These Are the Questions Top Tech Companies Ask Job Candidates

The job interview has become a modern crucible, a trial that yields significant growth and rewards when successfully confronted. For both the applicant and the employer, a job interview is an opportunity to learn and discover. The ideal outcome being a brand new employee who is perfectly suited for the job, the workplace, and the career track.

But in order to find that perfect employee, some companies ask some pretty unusual questions.

From Facebook to Apple to Google, all of the world’s largest technology enterprises throw interesting and unexpected questions at often unsuspecting candidates. The questions themselves might at first seem trivial, but they’re designed to probe for very specific qualities.

We looked to Glassdoor reviews written by past job candidates to find out what tough questions recruiters like to throw at applicants.

Facebook

Glassdoor interview difficulty rating: 3.1

“Tell me about a time when you broke process.”

“Describe a project you weren’t able to complete due to something beyond your control.”

“How would you describe Facebook advertising to your grandmother?”

Why these questions are effective: With more than 25,000 employees on its books, Facebook employs everyone from programmers and developers to data scientists and virtual reality engineers. At first glance, the three questions above might not seem to generate all that much insight into your character or your experience. But if you look closer, you can see what the interviewer is getting at:

  • Process can be important, but a company that heavily innovates, such as Facebook, is looking for people who can think beyond process, while improving processes along the way.
  • When a candidate talks about a project they weren’t able to get done on time, they reveal how they handle adverse situations. Did they send the right emails? Did they communicate effectively? A candidate’s answer will tell you how they handled a bad situation they couldn’t change.
  • Top tech companies can be enormously complex, both in their organization and in the products or services they offer. If you can describe Facebook advertising to your “grandmother,” it shows that you can communicate clearly about what Facebook does and what Facebook offers.

Airbnb

Glassdoor interview difficulty rating: 3.1

“What’s the craziest idea you’ve ever had?”

“What’s a time when you demonstrated being a serial entrepreneur?”

“If you have multiple managers reaching out to you with asks that are all high priority, how would you decide which to do first and meet deadlines?”

Why these questions are effective: Airbnb is a technology company that specializes in helping people rent out their homes or spare rooms to travelers. Why would they ask a potential employee about their entrepreneurial spirit? These questions are designed to show up some interesting aspects of a candidate’s personality.

  • By asking about the craziest idea a candidate has ever had, interviewers are hoping to catch a glimpse of how creative and spontaneous they can be. This is because they want employees who offer new and innovative ideas.
  • It’s also likely Airbnb wants employees who have big ambitions. Asking about a prospect’s spirit of entrepreneurship is a way to gauge just how ambitious the employee is. This points to the notion that Airbnb would like its employees to move up within the company.
  • With the final question, interviewers are attempting to gauge a prospect’s reaction at a fairly common occurrence in many working environments. It’s not unusual for employees to receive competing priorities and deadlines. What’s important is not that the prospect was able to find an ideal solution, but how they communicated and coped during what many would consider a challenge.

Dropbox

Glassdoor interview difficulty rating: 3.1

“If you’re the CEO, what are the first three things you check about the business when you wake up and why?”

“You work on the 60th floor of a 100-story building. You walk into your office and find a bomb sitting on your desk. It reads 90 seconds and is counting down. What do you do?”

“If you could imagine a dream campaign with unlimited resources, what would it be?”

Why these questions are effective: If there was an award for the most creative interview questions, cloud file management company Dropbox just might take the gold! These questions would undoubtedly throw an unprepared candidate for a loop. But that’s not all they’re designed to do. It’s clear from these questions that Dropbox values creativity and divergent thinking.

  • The first question is really asking what the prospect’s priorities are and, as such, is a great low-key way to make sure the prospect’s priorities align with the company’s.
  • There’s no right answer to the question about the bomb. It’s likely the interviewer who asks this head-scratcher is trying to gauge the candidate’s ability to think critically and creatively while solving problems – a skill often highly sought after by top tech companies.
  • Asking about a project with an unlimited budget does two things: answers reveal a candidate’s priorities (as with the question about being CEO for the day), yes, but it also reveals the scope of a prospect’s imagination. Dropbox is clearly a company that appreciates employees who dream big.

Google

Glassdoor interview difficulty rating: 3.4

“How would you go about proving that cubicles are the most productive workspace?”

“How many people are using Facebook in San Francisco at 2 p.m. on a Friday?”

“How many golf balls can fit inside a school bus?”

Why these questions are effective: As arguably the world’s largest internet technology company (and among its most prestigious), Google certainly has a stake in recruiting top talent. Some of the questions they ask interviewees are pretty standard and cover experience and values. But these three questions stood out for a number of reasons:

  • Most people hate working in cubicles. Asking an applicant to defend something so widely disliked puts them in an intellectually interesting place – and they can grapple with that according to his or her strengths, showing the interviewer quite a lot about the applicant’s thinking in the process.
  • Why ask a candidate a question about the competition? It puts them on the spot, compelling them to quickly do their research. If a candidate doesn’t know the answer off the top of their head (and really, how would they know?), the interviewer is likely expecting the prospect to take out their mobile phone and Google the question.
  • The golf ball question is not terribly forward thinking, but it is quite common, and for good reason. Asking this type of question gets at the applicant’s basic quantitative reasoning skills. The interviewer can see how the applicant goes about solving a problem with math. Google isn’t so much looking for the right answer to the question as they are trying to see how a candidate would attempt to solve a problem.

Apple

Glassdoor interview difficulty rating: 3.0

“If you could bring one piece of technology to a remote location, what would it be?”

“What is an Apple product that changed your life?”

“How would you resolve a realistic situation in which the product fails?”

Why these questions are effective: Apple, like Google, is an incredibly large company with a wide variety of job opportunities, both on the tech side and the retail side of the business. These three questions are designed to elicit responses around critical thinking and creativity. In other words, Apple is invested in hiring people who have certain styles of thinking. For example:

  • Is there a right answer to the remote location question (aside, perhaps, from an Apple product)? Not really. The question is designed to provoke a response that gets candidate’s thinking about how integrated technology is in their daily life.
  • A candidate who would be potentially designing, building or selling Apple products should have some perspective on how people actually use these products. The second question cuts to the heart of that, forcing prospects to think about the Apple products they own.
  • The question about solving a problem that might realistically occur is not to necessarily to bring something groundbreaking to the attention of Apple, rather it is designed to get candidates to break down their problem-solving process. The interviewer is far more interested in that process than anything else, so candidates should answer the question step-by-step.

Amazon

Glassdoor interview difficulty rating 3.1

“How would you solve problems if you were from Mars?”

“Tell me about a time when you used the wrong data set to do a data analysis.”

“Tell me about a time when you had to make an important corporate decision despite being asked to do the opposite.”

Why these questions are effective: Amazon is a top tech company that has changed the way we shop. As such, they’re accustomed to hiring candidates who can think in innovative and divergent ways and are willing to learn from demonstrated success. The questions they ask during an interview are well-suited to sniffing out precisely those kinds of thinkers.

  • Why ask a prospect about problem solving as a Martian? It’s an excellent way to get a candidate thinking outside of their own experience. As a worldwide brand, Amazon is keenly aware of how users around the globe, from different countries and social demographics might use their products.
  • Everyone uses data, no matter what industry you’re in. But not everyone uses data properly. A candidate who can honestly and humbly recount their experiences using the wrong data set – especially if they were caught and had to correct the error – can highlight how they handle accountability.
  • The third question about corporate decisions gets to the heart of issues around the kind of corporate culture Amazon is trying to create. It’s inevitable that any employee would disagree with corporate decisions from time to time. How employees cope with it, deal with it, or turn that into a positive, is far more important to an interviewer.

Microsoft

Glassdoor interview difficulty rating 3.1

“What do former colleagues think of you?”

“How would you improve a currently existing Microsoft product?”

“How would you help an independent coffee shop owner who is going to go out of business in a month?”

Why these questions are effective: It’s difficult to underestimate Microsoft’s contribution to our current technological world. The tech giant is still recruiting and employing some of the world’s top tech talent to create brand new products. The questions above are specifically formulated to highlight some of the issues that Microsoft’s interviewing process favors:

  • Asking candidates to think on what former colleagues think of them forces them to be reflective. Microsoft is interested in good collaborators – employees who are team players and don’t burn bridges. But not everyone needs to be well-liked to be an excellent employee. This question certainly acknowledges that ambiguity.
  • Asking about improving an existing product is designed to reveal two things: firstly, that a candidate can be frank and honest when discussing Microsoft’s products in front of Microsoft employees; and secondly, that a prospect has good ideas on how to improve those products and services.
  • Microsoft is a tech giant, unlike a small coffee shop business. But, it does make a significant amount of its revenue from small businesses. As such, it makes sense that the company would want its employees to have some understanding of how small businesses are run – and how Microsoft products might help those businesses succeed.

Putting Potential Employees Through Their Pages

There’s no denying the wide range of wild, bizarre, and off-putting questions tech companies put to candidates during job interviews. Some of these questions are designed to throw prospects off their game, and even leave some less prepared interviewees a little flustered.

But each and every one of these questions is designed to elicit a revealing answer around how well a candidate knows the company – its values, goals, and customers – and how suited they are to handle demanding aspects of the work.

So next time you’re preparing to interview a potential employee, why not throw a few of these curveballs into the mix? Not only will you see first-hand how candidates are able to handle unexpected questions, but their responses will say a lot about the kind of person they are and what they would be like to work with. Plus, who knows, you might get a few funny and unexpected responses.

1 Comment

  1. Suzette
    Suzette

    Raelene Morey, thank you ever so for you post.Much thanks again.

    Reply