Growth is challenging for any company, and the smaller a team is the more carefully they have to vet candidates to ensure a good fit. Carlos understood this, but had never seen it practiced as extensively as when he applied for a systems management position at Initech. The scrutiny applied to their candidates suggested a company obsessed with finding the perfect fit, and Carlos couldn't imagine the quality of the incredible team they must have already. Between the recruitment agency and Initech itself, he'd had three interviews and completed four online tests, including every developer's favorite: a personality quiz. Shaking hands with Carlos after the most recent interview, Initech's senior developer and his would-be boss promised he'd get a call that day or the next with the company's decision. Days went by before his phone rang, Initech's chipper HR person on the line.

"Hi Carlos! I was hoping you had a few minutes to answer a few questions."

Carlos blinked; this sounded very much like the beginning of his first two conversations with Initech. But, still interested in securing the position, he took a deep breath and said, "What would you like to know?" Surprisingly, there turned out to be a few questions about his previous experience and future career plans that hadn't been covered in previous tests and interviews, and Carlos dutifully filled in the blanks, sure that a job offer must be close. "Great!" The HR person said. "We just need you to come in for a chat with the senior partners. They always want to meet our best potential candidates, just to make absolutely sure you're the right fit for the Initech family! Can you do Wednesday, sometime in the afternoon?" Carlos replied in the affirmative. This had to be the last interview. Victory was so close, he could taste it.

When he arrived at Initech's office on Wednesday, the woman at the front desk greeted him by name. "Hi Hilary," he replied, having learned her name during his last two visits. He'd also learned that she was Initech's executive assistant, still obliged to man the front desk as none of the many candidates for the open receptionist position had been the right fit. "Guess today's the day, Carlos," she said. "Feeling lucky?"

"I hope so. Honestly, I'm just racking my brain trying to figure out what questions I haven't answered yet."

"Don't worry," Hilary smiled. "You'll be meeting with Kyle first, then Cliff. Cliff will probably want to talk about the company's direction in general terms. Kyle... Well, he likes to show off a little bit. I'll give you one hint," she leaned over the desk, beckoning Carlos closer. "Amazon."

"Amazon?"

"Shh! Don't give away that you've heard anything! You can go in there now, Kyle will be down in a minute. Good luck!" Hilary pointed him to a small conference room off the lobby, and Carlos wandered in, trying to puzzle out what "Amazon" could possibly mean. Fortunately, Carlos had some experience with AWS from a previous gig. He was muttering details of its features to himself when Kyle walked in.

"You must be Carlos!" Kyle sat down and slapped a Manila folder on the table; Carlos recognized one of the papers that spilled out as his resume. "Stop me if you've heard this before, but here at Initech we give a LOT of thought to each and every new hire."

"Actually, I-"

"We're a small company, and we can only afford to hire the best!"

"Yes, and I-"

"That's why I'M here, Carlos," Kyle leaned across the table conspiratorially, "I need to make sure you're one of us." Kyle softened this somewhat accusatory remark with a big grin. "So let's get your questions out of the way! Ask me anything."

Carlos sat for a long moment in thought. "Actually... Well, to be honest, I think your colleagues told me pretty much everything about Initech during the last three interviews. Maybe you-"

"That's great! Then I have a question for YOU, Carlos. Are you ready?" Kyle didn't wait for a response. He leaned even further across the table, a posture that looked like it must have been painful, and asked, "How much water flows annually from the Amazon River into the sea?"

Based on Hilary's tip, Carlos had been paging everything he knew about Amazon Web Services into his brain; all of that vanished with a pop. All he could say was, "Pardon?"

Kyle narrowed his eyes, and Carlos could see the executive's opinion of him fading. "It's a simple question, Carlos. But its very simplicity is part of its brilliance. I want you to tell me how much water flows into the sea on an annual basis from the Amazon River." Kyle slid a pad of paper and a pen across the table. "You can perform your calculations on this."

Carlos studied the empty page, wondering if Kyle was playing a joke. "Uh... I understand what you're asking, I'm just not sure how I'm supposed to figure it out without any, you know, data. Like the average annual rainfall in the Amazon Basin, for example."

Kyle furrowed his brow, as though unsure why Carlos was making this more difficult than it had to be. "I'm sorry," he said, "you can't use anything but what's right in front of you. All our other successful applicants were able to figure it out."

Carlos thought long and hard about how he might at least demonstrate the process he would use to come up with an estimate. He made an attempt at explaining the reasoning he would use, which seemed to satisfy Kyle. Having managed to ford the brain-teaser, Carlos hoped the conversation would turn to more-relevant matters, but Kyle wasn't ready to drop his pride and joy.

"Yup, that question always gets results, it's a real wheat-chaff separator. Bet you'd never heard it before, either, right? Hah!"

Carlos wasn't sure what to say to that; if pressed, he guessed he could make up an arbitrary, unanswerable question, too. He wondered if he should mention it, but he hadn't heard anything about Initech producing random interview-question generator software. Kyle closed the interview by asking what Carlos thought the former colleagues he'd referenced on his resume would say was his biggest weakness, and, while shaking hands, warned that he'd call them to see if Carlos was telling the truth.

The subsequent interview with Cliff was perfectly reasonable, though the executive did make sure to mention that, as a small company, Initech was obsessed with making sure they hired only the best. At the conclusion of the interview, Hilary told Carlos they'd be in touch later that day or the next. He's still waiting to hear from them, which is too bad, because he's since learned that almost 1900 trillion gallons of water flow from the Amazon River into the Atlantic every year.

 

Photo credit: jai Mansson's photography. / Foter / CC BY-SA