Five Tricky Job Interview Questions (And The Right Answers)

Five Tricky Job Interview Questions (And The Right Answers)

No matter how much interview preparation you do, there’s always that moment when the unexpected question shows up. Here are five particularly sneaky examples, why they get asked, and how you should respond.

Interview picture from Shutterstock

Our sibling publication Business Insider Australia rounded up some of the trickiest questions which Amazon asks potential employees, based on submissions to Glassdoor. We’ve picked out five particularly notable questions, analysed why they might be asked, and then discussed how best to answer them.

#1 Tell the story of the last time you had to apologise to someone.

Why this gets asked: This question exposes two abilities: your willingness to admit to mistakes (no-one is perfect) and your ability to manage a team.

What you should say: Don’t say you’ve never had to do it. That makes you look arrogant. Admit to a mistake, but place the emphasis on how you apologised and — even more importantly — what you did afterwards to fix the underlying issue.

#2 What would you do if you found out that your closest friend at work was stealing?

Why this gets asked: This measures your loyalty to the company versus your loyalty to an employee. Both matter, but the second tends to matter more.

What you should say: Emphasise that you’d want to be clear about the nature of the offence before deciding on a response.

#3 Here’s a string with numbers from 1-250 in random order, but it’s missing one number. How will you find the missed number?

Why this gets asked: It’s a good test of your analytical ability (and your capacity to think on your feet).

What you should say: A functional but slow Sieve of Eratosthenes-style method is to print out a list of the relevant numbers and cross them out. This is thorough and you won’t make a mistake, but can be slow, especially if the number is at the end of the list.

My smart-aleck answer would be to photograph the list, feed that image into Google Docs so it can be converted to characters, find and replace spaces or commas to create a line-by-line list, and then sort it in order in a spreadsheet. The missing number should jump right out. For longer lists, you could then write a formula checking for the presence of each number rather than scanning visually.

#4 Do you think you’ll reach a point where you storm off the floor and never return?

Why this gets asked: Again, it’s a balancing act: you don’t want to say you’re so passionless that you don’t care, but you don’t want to come across as a flake.

What you should say: Explain the tactics that you would use to control your temper if such a situation loomed. Emphasise that it would be rare.

#5 Do you know our CEO? How do you pronounce his name?

Why this gets asked: It demonstrates that you’ve actually researched the company you’re applying to.

What you should say: Find out. Amazon’s CEO is called Jeff Bezos; his surname is pronounced to rhyme with Day-Dose. For prominent listed companies, this isn’t a difficult question — video interviews are a good indicator. Check more than one, however; not all news outlets are perfect.

Check out these posts for even more tricky interview answers:

Have a different answer to one of these questions, or another example of a shocker? Share it in the comments.

If You Want To Work For Amazon, You Better Be Able To Answer These Questions [Business Insider]

This article has been updated since its original publication.


  • For the missing number from 1 to 250. Add them up and subtract from the actual sum of (1 to 250) and you get the answer. For the actual sum, use the Gauss trick 250*124+250+125.

    • I’m not familiar with how you got Gauss’s trick in the numbers you wrote. Gauss should be simpler than that. It should be (n+1)*n/2 for any value of n. Are you using a different method?

      • Maybe, I’m just recalling the telescoping sum trick, by finding pairs of numbers that sum to a ’round’ number. So I was using 250 as the round number and I was pairing 1+249, 2+248, 3+247 etc up to and including 124+126. That’s where the 250*124 comes from. Then you are left with 125 and 250 which don’t have a matching pair. Also since you are multiplying by 250, you can divide 124 by 4 and multiply that by 1000 and you’ll get 31000. So the Sum(1 to 250)=31375.

        I just never remember the sum of arithmetic series formula that you are smart enough to remember.

        • The best solution is the one you remember when you need it, of course. I was just curious what you were using =)

    • 1. I had to apologise to a five year old for not making a red and green balloon flower because we only had blue and yellow left. Because the kid was so upset, I made them a teddy bear instead. They loved it! To really make it a proper apology though, I made them a pirate sword. They jumped around yelling piratey stuff to everyone. Yarrr this and Savvy that. Balloons make the best apologies. So much better than chocolates…dont you think? Here, have a balloon hat….

      2. Can I be honest with you? I ‘m a dishonest, man and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly it’s the honest ones you have to watch out for because you never can predict if they’re going to do something incredibly stupid. Honestly, you should have known what type of men they were and what sorts of dishonest behaviours they would be engaging in. But because I’m a dishonest man, you wouldn’t believe me even if i told you, so honestly the question is moot. Savvy?

      3. It’s a trick question! That’s what my minions (interns) are for! I do get interns right? Because if I dont then this job seriously isn’t worth applying for. I”m kidding, Im kidding. Well, I think its important to be tech savvy because it can come in handy for these sorts of things. I would write an algorithm to compute a vector of 1-250. Combine it with the previous one that contains a missing number. Find the unique value and there you go. Alternatively, if you dont allow me the luxury of technology or interns, I would be very conscientious about it and go through it number by number and check it twice like Santa. That being said, stochastic probability and decision theory suggest that two thirds of the time, the missing number will be either 143 or 27 and the remaining third it will be 219.

      4. I wouldn’t ever storm off never to return. It’s a stupid idea because I’d lose my job and severance. I am like a rubber band. You can stretch and pull me a heck of a lot and I wont react all that much. People can say or do a lot of things and I’ll listen even if I dont agree. If push (figuratively) came to shove, I’d probably walk away, though even getting to that point would take a looong time. That’s not due to some crappy Zen meditation or anything, but rather a great degree of self control forged from years of Jedi training and fad dieting. It takes much more self control to sit there than it does to walk away. My staying or walking out of a meeting has nothing to do with passion or lack thereof. If push literally came to shove or someone really tried to hurt me or my friends in a meeting, I can break a persons wrist in three places.

      5. Actually, yes. He’s a good buddy of mine. We went fishing last weekend. He caught a Marlin and I caught a Tuna. That’s easy. His first name is pronounced J-EFF. His last name, well that is a different story. I should probably tell you that its a common misconception that it is pronounced like it rhymes with day-dose, when it’s actually pronounced Bay-zoose. Only a couple of people know that. Him. His wife, me and another one of our drinking buddies. Ask him if you don’t believe me. He gets really annoyed when people think its pronounced day-dose…it sounds too much like po-tatoes for his liking. So, I think the real question is this: Do *you* know how to pronounce your CEO’s name?

    • I think we’re all missing one important thing. The question says it is one string with all these numbers, which means the number one will be shown as “1” and not “001”. So the substring “214231” could mean any of “2,14,231”, “2,142,31”, “21,42,31”, “21,4,231”, “214,2,31” and “214,23,1”. this makes the problem a whole lot more challenging.

      First thing I would do is count the length of the string to determine whether we’re missing a one, two, or three digit number. After we’ve done that, I would count all individual decimals and check how many we need of each (the “2” will be present in 1 single digit, in 19 double digit and in a whole lot of three digit numbers). We compare these results and then we should get the one, two or three digits we need to build our number. Next we list all possible numbers from these three digits and search whether we can find them in our big string.

      • Strings can be punctuated. I doubt they’re suggesting the numbers would run on from each other without breaks.

  • For one interview I had to calculate the amount of water coming into Sydney Harbour through the heads every day. I had to back that answer up with an alternate calculation.
    Essentially the interviewer wanted to see how I broke the question down (rather than letting it break me down), and how I’d cross-check my assumptions.

    • Ouch…. you would need to know the particular day required due to change in tides, total surface area at low tide, total surface area at high tide (to allow for sloping shores), then the difference in water height between high and low in metres. Then somehow work out the volume of that “slab” of water (which I would have no idea how to calculate nowadays if ever). At least that’s how my “maths in society” level mind would attempt it.

      Am I on the right track?

      Edit: If you ignore the sloping shoreline and just go by Sydney Harbour as having 55km2 surface area, then it seems much easier to get my head around. Maximum tidal range in Sydney harbour is 1.91m so if we go by that figure (although maybe better to use average range but couldnt find it) then I think that brings us to 105050000m3 (times by 1000 to get litres). Is that about right?

      How would you do an alternate calculation to back it up though?

  • Must be an office worker thing, because the only questions I ever get asked are do I own a car, have a criminal record and can I work weekends…

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