a few jobs. Quite a few restaurants are closed on Mondays.


Realize that an interview is more like a date, and the question is merely a means to a conversation.

i.e. the interview depends as much on the interviewER, as it does on the interviewEE. Questions matter, but what matters far more, is how the interviewer judges the interviewee.

I've worked with Nicholas Zakas before. He is a sharp and thoughtful person. Plus, he has probably given this question hundreds of times, to have a strong BS detector. And there will be several followup questions he will ask, to separate the wheat from the chaff.

So, is this the only question that can identify great candidates? No. Is this one good one, that fits his evaluation style and his values? Yes, and that's what he is sharing with us.

[About me: I run http://InterviewKickstart.com in the valley. We prepare candidates for technical interviews, and deal with a variety of these situations every day]


"Are you ready to be CEO of Google on Monday?" If they say yes, then I'll probably entertain myself by asking how they'd run the company while mentally moving on to the next candidate."

This is why I hate interviews. Interviewers can be as sadistic as they please, get drunk on this "power", and act like jackasses. I have had only a handful of interviews where my impression of the interviewer was not lowered significantly over the course of the interview.


My answer to the question would be:

"Obviously I do not have previous experience. But I'd still give it a shot and try to learn as much as possible on the job. Just like Larry Page did."


Wow, this thread has a strong attraction for the overthinkers and the slightly-sociopathic. :)

This question, or some variant of it, is useful when both sides take it seriously, in context, and have a mostly-honest conversation about fit between a person and a workplace. Otherwise, not.

A lot of these comments make it sound like the goal in an interview is simply to "play the game" to get the job, regardless of what the job turns out to actually be like, or whether you're a good fit for the workplace culture. If you're starving and desperate to get any job, then sure, that makes sense. Otherwise, it's not a good idea to start your relationship on that note.

It seems obvious that interviews aren't going to work well when either side is desperate or blatantly dishonest.


This question is actually a potentially useful tool for closing a candidate as well, designed to find out the candidate's interests with the answer potentially used to demonstrate that the job being offered is a fit for the candidate's specific filters and criteria. This isn't much different from what an agency recruiter may ask a candidate in an initial profiling session, where the answers will be used later to try and close a candidate on a job offer.


Job interviews are negotiations. As such, the controlled release of information is critical. "Come tell me your dreams so I can match them up against my opportunities" is not fair to the candidate, who 1) would be an idiot to have a dream where what you wanted was what they wanted and 2) might very well be able to adapt to whatever your situation was. Hell, you very well might desire to adapt your situation to the candidate.

At the end, you then step into the candidate's shoes and say something like "Gee, looks like you missed out on a bunch of important stuff we care about. But hey, it still might work! What do you think about that?" -- this puts extreme pressure on somebody who is probably just trying to figure out the difference between what you think you want and what you actually need.

I think I'd care a lot more about a candidates values -- the ones they've actually lived -- than what some kind of dream job is like. If you're not dreaming of sitting on the beach spending your time as you see fit? If, instead, your dream is to code Javascript at some company 75% of the time while going to meetings 25%? Maybe you're either lying, are missing some key bit of imagination, or just trying to bullshit me. Even folks who actually spend those percentages are usually doing so because something else they value drives them to do it.

I do not want to be cruel, but this sounds like one of those interview questions that's just a little bit too clever for its own good. The kinda thing you could do for a long while and get away with, because it's really measuring the ability of the candidate to negotiate tricky manager situations, which is in itself a valuable skill.

You are probably getting something that feels good, but is not the thing you think you're getting.


This looks like an open question to get to know the candidate but in fact it's another way to fit the candidate in a box. Distinctions like leader/follower don't always make sense, they are not opposites. Programming languages, specific percentages spent coding/managing. Just a basic skill grid. The recruiter also need to see the future to decide based on a single answer if a candidate would be able to be CEO of Google. It's not clear why he would not.

The question is also incredibly oriented towards the recruiter's point of view, for example why exclude the salary discussion? It seems it should be one of the major discussion points when applying for a job. Maybe I'm mistaken but I think people work for a company and not for their toy projects because of money.

Focusing on starting next Monday isn't a particularly good idea either, good candidates can learn quickly and what they can't do on Monday they could probably do in a month.

Well, that's a pretty bad question.


I think that technical hiring managers tend to get obsessed with finding the "ultimate" interview question as a short-cut for evaluating candidates.

The problem is that such a question doesn't exist, or rather, that it may very well be a different question for every possible combination of interviewer and interviewee. The OP and those who take his advice are going to get lost in the weeds if they try to read too much into the answer to this "super question". Just pay attention to what the candidate is saying, their background, their responses to behavioral questions, their personality and their aptitudes. There's no shortcuts and there's a huge heap of subjectivity required to assess somebody for "fit".

Modern organizations have been hiring people for decades. If there were actually a "best way" to hire/evaluate people, everyone would be using it.


"Suppose you could design your dream job that you'll be starting on Monday. It's at your ideal company with your ideal job title and salary. All you have to do is tell them what you want to do at your job and you can have it. What does your job entail?"

#savedyouaclick


Are we making an assumption that the candidate doesn't just say what I want to hear? Reminds me of economics class - "Ok class, before we begin you must first go forward with the assumption all people make rational decisions."


> "I operate on the mindset that the damage done by filling a position with a bad fit is far greater than the damage of not having enough people to do work, and so I believe in optimizing to find the right person for the job."

Who is this guy kidding? This question will simply weed out those who are actually honest. If the person wants the job they're going to tell you what you want to hear to get the job. Unless he's being subtle, and "The right person for the job" is the one most willing to tailor himself to the needs of the employer, and skilled in double-speak.

What a ridiculous question.


How are you meant to objectively and unbiasedly grade candidates with such a question?

For all you know, you could interview the same candidate before and after lunch and come out with completely different views each time.


Design your dream job? That sort of question is code for: you aren't in the running. It is a stock question, something asked of all the candidates. Very very few people who are asked such questions are ever hired imho.

An interviewer who thinks you have any hope of landing the job should (a) already have read your resume and (b) be under instructions from someone above them regarding your application. A good interview is one where the interviewer is vetting a candidate, not trying to find a candidate. There should be a discussion of the problems/tasks for which you are to be hired. Whether or not you will turn out to be a "good fit" will come from that discussion, not stock questions.

A job is about pay for work. The only honest answer to "what is your dream job?" is "You give me 1,000,000$ and I go home at 9:30." Everything short of that is a lie. So an answering candidate must create in their mind some parameters to bookend their dream job. They try to figure out what the interviewer wants to hear and form a lie based on those expectations. The real meet of the question is therefore "What do you think I want to hear?" The winning candidate ends up being the one who best knew the interviewer's expectations and crafts the best lie. Unless you are hiring people for a improv comedy team, that knowledgeable liar is isn't the candidate you want. It's a toxic process best avoided.


> Everything short of that is a lie.

I think most people would do some kind of "work" even if they didn't have to work for money. Especially true for developers.

If I could create my dream job with a dream team of mentors (say "I'd work with Carmack and a few other guys working on a new game engine for VR") I'd certainly do it for free if I was already rich. And I'd do it for half my current salary regardless.

I could make up 100 such dream jobs within an hour, and I wouldn't need to lie, nor be unrealistic about what I'd do in the position.

I think it can be a good indicator of what the candidate is passionate about, what their interests are, what their insights about their capabilities are and so on. Not saying it's the bestest interview question ever, but just like my favourite "Tell me about some code you wrote that you really like" it can give an insight into what drives and motivates a developer.


"Jobs" where you aren't working for money aren't really jobs. They are hobbies. Hobbies can consume your entire life, you can even hire people to support your hobby, but unless you are doing it for the money it isn't really a job.

I worked with/for too many people who are in fact working on their hobby. Running a tech startup is almost a fashion statement in some wealthy circles. The problems start when things get boring. The person who doesn't care about the money tends to loose interest quickly. The absent boss, the founder who no longer comes to the office every day, is a real nightmare.


From the question:

> It's at your ideal company with your ideal job title and salary.

From his discussion:

> I immediately exclude discussion of company, title, and salary, because these are the things people think they want but can't really affect my decision.

Then why ask it? Why make it part of the question, if the information is meaningless? If you asked me what I wanted to do, I could come up with an answer pretty quick. But if you added in stuff about ideal title, salary, etc, then I would have a lot of trouble answering that part—which you don't even want or need.


You misunderstood the intent. He intended "it's a given that it's at your ideal company with your ideal job title and salary, so we don't have to talk about those".


Ah, gotcha. That makes sense, then.


If I could take over as the CEO of Google on Monday, I would do it in a heart beat. Whether my skills fit the job is irrelevant. You're wrongly assuming that I expect to be great at my dream job. I don't. I'd expect a learning experience. I'm sure I'd get fired eventually. I'd wipe my tears with the money I got from my golden parachute, add my years as Google's CEO to my resume, and start to campaign for other CEO jobs that I'm now "qualified" for.

Eventually, I'd become a decent CEO.


I think this question is good precisely for the same reason a lot of people are saying it's bad; it's really easy to give a bad answer, especially if the job isn't close to your ideal job. The article talks about waiting as long as it takes to get the best candidate, and in that regard, this question is perfect. Sure some people will do a good job at gaming question but if a candidate clears this hurdle, they are more likely to enjoy their role and therefore perform better.


I think the entire premise of hiring for fit in terms of leader vs. follower, etc. is flawed. Has anybody ever actually worked with an engineer that was a) good at their job, b) not a total jackass, c) their employer would have been better off had they not hired them?

[meta] Also, I'm pretty sure that here on HN, an article about hiring is going to get more upvotes and discussion if, like this one, its advice is _bad_.


I started a successful recruiting software company about two years ago. I have learned many things about the industry and recruiting. Some from our own analytics (on any given day we get an enormous amount of job applies coming in to our system) and others just passing observations (talking to recruiters, staffing firms, and corp hr).

Three things that I have learned ... job hunters are desperate and will do surprising things to get a job (more so for bad candidates), every recruiter seems to think they have some secret trick for filtering candidates and finally companies in general love to make candidates go through an enormous amount of illogical jump-through-these-hoops, quack like a chicken, stand on one leg steps as possible.

While I appreciate the writers intent trying to help candidates I also think he is massively underestimating people looking for jobs. They are not dumb and if it takes a question as simple as that during an interview to make some determination on hiring perhaps some better filtering needs to be done prior (ie checking them out on linkedin and looking at their resume/application).


Which part of this question ensures the candidate is capable of doing the job?


@Xyik, I agree with you. Let's not forget job descriptions are written so poorly, it does not tell you exactly what the company is looking for. So for a candidate whose background closely match the job description, I don't see how this is a good question to ask.


It seems pretty reasonable. As in, can be answered honestly without ruining your chances and reveals valuable information to the applicant and the employer. But I assume that the applicant actually honestly believes themselves to be fit for a role. After all, the desired goal of the question is to weed out people who can't or won't perform the needed tasks.

If I really thought coming to an office every day at 9am was your idea I wouldn't offer a salary. There's an understanding that the salary is compensation for the difference between ideal and reality. Even if I were to believe you, it wouldn't be in your best interest to tell me my job was ideal for you...

I think the scenario people imagine in all these interviewing-question threads is themselves looking for work and all that is available is a junior dev position in an unpopular language, or a QA/QE role, etc, and that they have to lie and pretend their life-goal is picking up after others in a corporate environment. Like a waterfall Java QE.

If you could honestly describe that as your ideal you really wouldn't be the type of person I'd hire... But if you respond that your ideal is a dev role in a better language I'd probe your dev process and see what you'd do to ensure the connection between customer-spec-code-reality. Then I could say "Well, the code you'd be reviewing is legacy and Java, so that's inflexible, but our test infrastructure is out of date and needs to be re-integrated - I think that could be done in your language of choice ... etc"

Ideally you'd offer these yourself. "I see myself in more of a full-time dev role, but with so much legacy code the sane thing to do is to get a reliable and useful set of tests running before the product is modernized. So as long as the QE role involved creation of new tests and new test frameworks - and especially if you'll let me implement at least one in Xlang to demonstrate its benefits ..."


That's a very useful question for deciding who not to work for.


> It sounds to me like this isn't a great match for what you're looking for. Do you agree?

This is the part that reveals the whole thing as nonsense. My "ideal job" is not what I'm "looking for", therefore this conclusion is impossible.


I find it astonishing how many people's snarky responses here would actually be astonishingly useful to an interviewer. Not as a disqualifier even. The person who wants to spend all day building robots to feed the poor, and the person who wants to spend all day writing are probably not going to both be happy in the same job. And the person who "I just want to be a developer, I love doing business development" is going to always tell you yes regardless of the situation. And the person who sits and thinks for 5 minutes ... probably needed some more encouragement from the interviewer.


> The person who wants to spend all day building robots to feed the poor, and the person who wants to spend all day writing are probably not going to both be happy in the same job

People don't actually work that way though. My favourite sport is rugby union, my second favourite sport is swimming.

These sports are very different and yet I am passionate about them both. Rugby league and American football don't interest me at all despite being much closer to my favourite sport than swimming.


> I don't want to get into a discussion about titles because they are mostly meaningless; ...

Quite untrue, except at the fringes of corporate hierarchy. It's hard to take the rest of the article seriously after that.


Isn't that the entire point of an interview to suss out the response to that question through, albeit, through indirect means. If you just ask it directly, you're not going to get honest answers.


~Just put the iocaine powder in both wine goblets and be done with it.~

You're not going to get entirely honest answers as long as the respondent believes there is something to be gained from dishonesty. And guess what? In an interview, there is always something to be gained.

The only way you get a chance is by having an accomplice clip on a "VISITOR" badge, to ask the question outside the interview room.


I enjoy questions such as this during interviews because, if I've handled the interview well so far, I can turn the question around a bit and use it to feel out the interviewer's opinion on a more important topic, or reinforce one of my previously well received comments.

On the other hand if I've been blowing the interview, its a decent chance for me to try and get things pointed in a positive direction again, and/or lighten the room up. Either way, its a better experience than just having someone read off a series of questions like a robot.


The answer you will get is not to the question "What is your ideal job?" but "What is a good sounding job that the candidate can pretend he wants that will cause you to hire him?".


I did not enjoy the article as much as I like the author's (Nicholas C. Zakas) other articles or books [1]. However, he has also written some more "useful" interview related articles earlier -

On interviewing front-end engineers (2013)

Interviewing the front-end engineer (2010)

Surviving an interview with me (2007)

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Principles-Object-Oriented-JavaScript-... - one of the best JavaScript books ever written


If it was answered honestly. I wonder how the answer of:

In the morning [not a consistent time] I'll reflect on what I need to do for the day, examine goals that need to be completed, plan out the day, start the first pomodoro, mid day: take a break by walking around outside, finish up the pomodoros, and take the last one to reflect on what I did, how the goals went, and how to improve. All which would have nothing to do with Agile or being questioned on how much I got done in x time.


You answered how you like to work, not what sort job it is. They may be the same thing for you - 'it doesn't matter what I work on as long as I can work in the following way' - which would be worth exploring with you further. Presumably, he'd ask you some of the other parameters - like what languages you prefer. Then in stage two, he'd then discuss how the way they worked is (or is not) similar to your desired way of working.


So this is the job interview equivalent of the ice-breaker "what would a day in your life look like if money was no objection?"


Suppose you could design your dream job that you'll be starting on Monday. It's at your ideal company with your ideal job title and salary. All you have to do is tell them what you want to do at your job and you can have it. What does your job entail?

What a horrible filter question -- unless your goal is to attract consummate brownnoser, that is.


We hugged it down. Mirror cache backup: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:https:/...


Judging by the comments here, I would be one of the few people to answer this question honestly. Although I haven't been desperate for a job in a long time, I think an honest discussion around this question would be best for both sides.


This is brilliant, and can be used to gather much more about a candidate than any of the usual lame 'how would your friends describe you...'. Most interviews seem scripted, and do not really assess a candidate in depth


TBH this is not much better than "where do you see yourself in 5 years"


My answer would be simple. Roll my eyes. Stand up, and walk out the door.


TBH I think this would be super efficient for both sides.

The question shows a bit how the company (at least the manager) thinks about the world and about interacting with people. If it doesnt fit with your views it might be worth addressing at this point - it's not something that would change in future


I nearly did something similar. Ended up accepting that job. Probably should have walked out.


Care to elaborate?


It's the sort of question that would be asked by someone that the poster you're responding to probably considers very much part of the outgroup and so would take pleasure in brushing off and condescending to.


It's a question designed to get you to either to lie or to show bad faith.

Someone who asks it is not someone you want to work for, whichever group you feel you do or don't belong to.

And you are doing what you are (without evidence or reason) accusing the OP of doing. So which particular group dynamics do you have in mind?


And if you'd rather brush me off and be condescending than get the job, I don't want to hire you.


If that's your answer then you shouldn't be applying for a job in the first place. It seems like your attitude would make you a difficult person to work with. Instead you should monetize and work on your own projects.


I enjoyed reading this as written rather than as (I assume) intended: "The enormity of defining any job they want can be overwhelming..."


My dream job would be to have enough money in the bank to live off of a 100k salary for the rest of my life without working.


My question is the reverse:

"What's the worst culture you have been part of at a company and were you able to change it"


What does that tell you about what matters: on the job performance? What's a pass? What's a fail?

Two people could tell you the same thing. for example, they doggedly raised issues, keep escalating, ended up talking with the CEO directly, and couldn't make a change happen. Except, in case 1, it turns out there were good reasons, or bad reasons, but the person alienated everyone and made it impossible for them to effectively do their job (bad culture if so, but hey, you need to be aware of what you can do and not do). Second person did all that, but cemented relationships in the processs. Chances are you won't know the difference between the two.

Then take two more people. they barely tried. But one person was just not very pushy, and the other one rightly decoded the political landscape and rightly figured out that they would accomplish nothing, and probably get fired to boot.

How do you distinguish between those 4 stark choices, let alone the continuum of situations that actually exist? (people who just weren't effective at making the change, people that misjudged what the change should be, and so on)


Well it is a damn sight better than how many window cleaners are there in London.


The question is actually not a good question. In today's day and age, the really intelligent jobseekers don't have time for these kind of questions. The hiring company should rather be focused on how to convince a good applicant to come work for them instead of these type of questions.


This question is focused on convincing good applicants to work for them. The structure of the interview is:

a. Have candidate define their perfect role b. Explain to candidate how actual role lines-up with desired role they defined

It works because if both sides are honest then there's a positive exchange of what the candidate wants, and what the role has to offer. Presumably, if the interviewer really wants the candidate, then they'll explain all the ways in which the role on offer matches the ideal.


just answer one level up from what you're interviewing for.

Junior Dev -> Dev Senior Dev -> Team Lead Team Lead -> VP of Engineering or CTO

Do same with salary. Whatever position you're interviewing for * 1.3.


The best question is always: Why wouldn't we hire you?


That's a terrible question. You may as well just ask "Hey, can you please slip up and say something incredibly stupid and/or offensive, so that I can have an excuse to end this interview? It'd be great if you could just walk right into this trap that's not-so-cleverly-disguised as a question whose answer isn't even vaguely my business. Thanks!"

EDIT: Oh, and I skimmed further and found this gem:

> I never let people opt-out of the question

What a pile of arrogant crap. You're interviewing a candidate, NOT interrogating a prisoner. Get over yourself.


If they want to end the interview, it doesn't matter what question they ask, because they won't be listening to your answer anyway.


Exactly. One can opt out of literally any interview question by simply ending the interview.


LOL.

Yeah, that's like saying, 'hey, if you don't like the laws in this country, you can move out.' You sure can; you sure CAN. Disparity of "power". That's what interviews are all about. So you would pass up a great candidate because they disagreed with the relevancy of your line of questioning? It takes a lot more intelligence and self-confidence to consider a question and respectfully opt out of it than to blindly do your master's bidding and muddle through a through a question you don't even understand.


I would not hire you because of your lack of social skills. Yes, the question is a bit silly, but as an adult you need to be able to deal with silly/annoying questions gracefully. Any polite, hopefully humorous answer would do here.


This is an interesting thought experiment, but my problem is that it's considered a bad thing if the candidate's ideal job is substantially different from the one they're interviewing for.

Why should an actual job line up with an ideal at all? Shouldn't we just evaluate the candidate for how well they would perform at the actual job in question, instead of worrying about how it lines up with some scenario they've been asked to conjure up?

This strikes me as a backdoor to the old "passion" canard.


>If they say yes, then I'll probably entertain myself by asking how they'd run the company while mentally moving on to the next candidate.

How condescending and arrogant do you have to be to take this kind of attitude to someone who answers the question you just asked them? What's the point of asking the question if you're not going to listen to people's answers and think about them? I can't imagine someone who takes such a dismissive approach to candidates is much of a good boss.

>I immediately exclude discussion of company, title, and salary, because these are the things people think they want but can't really affect my decision.

>Sometimes the scope of this question is too big for people to grasp

>They are just indicators to dig deeper, you're not going to trick someone who knows what they're doing.

>* In most cases, the candidates have thanked me for the exercise because it helped them really narrow in on what they're passionate about and what type of job they should be looking for.*

The arrogance and of the author and the lack of empathy and respect for the people they're talking to is really offputting. I'm sure people are just lining up to thank this guy for this stimulating and amazing question that saved them and helped them figure out who they really were. Christ.


My favorite interview question is different but it has served me well over the years when hiring software devs:

Tell me about any software project that was 100% done by you (code, regression tests, docs, web site if there is one, mailing list if there is one, etc) that has been used by at least 10 people, none of whom contacted you for any help (thank you emails aren't help). The software doesn't have to be a big deal, years ago I wrote some regexp enabled wrappers for cp/mv such that you could do

    move '*.c' '*.c++'
and posted it to usenet. Something like that counts.

What I'm trying to tease out is how much of the dev process can this person handle. And I'm trying to see if they tinker on their own. It's a bit of red flag for me if the person doesn't have any examples of this sort of thing.


That's a rather absurd set of constraints. Do you hire people to only work 100% alone on projects ? Would Linus Torvalds be a "red flag" because he's accepting contributions to Linux ?

Why 10 people ? There is no link between popularity and code quality. Presumably the developer won't be also in charge of marketing.

Did the piece of code you posted to usenet have tests, doc, a website and a mailing list ? How do you know that you had 10 users who never contacted you ?

In our industry programmers aren't allowed to be simply professionals. They are always expected to be "passionate" and if they don't program day and night and in their spare time then it is suspicious.


The point of the question is to find out what the candidate can do. If you interview a lot of people you will find that a lot of people claim they did more than they actually did.

As for 10 people, you typically get some sort of feedback when you put stuff out there. What I was trying to say is "can you produce something that at least 10 people can install and use without having to ask you how does this work".

In my experience, the people that have put together some small open source (or not, I don't care about the license) project by themselves are in a somewhat different league. They can handle a broader set of problems, they don't depend on others to do the docs, tests, marketing, whatever. We're not talking about photoshop here, it could be some tool you wrote to do galleries of your photos.

A buddy of mine has a different way of asking a similar question: "If we needed you to, would you sweep the floors?"

We're both trying to get at the capabilities of the candidate.

I'm not asking you (or anyone) to program "day and night" but I do like it when people do it because they like it. I've done plenty of free stuff and I've found it rewarding.


By the same token the interviewee is trying to get a sense of your skills, with red flags of their own.

"*.c" is a glob, not a regexp. Quoting from Wikipedia:

> Globs do not include syntax for the Kleene star which allows multiple repetitions of the preceding part of the expression; thus they are not considered regular expressions, which can describe the full set of regular languages over any given finite alphabet


Yeah, you're right, I did do globs because it felt like it fit better with shell commands. Good catch!




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