Dream of landing a coding job at an A-list tech company? It might be a good idea to prep for your interviews by pondering how many golf balls can fit inside a school bus. Or how much you would charge for washing all the windows in Seattle. Or why, exactly, manhole covers are round and not, say, square.
Seemingly random questions like these have become commonplace in Silicon Valley and other tech outposts, where companies aren't as interested in the correct answer to a tough question as they are in how a prospective employee might try to solve it. Since businesses today have to be able to react quickly to shifting market dynamics, they want more than engineers with high IQs and good college transcripts. They want people who can think on their feet.
Microsoft often gets credit for bringing so-called open-ended logic-problem screening tools into vogue in the late 1980s, when Redmond interviewers peppered job candidates with offbeat questions like How much does a 747 weigh? "We want to gauge people's creativity," says Warren Ashton, recruiting manager at Microsoft. The manhole cover problem is Ashton's personal favorite.