Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Job Interview

One of the most challenging aspects of working at a hi-tech company is actually getting the job in the first place. When I was hired by the graphic arts company Creo, in 1997, I not only faced the usual human resources questions, but also a slew of engineer-developed questions intended to reveal the job applicant's thinking process and how they went about solving problems.

Here are a few of the questions that prospective Creo employees had to negotiate back in '97. Unfortunately, except for the one about drawing a bicycle, I haven't a clue what the answers to the other questions are. I wouldn't be surprised if the engineers asking the questions didn't have a clue either!

What color is crab's (or shrimp's) blood and why?
• Please draw a bicycle in as much detail as you can.
Job applicants draw a bicycle - luckily they don't have to ride it.

• How do you put a giraffe into a refrigerator? Now, how do you put an elephant into a refrigerator?
• There is a square room. In each corner is a bug. Each has a mission: to walk directly towards the bug on its right. They walk at the same speed and begin at the same time. 
a) Do they ever meet? If yes, where? 
b) What is the length of the path they travel if they do meet?
• What is the sum of all numbers between 1 and 100?
• A company grows trees. Each year the tree grows, it can be cut down and sold for $1 times the square of its age in years. At that point, the money can be put into the bank and will receive 10% interest per year. To maximize profit, should the company ever cut down and sell a tree? If so, at what age?

OK, if you’ve read this far you may be scratching your head and wondering if you should have applied somewhere else. Well, let’s look closer at one of the questions – the one about putting a giraffe in a refrigerator – to see how the engineer’s subtle mind works during the interview process.The correct answer is pretty straightforward: open the refrigerator, put in the giraffe, and close the door. Any other solution would suggest that you tend to do simple things in an overly complicated way. Now, how do you put an elephant into a refrigerator? If you said: open the refrigerator, put in the elephant, and close the door – well that would be wrong. The right answer is: open the refrigerator, take out the giraffe, put in the elephant and close the door. This tests your ability to think through the repercussions of your previous actions.

If the engineers were particularly rascally during the interview, they might follow up with another question like the one about the Lion King hosting an animal conference. Apparently all the animals attend the conference except one. So, which animal was that? Well obviously, at least for an Einstein anyway, the correct answer is the elephant since you just put him in the refrigerator!

As far as the answers to the other questions are concerned…well, if you haven’t figured them out on your own, and since this was in 1997, you'll have to wait a year for Google to be created.

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