A typical Life header image 2

Atypical Interview Questions

May 28th, 2008 · 4 Comments · Atypical

Mail Box Japan What would you think if you were asked the following questions during a job interview? I warn you they’re not your typical questions:

  1. “How many public mailboxes are there in Japan?” (Replace the reference to Japan with your home country or state.)
  2. “How many drops of water does Lake Biwa contain?” (Again, replace the body of water in this question with one in your region.)
  3. How many slices of pizza are eaten in the world each day?”

According to the Daily Yomiuri Online an increasing number of companies in Japan are using questions like these to gauge a candidates problem solving ability. The correct answer is not necessarily required, the interviewer wants to see the response of the applicant to the question and will pose follow up questions to determine the logic used in answering the question.

I don’t know about you, but these questions seem very difficult to answer and I wondered if this was a Japanese technique or if it was used elsewhere in the world too.

A quick search on the Internet turned up this question:

Imagine you have eight coins, seven of which weigh the same and one that doesn’t (it’s heavier). You need to use a pair of scales to find out what’s the odd one out.

Imran On Tech claims that this question is used by Microsoft, Google and Amazon when they interview perspective employers. It’s seems a lot more logical and I would not be as intimidated by this question as I would be by the three stated above.

I think that these type of questions are a good indicator of problem solving ability and are much better than the typical “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “What’s your biggest fault?” that are almost passe by now.

What about you? Have you even been asked a logic based question in an interview? Have you ever asked one of a perspective employer?

Finally, if you want or need to know “How many public mailboxes are there in Japan?” and walk through of the logic used to answer the question then you will want to read “Firms test logic ability of job-seekers“. Have fun and don’t be surprised if you have to answer a logic questions in your next job interview – you’ve been warned!

Tags: ·······

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Nick Ramsay // May 28, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    I have a book called “How would you move Mount Fuji?” and it’s full of stuff like this, all from Microsoft interviews. It even includes the best answers, and those are too complicated for me, too. Much respect to the guys who pass these interviews!

  • 2 Ken Y-N // May 29, 2008 at 8:29 am

    I think I saw this on “Sekai no Ichiban Uketai Juku” too; estimation skill is supposed to be important to get the correct order of magnitude.

    Public mailboxes would be at least one per post code district, I would estimate, but then how many districts are there?

    Drops of water in Lake Biwa: you need to know the area, which I suppose people might be familiar with – 40 km long, 5 km wide at a rough guess, but then it depends on the shape of the underwater bit; not just the deepest point, but the overall shape.

    Slices of pizza: now this confuses me – what is a slice of pizza? US slices are bigger than Japanese slices. These Pizza Hut square pizzas cut into nine – is that nine slices? Does throwing peppers and cheese on a slice of toast count?

    Thanksfully, I never suffered these questions, but a colleague used to ask similar ones that I found rather embarrassing. Things like “what’s the last book or mag from the field in question that you read?” is a much better starting point, IMO.

  • 3 Shane // May 29, 2008 at 10:00 am

    Ken N-Y,

    Great comment, I got brain freeze just reading it! :) But you missed one key point in your Lake Biwa analysis – what size is the drop of water?

    The concept of testing a potential employees ability to think logically at a moments notice is a good one but like you said there are probably better questions to pose than the ones cited in the Yomiuri article.

  • 4 Atypical: Please Teach Me Common Sense // Jun 2, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    […] The new course will be aimed at people who have completed their formal schooling but lack presentation and problem solving skills. There are people that would probably have a hard time answering atypical interview questions. […]