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7 killer tech interview questions that Google can't answer

by LLB Editor
31st Oct 13 9:21 am

Tech entrepreneurs pick their favourite interview questions

How many fish are in the sea? How many windows are there in Canary Wharf? How many pound coins would it take to reach the height of Big Ben?

If you thought juggling Java questions was enough to land a job at one of the world’s top tech companies then you, dear wannabe tech titan, were wrong.

We’ve all heard about those twisted logical puzzles that employers throw at candidates but now it’s your personality that tech companies are after. In fact, there are a host of abstract personality questions that can crop up in the toughest tech interviews which are enough to catch even the most experienced of you off-guard.

Googling “killer tech interview questions”, cramming answers and giving a rehearsed speech to show off your tech prowess will not be enough to charm the tech honchos.

So how do you crack the code of acing these job interviews? (After all, you can’t jump in the Thames and hand out census forms to all those fish.)

Mike Jetson, Director at Hays Financial Technology, the recruiting experts, says employers ask these questions to stump prospective candidates and get their creative juices flowing.

“With these questions employers want to get to know how your thought process works.

“Employers are looking for a logical plan. They want to know how you will break these problems into parts, be imaginative, and work out a solution.

“They expect a bit of humour and personality. If someone really shies away from an abstract question, how would they deal with something difficult that comes up in the technical world these days?”

Of course, tech companies big and small start off with the regular “tell me about yourself” questions, but some will then have an army of abstract questions ready to knock the socks off you.

Luckily, we’ve swotted up on what some of them are especially for you. You’re welcome.

The dog question

Amanda Nuttall, HR director at MVF Global, the UK’s fastest-growing tech company, asks graduates to create their “Personal Coat of Arms”, which is divided into six sections. Questions include: “What animal represents you and why?”

“This is more of an ice-breaker but we do look for answers that are more unique and creative than ‘dog’. It gives us the chance to look past their degree and assess their communication and confidence.”

The coolest tech question

Dan Wagner, CEO of mPowa, who sold his first company for £120m, expects candidates to convince him as to why he should invest them as an employee.

His killer tech question? “What do you think is the most advanced technological breakthrough in the past two years?”

“This question always seems to spark a reaction. I’m not looking for any particular answer when I ask this, and there is certainly no correct one, but it’s always a good indicator of someone’s personality and character. It also allows me to examine closely how the candidates can think on their feet and whether they possess an innovative mind, which is something I consider essential when someone works for me,” Wagner says.

The pub question

Rupert Hunt, founder of flat-share website SpareRoom, wants to know what your friends feel about you. His favourite question is, “If we were in a pub now having a pint with some of your friends, what would your friends say they most liked/disliked about you?”

“I like this because the visualisation switches their minds out of best-behaviour interview mode and tends to relax and open them up a little more so you get a glimpse of the real person,” he says.

The bag of money question

Simon Hill, founder and MD of idea management software start-up Wazoku, thinks it’s important to ascertain a person’s moral values.

The one he likes best is, “If you find a bag of money on the street, what do you do with it and why?”

“It gives good insight into a candidate’s ethics and whilst it isn’t a deal-breaker question, reactions are always interesting and you certainly get a flavour of a personality with that one.” 

The £50,000 question

Hugh Chappell, chairman and shareholder, Lovestruck.com and ParkatmyHouse, wants to know where you’d slosh your dosh. His top question is “If I gave you £50,000 what would you do with it”

“This question can provide some real surprises including positive and negative. It helps you understand what motivates the candidate.”

The math question

“What is ½ x ½? What is 15% off £150?” is another key question for Chappell.

“Answering basic maths questions under pressure is something I like to check. This question provides insight into how quick-thinking they are,” he says.

The humour question

And a little bit of laughter can never go wrong. Ash Rishi, CEO of online digital marketing agency Couch, wants candidates to make him laugh. “I interviewed this candidate and asked him to make me laugh. He did not get the role because he played it safe with a knock-knock joke. Take risks, show confidence – that is what I want!”

Obviously not all tech companies will throw abstract questions at you. Take Yplan app’s founder Rytis Vitkauskas  for example. “Knowing what colour someone would describe themselves as, or if they would rather choose brie or stilton, is not a priority.

“I tend not to ask anything too abstract, especially for senior roles where the primary focus is finding out whether they have a solid understanding of our business model,” he says.

Other killer tech questions you can expect in an interview:

How many petrol stations are there on the M25?

How many days will it take to go from London to Los Angeles, on foot?

How would you move Mount Fuji?

If this company was a car, what part of the car would you be?

If you had to rename Buckingham Palace, what will you call it?

But what if you don’t know the answers to these abstract questions?

The interview may plummet at Felix Baumgartner-speed if your answer to an abstract question is “Sorry, I don’t know”. Employers make these questions a part of the interview only to take you out of your comfort zone and see how you deal with tricky situations.

David Atkins, Director at Hays Technology, tells us about one such occasion.

“A candidate was asked recently how he would you use a certain technology. He didn’t know the technology but thought about how it would work by applying a similar technology.

Smart move, you’d think, but the candidate in question was completely off the mark and well, wrong.

But all was not lost. “The employers were impressed by his thought process and how he tried to reply to the question. They were impressed by his intelligence and how he tried to think on his feet despite not knowing the technology.”

Gone are the days where interviewers stuck to the good old checklist of “What’s your name, what’s your CV, your experience” type of questions. Employers today understand that box-ticking interviews aren’t enough to judge what a candidate can bring to the firm. They want to assess what candidates are like under pressure.

What’s key in landing a job in a tech company is to be uninhibited and creative about the answers that can’t be googled.

As cheesy as this may sound, there’s a reason why Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

What will your answers to these obscure questions be? Leave your comments below or tweet us @LondonlovesBiz.

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