10 crazy questions tech companies ask job candidates

2014-10-11

What would you say if — right this second — you had to “describe Google as a person.”

What about if you had to answer this — on the spot — in a job interview: “If you had to relate to any superhero, who would it be, why, and how would that apply to your position?”

Would your answer sound eloquent and polished or filled with a lot of ums and uhs?

For many — including the folks who said they were asked these questions in actual job interviews — we’re guessing the latter. Fully 92% of Americans are stressed by at least one thing about the job interview process, according to a survey conducted last year by Harris Interactive on behalf of Everest College, a chain of for-profit vocational schools. Their biggest fear was being too nervous during the interview, followed by being stumped by the employer’s questions.

Job candidates may be right to be so stressed: A survey by Accountemps this year found that 43% of top execs said that job candidates make more mistakes during the job interview than in any other part of the application process. (The second most commonly cited slip-up was that they made mistakes on their resume, but only 19% of execs said that).

What’s more, if you’re interviewing at a tech company, the interview process may be especially panic-attack worthy. Indeed, open-ended, oddball questions (like the above about Google and superheros) are par for the course at many tech companies. The reason? Because tech companies need to innovate extremely quickly, they need “the best and the brightest” — those who not only have the requisite skills but also can manage a project, make ideas come to life and fit into the company culture, Scott Dobroski, job site Glassdoor career trends analyst, explains. Thus, he says, many of their open-ended (seemingly bonkers) questions are actually testing your critical thinking, communication and other soft skills — since by the time you’re meeting with someone, they probably already know you have the hard skills needed.

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MarketWatch asked Glassdoor to conduct an analysis of tech companies to see which ones interview candidates said were the hardest to interview at (cue up sweaty palms, shortness of breath and showing-up-to-the-interview-naked nightmares). Google GOOG, -2.92%   nailed the top spot (that “describe Google as a person” question was apparently a real one, according to a reviewer on Glassdoor), followed closely by Facebook FB, -3.95% Amazon AMZN, -1.26% and Microsoft MSFT, -3.97% which tied for the No. 2 spot. The analysis looked at self-reported interview assessments given by job candidates for top tech companies from September 2012 to September 2014 over these two years; each of the companies included in the chart below had at least 25 interview difficulty ratings and at least 20 interview experience ratings.

Dobroski says that Google snagged the top spot because it places a premium on hiring the best of the best. “Google is very committed to this,” he says. “They are very aware that they need to remain on the cutting edge … B+ talent isn’t good enough.”

Twitter TWTR, -8.84%   and LinkedIn LNKD, -3.84%   ended up with a relatively high percentage of candidates reporting negative interview experiences (though still the experiences were mostly positive). Dobroski says that this could be because these companies sometimes have a lot of back-and-forth emails and/or phone calls between the company and interviewee that slow down the process — a fact that tends to annoy job candidates. On the flip side, Intel INTC, -5.09%   and Dell tend to register the most positive experiences, which Dobroski attributes to the fact that they’re trying to become more innovative and change, which often excites candidates.

But onto the part you really want to know about: What were some of the more challenging questions job candidates said they were asked during interviews at tech companies? Glassdoor highlighted these for MarketWatch, based on reviews from their site.

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