Answers to Tough Interview Questions


What do you think of pair programming? If you designed an elevator for Bill Gates, how would you test it? These are just a couple of the interview questions you sent in ahead of our Google Hangout on the toughest interview questions you’ve ever heard. Our panel took on each one to show you how to answer it in a way that hits the hiring manager’s hot buttons.

Our panel:

  • John Sumser – Founder and CEO,
  • Justin Hall – Startup Expert
  • Jeremy Langhans – Tech Recruiter
  • Dawn Rasmussen – President, Pathfinder Writing & Career Services

See more stories about interviews here.

12 Responses to “Answers to Tough Interview Questions”

  1. These people talked a good high-level discussion, but when it came to details about those questions, they really gave just a bunch of fluff (if they even answered the questions.)
    I would pass on all of them for any kind of technical position.

    For example, build an elevator for gates? The answer was basically, I’d see if he want to take the stairs. A good example of thinking out of the box, but ultimately I need an answer about building the elevator. Regarding how you’d write the website, lots of good tips on strategies, but nothing really specific about “i’d throw together some backward-comaptible HTML5 with JavaScript and buttons to handle some of the incompatibility issues, and include a phone number when we detect that the user’s browser just doesn’t cut it….”

    I feel like I wasted most of that 30 minutes watching through.

  2. I hate questions that have nothing to do with the position, skills, etc.

    In my most recent interview, I was asked in the phone interview, “What is the last non-fiction book you read (that was not a tech manual) and how did you apply what you learned to your every day life?”


    I don’t read for pleasure, I read to learn. My dad always said fictions was the dumbest waste of time, and I hate to say that I agree.

    Anyway, when I went in for the face-to-face, I was asked, “You have eight pennies, one of which weighs less than the other. How can you find that penny in just two weighings?”

    Again, What…the…F???

    Yes, people will defend that as a means of gauging a person’s problem solving skills, but I disagree. You want true problem solving, then how about instances where I had to move extremely heavy objects by myself without the aid of mechanical equipment; how I survived without power during ice storms for a few days; and other realities of life.

    • Shay Maor

      The pennies question is actually an instance of programming puzzles that do show your ability to design algorithms that minimize computational expenditure. Assuming you’re going into a tech related field, they’re not at all senseless question. Given the costs of inefficient design methods both environmentally and financially, it should be obvious why they’re important once you practice enough of them.

      People don’t always see the value of things upfront, and sometimes they’re impact on the mind is barely noticed right away, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t enhancing your cognitive capabilities.

      • The problem with the pennies question and other programming puzzles is that they may be contra-indicative, i.e., knowing the answer right away may indicate that the respondent is NOT qualified. For example, if hiring a driver, the questions “What is the best collision repair shop in town?”, or “How many grams in an ounce?” could be contra-indicative, or maybe not.

        Knowing the answer to a programming puzzle may indicate the respondent can figure things out on the spot, or it may be that they have been to so many interviews (perhaps because they change jobs every few months) that they have heard the puzzle before. I know the answer because my uncle asked me this one when I was 10 years old. It is perfectly valid as a programming task, but too clever by half.

        On another note, elevator for Bill Gates? I hope someone said they try to treat all human beings with equal respect, but I am not going to watch a lengthy video to find out.

  3. Aaron Geracci

    Q: Building an elevator for Bill Gates. A: First research does he like elevators or does he have a possible phobia ie. Claustrophobia for instance. Secondly develop a plan materials, design, ergonomic features that would be aesthetically pleasing to Bill. Third develop a budget for the project and deadline. Seek out contractors to offer bids for their services, decide on one that suits the projects needs and stays aligned with budget constraints. Begin work on the elevator. Allow Bill to view various stages of the build to ensure its meeting his standards. If all goes according to plan disperse payment for services rendered and Send Bill the Bill. I’m sure he’s good for it. Anyhow 40%down payment before the actual construction took place should be included in the contract. If built his specifications and he is pleased. Then the company would have just made a huge leap into the credibility of their business, with limitless opportunities pending referral. That’s good business and proper project management.’

  4. john russell

    Asking a clarification question on the Pair Programming question is certainly better than “I didn’t know pears could program”.

    or …. “I’d put Bill Gates on the elevator”. … “I’d make Mac OS the operating system for the elevator”.

    On a serious note, I like the advice that with these kinds of questions are trying to uncover your creativity and personality.

    This topic was helpful.


    ~ john
    IOS Developer

  5. IT Recruiters

    Identifying and attracting candidates is only half the battle. It is a critical component of business success to have a quality screening process because a right hire can increase productivity and success while a bad hire can lead to losses in time, money and employee morale. Companies should only ask the questions that help them find the candidates that possess the skills/traits they are looking for.

  6. Susanna L

    The video was entertaining. There were some helpful reminders, for example, ‘share you information with a story telling method’. I do have one suggestion. Avoid using the sound “umm” often during ANY communication. The same goes for terms such as “like”, “you know”, “I mean”. Covering that in the video would have been helpful. We all want to be articulate and professional sounding…at least.