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Interviewers are probing deeper

Apple‘s approach to interviewing job applicants has been getting a lot of publicity recently. Evidently, the style and range of questions have surprised people. But they say a lot about the lengths to which Apple goes to get hiring right.

Aside from questions designed to test technical ability, the interview questions also test problem solving, general knowledge, scenarios and questions designed to test whether the client is a good fit for Apple's culture.

Here are some recent interview questions and the jobs the interviewees were applying for. More can be found at

1. “Who is your best friend?” — family room specialist candidate

2. “If you have two eggs, and you want to figure out what's the highest floor from which you can drop the egg without breaking it, how would you do it? What's the optimal solution?” — software engineer candidate

3. “Describe an interesting problem and how you solved it.” — software engineer candidate

4. “How many children are born every day?” — global supply manager candidate

5. “Scenario: You're dealing with an angry customer who was waiting for help for the past 20 minutes and is causing a commotion. She claims that she'll just walk over to Best Buy or the Microsoft Store to get the computer she wants. Resolve this issue.” — specialist candidate

6. “How would you breakdown the cost of this pen?” — global supply manager candidate

7. “What are your failures, and how have you learned from them?” — software manager candidate

8. “Have you ever disagreed with a manager's decision, and how did you approach the disagreement? Give a specific example and explain how you rectified this disagreement, what the final outcome was, and how that individual would describe you today.” — software engineer candidate

9. “Describe a humbling experience.” — Apple retail specialist candidate

10. “If you're given a jar with a mix of fair and unfair coins, and you pull one out and flip it three times, and get the specific sequence heads-heads-tails, what are the chances that you pulled out a fair or an unfair coin?” — lead analyst candidate

11. “What was your best day in the last four years? What was your worst?” — engineering project manager candidate

12. “Why do you want to join Apple and what will you miss at your current work if Apple hired you?” — software engineer candidate

13. “How would you test your favourite app?” — software QA engineer candidate

14. “How would you test a toaster?” — software QA engineer candidate

What is an employer looking for in an interview? Let's assume that the people being interviewed have met most or all of the technical requirements listed in the job description. Some questions should still test technical knowledge and the real depth of knowledge a person has — a certificate only tells you so much. But at this stage, employers are looking for more than ticked boxes.

What kind of a person is the applicant? Do they work best in a team or as an individual? Are they problem solvers and can they think outside of the box (obviously a very important attribute at Apple, at least for software engineers and other people in development roles). How will they perform in the workplace?

Apple has a high reputation for building bug-free devices and software, so an ability to think of innovative testing methods is vital (how would you test a toaster?)

But the questions for retail specialists are different — here they are trying to determine how people interact with others and what kind of personalities they have (are they humble and willing to learn from mistakes?)

Hiring approaches have different goals.

Many employers develop elaborate job descriptions and requirements as a way of minimising risk in hiring — past experience or the need for flexibility leads to ever wider demands.

There's a risk in this. Technical requirements and skills can be taught and trained for (how many people are using exactly the same software they were ten years ago?). But personalities and so called soft skills cannot be taught to the same degree, and few employers wish to go to the trouble of modifying behaviour once someone is hired — better to hire the right personality to start with.

Therefore, many of the questions in the Apple questionnaire are designed to find out what kind of a person the applicant is. Thus, they are asked to describe a humbling experience, to describe a failure (everyone has had them, it's what they did afterwards or what they learned from them that matters), what they did when they disagreed with a manager, how they deal with difficult customers. These questions are designed to determine whether the applicant will fit in the Apple culture and whether they will improve the company.

Not all employers ask the same questions, although most will ask many of them.

Job applicants try to prepare for these questions, and employers continue to refine them to reduce the odds of hiring a poor employee and to improve the odds of hiring a good member of staff.

Apple seems to have done pretty well — Apple CEO Tim Cook says “the most important data points are people” — and more employers need to recognise that getting hiring right the first time should always be a top priority.

Bill Zuill is a Director of Bermuda Executive Services Ltd, a Bermuda employment agency. For this and other columns, go to

Surprise questions: don't be shocked by an unconventional interview approach

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Published November 24, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated November 23, 2015 at 11:59 pm)

Interviewers are probing deeper

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