The job search has never been easy -- and it’s not meant to be.
With it being so competitive, especially in the technology realm, interviewers have to get creative with their questions to make sure they hire the right candidate.
Sought-after tech company Apple is notorious for asking outside-of-the-box questions, as it wants to keep candidates on their toes, while understanding their thought process.
This sort of interview can be intimidating for anyone. However, with the right tools and training, you can better prepare yourself for these challenging interviews. For some of the toughest questions candidates have encountered, we turned to a professionals to get advice on how to approach them. Dino Grigorakakis, the vice president of recruiting at IT recruiting firm Randstad Technologies, along with John Reed, a senior executive director for Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing company, both provided their insight for the below questions.
1. You have no extra time and no extra resources but are asked by the CEO to add 20 extra features, what do you do?
The purpose of the question: Tech leaders and their teams are often tasked with doing less with more – specifically when it comes to time budget. This question could be used to gauge a candidate’s ability to manage expectations effectively and communicate what is possible with given parameters.
How to answer: If you’ve been through a similar experience, be sure to communicate how you were able to handle the situation at another organization. The interviewer doesn’t simply want a candidate to say that they will just get it done because it was a request from the CEO; they want to know how you will communicate what is truly realistic and what work could be expected with the time and budget allotted. A good response will be thoughtful about how to relay the information and how to manage additional requests even when the demands seem impractical.
2. If you have two eggs, and you want to figure out the highest floor from which you can drop the egg without breaking it, how would you do it?
The purpose of the question: To break the ice and determine if the candidate has a sense of humor. Additionally, the interviewer will get a very real sense for the candidate’s analytical skills and his or her ability to come up with a good way to set up a “trial and error” experiment, which is similar to setting up “if-then” statements while writing code.
How to answer: Smile, and let the interviewer know that you are not an expert on egg-breaking distance requirements but that the easiest way to make the determination would be to:
Drop one egg from the second floor. If it is not broken, proceed to higher floors until eggs break.
Depending on when the egg breaks, we can say that from that floor upwards, eggs will break. Do the same for the second egg.
3. Have you ever disagreed with a manager's decision? If so, how did you approach the disagreement? Give a specific example and explain how you rectified the disagreement, what the final outcome was and how that individual would describe you today.
The purpose of the question: The interviewer can often be the manager, but even when he or she is not, this question can help identify how a candidate handles conflict resolution.
How to answer: This question can seem simple, as we all likely have an example of disagreement in the workplace, but this isn’t the time to air grievances. Don’t use any example that makes you too emotional. This is the kind of question candidates want to think about well ahead of an interview, but if you haven’t, take a moment to think of a time where you overcame tensions. Put a good amount of thought into responses like this, it will reflect on your ability to take orders, manage up and resolve conflict in a rational way.
4. Explain to an 8-year-old what a modem or router is and its functions.
-- Found on Glassdoor for at-home advisor position at Apple
The purpose of the question: To determine if the technical candidate can communicate effectively to non-technical associates. With the advent of the agile software development methodology, technical professionals must interact often with each other and with the end-user community. Communication skills are paramount in today’s IT environments, as IT professionals often wear many hats and are assigned to multiple projects that involve collaboration with other colleagues and external vendors.
How to answer: Routers move data across a network of interconnected computers and devices, such as printers. When data moves through a network, the routers make certain that the information is “routed” to the correct person or device, which each have a unique address on the network called the IP Address.
5. There are three boxes, one contains only apples, one contains only oranges and one contains both apples and oranges. The boxes have been incorrectly labeled such that no label identifies the actual contents of the box it labels. Opening just one box, and without looking in the box, you take out one piece of fruit. By looking at the fruit, how can you immediately label all of the boxes correctly?
The purpose of the question: This question would be asked in order to identify a candidate’s logic-based thinking. While it has the feel of an exam question, it’s a good way to identify a candidate’s thought process when issues arise and will help you follow their line of thinking to a solution.
How to answer: Whether or not you’ve answered this or a similar question – walk the interviewer through your thinking in order to show them the path of logic to get you to a solution. Remember, they aren’t just concerned with getting a “right answer,” they want to know how you were able to reach your answer to gain more insight into how you work.
6. You have a 100 coins laying flat on a table, each with a head side and a tail side. Ten of the coins are heads up, 90 are tails up. You cannot feel, see or in any other way find out which side is up. How would you split the coins into two piles so there are the same number of heads in each pile?
-- Found on Glassdoor for software engineer position at Apple
The purpose if the question: To determine if the candidate has good listening skills.
How to answer: Every coin has a heads side. Just count 50 and you are done. The riddle/question asks to split-up the coins into two piles with the same number of heads not the same number of coins with the heads up.
7. You put a glass of water on a record turntable and begin slowly increasing the speed. What happens first? Does the glass slide off or tip over, or does the water splash out?
The purpose of the question: This question would likely be asked of engineer candidates. However there are several possible solutions based on a number of factors, so employers want you to walk them through to your solution.
How to answer: Answering this question will be a chance to showcase your thought process when approaching problems and reaching solutions. When an interview asks a question that has multiple solutions, employers aren’t looking for the “right” answer, they are looking to see whether you come up with multiple possible solutions and understand the factors that would impact the issue. This is your chance to show off your problem solving skills.
8. If you're given a jar with a mix of fair and unfair coins, and you pull one out and flip it 3 times, and get the specific sequence heads, heads, tails, what are the chances that you pulled out a fair or an unfair coin?
-- Found on Glassdoor for a lead analyst position at Apple
The purpose (of the question): This is another listening and humor-focused question, in my opinion, because it can be viewed as a trick question.
How to answer: The question is “what are the chances that you pulled out a fair or an unfair coin?” – and the chances are 100 percent that you pulled out fair OR unfair coin regardless of what the sequence of flips is.
9. What is more important: fixing the customers problem or creating a good customer experience?
-- Found on Glassdoor for in-house advisor position at Apple
The purpose of the question: Not one job seeker would deny the importance of both of these issues, but employers are listening to how you answer the question and trying to understand you better by which you choose.
How to answer: Be decisive. Questions like this may be difficult because you want to stress the importance of each option, but since you were tasked with choosing one, it’s important to make a decision and rationalize how you got there based on your experiences. This will give a potential employer insight into how your mind works to tackle issues.
10. What would you do if you were stuck on a problem? How would you formulate the question to your co-workers?
The purpose of the question: To determine your willingness to bring other smart people into the problem-solving process as opposed to attempting to solve the problem on your own -- which may take significantly longer and cause unwarranted delays in implementation. Your ability to engage co-workers effectively will demonstrate your ability to collaborate.
How to answer: Your approach would depend on the complexity of the problem. First, identify the team members who are most likely to have the experience necessary to help you reach with the necessary solutions. Second, take a step back and explain the broad scope of the exercise to ensure you are on the right path – as opposed to solving for the narrow problem that may have occurred from your selection of the wrong approach to begin-with. Then review broadly and move into the various methods for resolution.