13 Feb 2020

My favourite interview question to ask is this:

Imagine, you’re walking through the local zoo and you see an elephant. You think to yourself, “I wonder how much that elephant weighs.” How do you go about finding the answer the that question?

In the real world, you will often encounter situations where you don’t know all the answers. Getting the answer can be time consuming and often fault prone as well. A person that is able to efficiently and effectively gather information is a vital asset to any team.

The question is intentionally phrased to determine the process the candicate will use when approaching an information gathering problem. The question itself is simple and there are a lot of different ways to answer. It’s a bit quirky and visual but it’s also realistic, unless other commonly asked questions.

This example is based on a true story.

When I was at the zoo with my family at the elephant enclosure, I asked the kids how much they thought it weighed and how they could find out. There is a set of elephant scales on display outside the enclosure, which the kids said they would lure the elephant on to measure. I laughed, knowing they wouldn’t let the elephant out for a couple kids, pulled out my phone and started to look on Google. My wife meanwhile, walked over to the nearest zoo keeper and asked what the last weigh in was.

At the time I was struck by the different appraoches we had. Obviously some strategies were more efficient, but there is also an element of the answers being more general vs more precise. There’s elements of interactivity with others, creativity and being aware available resources.

Each answer could be argued as being “correct”. It’s important to consider how your team interacts and if the approach will augment the team.

Over the years I’ve had many different answers to this question ranging from what I expected to some incredibly out there answers. Here’s some of the more interesting ones.

I would look at the elephant and guess the weight of each part, 4 legs, trunk, tusks, body and add them up.

It would probably break a normal scale, so I would put a scale under each foot and then add the weights together to get it’s weight.

If we submerged the elephant in water and measured the rise, then we can use the density of an elephant to calculate the weight.

I’m a strong guy but I don’t think I could lift one.

We can watch how much the elephant eats and poops, then use that to guess how much energy is required to maintain it and figure out the weight from that.

About 300kgs.

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Cheers,

Michael

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