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Think Fast or Think Slow? The ‘Elephant Question’ Interview

December 14, 2017

Here’s a question for you: how many piano tuners are there in New York?


No matter how much research you’ve done for your interview, you’d never know the answer. You’ve focused on company financials, snooped on the team on LinkedIn, and, scoured the corporate website.


However, companies are increasingly stepping outside of standard questioning, just as Walt Bettinger did with the ‘breakfast order’ interview, with a view to finding something out about you which lurks beneath the polished answer-bank sitting in your head.


Companies from Google ‘how would you weigh an elephant without using a scale?’ to ourselves, Orleans House, ‘are there more abseiling window cleaners or chimney sweeps in London?’ use this type of que


stion for two reasons:

  1. They break the mould and allow candidates to loosen up

  2. They test their fast-reasoning ability using an armory of facts and opinions hidden within them

The outcome of both is that the structured, planned thinking (the slow) is replaced with more spontaneous, unconscious thinking (the fast). It allows the interviewer to see another dimension – one which will be tested constantly in any business, every day.  


For me, the real purpose of these questions isn’t to test arithmetic or detailed logic. I’m not interested in whether someone can multiply the number of London Skyscrapers by the number of window cleaners needed for each, divided by time taken etc. etc. I want instinct.  I want quick answers supported with quick reasons.


Miranda Kalinowski, Facebook’s global head of recruiting, uses a simple question:


on your very best day at work – the day you come home and think you have the best job in the world – what did you do that day?


Pause for too long, and simply recite the job spec is never a good idea.


Act fast, show passion, and tell them what you really like. If it’s not the job for you then you’re wasting your time anyway.

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