Category Archives: screening

Ask No Questions. Tell No Lies

About a month ago, Mike O’Brien highlighted an article on the use of some off-the-wall questions used by companies that are designed to find the best employees.

Now, has released it’s list of the top 25 oddball interview questions users posted on its website. And, while you can sort of, kind of, catch a glimpse of the idea behind some of them, others are just bizarre.

After reading them, click over to HREOnline to see a recent story on some creative screening techniques used by companies as well as some questions job applicants may ask recruiters and hiring managers.


“If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?” – Asked at Goldman Sachs, Analyst position

 “How many ridges [are there] around a quarter?” – Asked at Deloitte,Project Analyst position

 “What is the philosophy of Martial Arts?” – Asked at Aflac, Sales Associate position

 “Explain [to] me what has happened in this country during the last 10 years.” – Asked at Boston Consulting, Consultant position

 “Rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 how weird you are.” – Asked at Capital One, Operations Analyst position

 “How many basketball[s] can you fit in this room” – Asked at Google, People Analyst position

 “Out of 25 horses, pick the fastest 3 horses. In each race, only 5 horses can run at the same time. What is the minimum number of races required?” – Asked at Bloomberg LP Financial, Software Developer position

 “If you could be any superhero, who would it be?” – Asked at AT&T, Customer Sales Representative position

 “You have a birthday cake and have exactly 3 slices to cut it into 8 equal pieces. How do you do it?” – Asked at Blackrock Portfolio Management Group, Fixed Income Analyst position

 “Given the numbers 1 to 1000, what is the minimum numbers guesses needed to find a specific number if you are given the hint “higher” or “lower” for each guess you make?” – Asked at Facebook, Software Engineer position

 “If you had 5,623 participants in a tournament, how many games would need to be played to determine the winner?” – Asked at Amazon, Manager position

 “An apple costs 20 cents, an orange costs 40 cents, and a grapefruit costs 60 cents, how much is a pear?” – Asked at Epic Systems, Project Manager position

 “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?” – Asked at Apple, Software QA Engineer position

 “How many traffic lights in Manhattan?” – Asked at Argus Information & Advisory Services, Analyst position

 “You are in a dark room with no light. You need matching socks for your interview and you have 19 grey socks and 25 black socks. What are the chances you will get a matching pair?” – Asked at Eze Castle, Quality Assurance position

 “What do wood and alcohol have in common?” – Asked at Guardsmark, Staff Writer position

 “How do you weigh an elephant without using a weigh machine?” – Asked at IBM, Software Engineer position

 “You have 8 pennies, 7 weigh the same, one weighs less. You also have a judges scale. Find the one that weighs less in less than 3 steps.” – Asked at Intel, Systems Validation Engineer position

 “Why do you think only a small percentage of the population makes over $150K?” – Asked at New York Life, Sales Agent position

 “You are in charge of 20 people, organize them to figure out how many bicycles were sold in your area last year.” – Asked at Schlumberger, Field Engineer position

 “How many bottles of beer are drank in the city over the week?” – Asked at The Nielsen Company, Research Analyst position

 “What’s the square root of 2000?” – Asked at UBS, Sales and Trading position

  “A train leaves San Antonio for Huston at 60mph. Another train leaves Huston for San Antonio at 80mph. Huston and San Antonio are 300 miles apart. If a bird leaves San Antonio at 100mph, and turns around and flies back once it reaches the Huston train, and continues to fly between the two, how far will it have flown when they collide?”- Asked at USAA, Software Engineer position

 “How are M&M’s made?” – Asked at US Bank, Leadership Program Development position

 “What would you do if you just inherited a pizzeria from your uncle?” -Asked at Volkswagen, Business Analyst position.

Buzzword Overkill

The good folks at LinkedIn recently combed through their 85 million profiles and found the top 10 most overused buzzwords of the year, including such gems as  “extensive experience” and “innovative.”

“We wanted to reveal insights that help professionals make better choices about how to position themselves online,” DJ Patil, LinkedIn’s lead data analyst, said in a statement on

Now, onto the list:

1. Extensive experience

2. Innovative

3. Motivated

4. Results-oriented

5. Dynamic

6. Proven track record

7. Team player

8. Fast-paced

9. Problem solver

10. Entrepreneurial

But with a national unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, here’s one phrase that sadly hasn’t been overused in 2010: You’re hired.

An Interactive Study in Background Checking

I came across this interesting feature in today’s New York Times. It’s a case study about a small business owner — a guy by the name of Prasad Thammineni — whose company, OfficeDrop, scans clients’ documents to create digital files. His challenge: to make sure his employees aren’t the types to leak clients’ private information, but aren’t so put off by his background-screening methods that they can’t feel good about where they work.

The piece walks us through all his dilemmas, like how to search for good background screeners, how to pick one, which checks to go with — such as criminal checks — and which to decline — such as drug testing. (Essentially, he felt secure enough in his own ability to decide whether one of his employees, even one of his new hires, had a problem with drug use or addiction to forgo this one.)

“The last thing we want to do,” he tells the Times, “is tell people how to live their lives outside the office.” (Not everyone concurs with that sentiment these days, but I do.) He also decided to conduct background screens after his employees were hired and simply keep them out of reach of sensitive material until the check was finished. (Now that one raises the eyebrows.)

So far, pretty standard fare. But what’s fun about the piece is its interactive arm. Readers get to click on a link at the end, entitled “You’re the Boss,” where they can chime in — for publication — on what they think Thammineni should or shouldn’t have done.

Some of the critiques are pretty pointed. All are eye-opening for anyone close to, or especially new to, the background-checking routine. My take-away? Never underestimate the power and potential to further a journalistic discussion.

No Way to Spot Killers in the Workplace

[UPDATE: Since Kris Frasch posted this item below, HREOnline (TM) did decide to write about the beer-distributor-shooting incident — focusing on the importance of compassion in termination/layoff discussions and the need for zero-tolerance policies for discrimination. To see that piece, click on the link above.] 


We purposely did not follow last week’s beer-distributor-shooting tragedy near Hartford, Conn., that left nine dead, including the disgruntled gunman.  We talked about it the next day, and at our more recent news meeting, but determined — rightly, I think — that there was nothing much we could add to all the workplace-violence stories we’d followed in the past. It would be the same list of precautionary steps HR should take when laying off or terminating (or in this latest case, even reprimanding) employees. It’d be the same list of states where guns are prohibted on worksites, and where they’re not. It’d be the same list of behaviors and character changes that should set off red flags for HR and managers that someone’s about to blow. In the end, it’d be a classic case of SOS — same old story.

But this blog posting on Workplace Violence News of an article by Philadelphia Inquirer legal columnist Chris Mondics really caught my eye this morning. I’m not sure I’ve read anything — at least not lately — that spells out this clearly the futility of thinking you can really spot these workplace powderkegs before they explode. As Mondics puts it, “Identifying the one-in-a-million person on the verge of committing mass murder is akin to finding a needle in a haystack.”

Indeed, the Connecticut killer, it turns out, had been viewed by some of his acquaintances and co-workers as a “terrific guy,” he writes. Hardly the silent, brooding recluse most of the precautionary literature warns against.

This has to be so incredibly difficult for employers — especially HR professionals, trained and encouraged to remain calm, compassionate and professional when delivering bad news, yet accutely aware that what they’re delivering could set off a killer. How do you straddle professionalism and possible paranoia at the same time?

Especially, as Mondics indicates, when protective measures don’t really protect much at all?

Want to Work with Mad Men?

To celebrate the new season of Mad Men, (quite possibly the highest-quality TV series of all time, in this blogger’s humble opinion) the AMC Web site now offers an interactive “job interview” so fans can see how well (or not) they’d fit in with the mad men (and women) at the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce ad agency.

Take the quick quiz and see how you do. (Full disclosure: After taking the quiz, I was not offered a position with the firm, but that’s probably because I asked too many pointed questions about their positions on equal-employment opportunities, family leave and accomodations for disabilities; none of which were on the law books in their current form when the show’s Season 4 takes place, in late 1964.)

But even if you’re not hired, there’s at least one way to still be a part of the action: The next episode of Mad Men airs Sunday at 10pm on AMC. Be there or be square.

FDA Warns Lab: Make Better Hires

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently sent a warning letter out to Abbott Diabetes Care Inc., an Alameda, Calif.-based company that manufactures glucose-monitoring equipment.

(Tip o’ the hat to Jim Edwards who first wrote about it here.)

Among the varied charges leveled in the letter is that the company did not conform to necessary guidelines when hiring for critical positions at the company, especially ones that are responsible for quality control, calibration of equipment and regulatory affairs: 

4. Failure to have sufficient personnel with the necessary education, background, training, and experience to assure that all activities required by 21 CFR 820 are correctly performed, as required by 21 CFR 820.25(a). For example: 

a. The job description for the Director of Quality Systems requires that the person have a Bachelor of Science/Technical/or Engineering discipline. The person holding the position does not have this type of degree, but rather a Business Administration degree. 

b. The person holding the Regulatory Affairs Manager position lacks the minimum of 5 years of regulatory experience required in the job description. 

c. The person holding the Quality Control Supervisor position lacks the required Bachelor degree in science or the alternative five to eight years experience in Quality Control.  

d. The person holding the Calibration Coordinator position lacks the required Bachelor degree and the four years of relevant experience.

We have reviewed your response dated March 26, 2010, and have concluded that it is not adequate because the replacement Regulatory Affairs Manager does not have qualifications that meet the qualifications required in the job description. You stated that you are conducting a global review of personnel to compare qualifications and job descriptions of all individuals who have direct product impact to determine if their background and experience match the requirements of their current job description and are conducting a review of the Human Resources processes that support the development of job descriptions and the identification and selection of personnel. However, this process is ongoing and evidence of its completion and effectiveness was not provided.

For its part, the company says it is working with the FDA to clear up the problems.

“Abbott Diabetes Care has taken and continues to take the actions necessary to address the items outlined in the letter and is communicating those actions directly to the agency,” says Greg Miley, the company’s director of public affairs.

But with all the highly skilled — yet unemployed –workers out there currently flooding the job market, it boggles the mind to think that the company’s HR department is not able to find any qualified candidates for such important positions.

Furthermore, if you are an end-user of one of Abbott’s products, such as the FreeStyle glucose-monitoring and the Navigator continuous-monitoring systems, how sure are you that the product in your hand has been properly calibrated and tested for quality assurance if the people responsible for such things may not be qualified to do their jobs?  

When critical positions are filled by unqualified candidates, it’s a simply a recipe for disaster.

Biometric Brouhaha Boiling On

Sentiments from either side of the proposed biometric national ID card debate are getting more and more heated, as this recent story from the Society for Human Resource Management underscores.

Aside from the politics involved in the idea of including the card in an immigration-reform bill, HR professionals are also “casting a wary eye,” according to the story. The ACLU predicts employers could pay as much as $1.2 billion to issue the cards and workers would have to pay $105 to $139 eachto obtain them. Expanded to the entire U.S. workforce, the program could translate to a cost of $285 billion.

ACLU Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese tells SHRM the bureaucracy behind such a program “would involve new government offices across the country, tens of thousands of new federal employees and the construction of huge new information-technology systems.”

Other opponents predict long document-presentation lines, inevitable information errors and bureaucratic red tape. Employers “would have to purchase expensive biometric readers, train HR workers to be immigration agents and endure delays in their workforce,” Calabrese says.

But nothing else could be as fraud-proof and sure to enhance homeland security and reduce the number of illegal immigrants living and working here, card proponents say.

My prediction: This cauldron has a heckuva lot more cooking time ahead.