What is an interviewer looking for when asking how you would design a coffee machine for an automobile? When I do interviews I look for several things:
When you’re being interviewed, here are some techniques to keep in mind when faced with “manhole cover” questions:
- Verbalize your thought process – These types of questions are meant to assess your thought process. Don’t be afraid to verbalize your thoughts so your interviewer can follow how you think through problems. You won’t get any points for working something out in your head and blurting out an answer.
- Allow your creativity to show through – From my perspective, the more creative and innovative the thought process and answer, the more I am impressed with an interviewee. Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines on your answer.
- Feel free to sketch something out – Don’t be afraid to step up to a whiteboard or pull out a sheet of paper and sketch something out. Again, how you think through problems is the most important thing to demonstrate, so if sketching something out helps your thought process, by all means do so.
- Use assumptions to estimate your answer – Interviewers like to see how you use assumptions to estimate an answer. For instance, if answering the question of how many gas stations there are in the United States, using the number of people in the United States and making assumptions on number of people per gas station would be one means of estimating the number of gas stations.
- Stay concise and avoid babbling – Verbalizing your thought process is good, but try to keep things concise and avoid babbling or random verbalizing. If you need to stop for a few seconds to collect your thoughts, do so.
- Don’t panic – If you get one of these questions, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, think about it for a few seconds, and have fun with your answer. Yes, you're being interviewed for a job that you’d really like, but in the big scheme of things it’s just a job. Keep calm and let your creative juices flow.
- Don’t insult the interviewer – During one interview I asked an interviewee how he would go about testing a toaster. The interviewee asked what relevance the question had to the job and told me that it was a dumb question. The interviewee’s response told me everything I needed to know and made my hiring decision very easy. Insulting the interviewer will only demonstrate arrogance on your part. Don’t do it.