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In February, we had a brief discussion on whether specific interview questions were on topic. Rarity was the only answer, upvoted significantly, saying:

I would say no to specific, task related questions meant to demonstrate competance like;

  • How do you do X in excel?
  • How do you design a program for maximum concurrency?
  • Your truck has started to hydroplane, what do you do?

Questions like these are specific to certain jobs and require domain expertise. I think the only "interview questions" that would be on topic would be related to general workplace matters, for instance:

I'm also not a fan of the "Which floor do you drop an egg from" or "How many basketballs will fit in this room" questions. They're more of a gray area than the the above question sets. I'd lean towards not allowing them, myself. If the question is just "answer this specific question with a specific answer" I don't think that's really useful; what's more useful is "What is the interviewer hoping to learn from my answer to this?"

Basically my criteria would be that answers should teach you how to respond, not just an exact answer to regurgitate. There aren't right answers for these kinds of interview questions, but answers which show how X applicant is appropriate/inappropriate either for Company Y or Job Z

Currently we are not being consistent about this.

In Chat enderland was down on this question by happybuddha

how to handle the “what is your super power” interview question [on hold]

As it is On Hold, it seems users agree with him.

However, the same user has other similar questions with a very different result:

Of course these sorts of questions are not only limited to this user, and other questions have a very different reception:

I know we're still a beta site, and playing a lot of this by ear, but I think we should do our best to create some sort of consistency to make it easier for users to grok what we're trying to accomplish here.

Discussion

What guidelines should we be using to determine if questions are on or off-topic in regards to responding to 'typical' interview questions?

Considerations

Some of the standards above seem to indicate:

  1. Questions applicable to any interview (why did you leave your job, how to introduce yourself) are ok
  2. Questions applicable to a specific subset of interviews (specifically software ones, for the 'keeping abreast of technology' and 'what is your superpower') seem to be not ok
  3. Questions applicable to specific candidates responses to interview questions (like the 'non-team player' question) are not ok

I am not saying this is the way it should be, it's just the way I would read the stance of the community. Let's try to firm this up so that we can give clear guidance to new posters and limit confusion.

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    I think the key lines to take note of in Rarity's answer is "If the question is just "answer this specific question with a specific answer" I don't think that's really useful; what's more useful is "What is the interviewer hoping to learn from my answer to this?" Basically my criteria would be that answers should teach you how to respond, not just an exact answer to regurgitate". I agree with that. – Rachel Jul 27 '13 at 20:57
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One of the most interesting points worth looking at is that this question, https://workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/13409/how-to-handle-the-what-is-your-super-power-interview-question, is on hold, and this question, how to handle the "tell me a joke" interview question, is open, up voted, and answered.

The joke question did give us some trouble. Out of 8 answers posted, 3 were deleted as the answerers responded with polling-type answers and didn't understand that the asker was looking for a process for determining how to answer the joke question, not an actual, cookie-cutter, give-me-a-fish type answer.

On the surface, it sounds like we as a community may have made a mistake. But take a deeper look at the two questions. The joke question has more substance. The asker describes a problem. How does one know, in just 2 minutes of talking to an interviewer, what type of joke to tell without being offensive?

Now, take a deeper look at the super power post. "In a typical software developer interview, what is a good answer to this interview question". This is classic, polling 101. However, this post has a lot of promise. I think that if we edit it to focus more on process, why an interviewer would ask that, etc, then the post would be useful, but we'd likely also have to delete 3 out of 8 answers since someone would likely just post "superman............." (including all the dots to meet the minimum content length on the answer field. :) That doesn't mean it won't work, it just means we have to be careful about how we word the post and be ready to help users who might not understand how to answer on our site.

Here's my assessment on some of the other posts you link to:

  • How to handle "absurd" interview questions? - We might want to take another look at this. I don't see it as a rant. The question is a bit biased, so maybe we can edit to define "absurd" or use words that are less inflammatory or that more objectively describe the type of question the op refers to. It's broader than the joke or super powers question, but it's not so broad that it's worthless. It actually adds value to have all of these questions on our site, and it might even be a good idea to link them together.

  • How does a non team player answer questions about team playing - In May, I edited this question to see if I could justify reopening it. After the edits, it appeared to be a good question, but I was worried about some of the answers from the question in its previous form, so I left it for the community to decide. It has over 1000 views, and I'd be interested in us doing a self-eval on it. You know, the kind where we go to Google and do a search for the post, comparing the other sites with ours. I just did this, and when one includes the terms "non-team player", this post is generally right smack at the top of the list! :) While this WikiHow post, Answer a Team Player Interview Question, does an awesome job, I think we can add value too if we edit and format some of the answers so they're more organized and use bulleted answers.

  • How should I respond to an inappropriate question in a job interview? - This post is open, but it's similar to the question asked by happybuddha about how to handle "absurd" questions. In this example, the phrase "inappropriate question" is well-defined, using an example that most HR reps in the United States would agree fits that definition. While it still has a mild polling aspect to it -- some are tempted to give the cookie cutter give-me-a-fish answer -- most of the answers help the question meet the 6 Subjective Guidelines of Good Subjective Questions and are of the teach-me-how-to-fish variety.

The best advice that I have for how to judge a question is this:

  • Don't judge a book by it's cover: Meaning, don't judge the post by it's title alone. Two questions that may sound very similar may have been composed entirely different. It's the post body that really determines whether the post will fit, and it's the title that helps grab attention and also help other community members see it's value. If you see a post getting close votes that is similar to one that was successful, consider editing it to improve it.

  • Keep in mind we are evolving: - Some posts we've closed in the past might be worth looking at again. We've learned a lot as a community running The Workplace, and it's possible we may look at a post again, take what we've learned from editing other posts, and see ways to make an older, closed post work on our site. If the older post can't be edited and reopened, for instance, because of highly upvoted answers, maybe the things we didn't catch in time on that post could be caught earlier on newer posts.

  • Judging questions is very subjective: Each question should be looked at on its own merits. The way a post is worded has a major impact on how people answer it. The main thing to look at is this: Will the post still attract people to our site a year from now? Is the content valuable? Will it help people find our site? Will it attract people who will ask serious, quality questions?

Consider this quote from Aarobot, from the Real Questions Have Answers blog post:

Then again, some questions that are worded as very obvious polls actually get reasonably good, well-written answers. See Best practices that you disagree with for an example. On Seasoned Advice (Cooking.SE), I can point to several examples of weak questions or even joke questions that, given an early, comprehensive answer, did not devolve into pointless blathering. On the flip side, I’ve seen questions that were definitively not phrased as polls that were still greeted by dozens of poor-quality answers; take, for example, one of Stack Overflow’s oldest: Practical non-image based CAPTCHA approaches?

Take Aarobot's quote with a grain of salt. We definitely don't want questions with 100 answers, but the point this user makes is worth considering. Not every question that feels like it's going to give us trouble is going to be a bad question for the site, and not every question that looks good is going to actually be a good question. Part of our community growth process is to learn from experience so we can identify good and bad questions based on past experience and hopefully turn the bad ones into good questions before its too late! :)

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    So the issue isn't whether the question is about interview questions or not, but rather whether the question itself invites answers explaining why rather than just what to say? – jmac Jul 26 '13 at 2:47
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    @jmac - That's the main difference I see in some of those questions. The good posts ask deeper questions and are more thought-provoking, whereas the ones that were closed (but could be edited and reopened) tend to lean more in the direction of shallow polling. – jmort253 Jul 26 '13 at 14:19
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The reason I voted to close https://workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/13409/how-to-handle-the-what-is-your-super-power-interview-question was because it was a question which is blatantly polling for answers.

In a typical software developer interview, what is a good answer to this interview question:

What could be the most acceptable way to answer this ?

There is no indication from the question the asker of any interest whatsoever in a "why" or anything other than simply getting a list of answers.

From Good subjective, bad subjective this question pretty seriously falls short on guidelines #1, #2, #4, #5, and completely fails #6.

  • +1: Agreed. And I thought this went without saying. – Jim G. Jul 26 '13 at 2:15
  • Agreed on that question, I think it's bad, I am more interested in figuring out what the standard actually is given the wide variety of similar questions discussing a single (type of) interview question. – jmac Jul 26 '13 at 2:37
  • This comment is a good explanation of some of how my "gut instinct" tends to go with evaluating subjective questions. – enderland Jul 26 '13 at 16:10
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I am way lesser experienced than other posters here, but allow me to say : I definitely think there should be a place here where people can post specific interview questions which are unusual in interviews. The answers may seem to seek an opinion, but how else can such questions be answered ? Seemingly obvious answers to questions like "how can I be better prepared to answer what is 2 + 2" should not be entertained.

Many interview specific questions aren't really polling for answers (which chit chatting questions would do) but asking for help from experienced members of the community on what is the best way to be prepared to be run over with such questions. It could be a terrible loss for the poster of the question to lose out on a job opportunity because of this. Although someone may think that one is better off without such a job, but in my experience mostly, the only thing between a great company and a great opportunity is an interviewer refusing to move past such unusual questions and even refers answers to such mindless questions as yard sticks of measuring one's 'thinking on the feet' etc.

In all of my questions that were singled out, you can see that I genuinely was caught off guard. Primarily, I don't understand the value of such a question in an interview. But what questions the interviewer asks is out of my control and the least of my worries. I need to crack that interview and get that job. What is in my control is to be prepared for such questions thrown at me in the future. I am sure other readers who would have been equally caught off guard, would be better prepared. Also it is but obvious that after being baffled at such interview questions my productivity at my usual place of work takes a hit.

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    Think about the differences between "How can I determine a good way to answer the super powers question?" and "Please give me a list of possible answers?" Think about how the first question can lead to a deeper understanding of what the interviewer is looking for and even help you and others come up with their own super power answers. You might be able to edit that post. Just focus on technique, not building a list of possible interviewer answers. Interviewers will see right through you if you're being fake. Hope this helps! :) – jmort253 Jul 27 '13 at 4:50
  • It does jmort253. Thanks. It is a much better way to ask that question. Let me see if I can edit the question. – happybuddha Jul 28 '13 at 16:50

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