It’s been an awfully long time, I’m afraid, since I’ve heard of a company that was using a truly inspired or innovative approach to the interviewing process.  It seems that the majority of companies today continue to fall back on the litany of shopworn interviewing questions that one can find in any “What Color is your Parachute” or “Knock ‘Em Dead” type of book.  You know, the greatest weakness, proudest achievement, what would your last boss say about you kind of stuff.

Then you’ve got the employers on the other end of the spectrum, who pride themselves on ambushing applicants with “stress” or “puzzle” questions in order to test a person’s brain power and/or ability to think quickly on their feet.  Microsoft is perhaps the most famous company in this niche, inspiring an entire book (How Would You Move Mount Fuji?) devoted to teaching people how to anticipate and respond successfully to these kinds of out-of-left-field inquiries.

And then there’s just plain crazy.  There’s one company in town (I’ll withhold the name, just to be safe, but it’s not likely a firm you’ve heard of before) that takes interviewing to the level of “performance art” by having the interviewer pretend to be drunk on a bottle of tequila and then get into a fistfight (or close to it) with another office mate.  I’m not sure what quality or competency they could possibly purport to be testing in this scenario, exactly, but that’s how they go about it.  I also happen to know that this same company cheerfully invites vendors to come in and pitch their wares to them — just as long as it’s at 3:30am on a Saturday morning, to make sure the vendor knows their place and REALLY wants the business!  My last employer was one of the firms that was asked to do this, in fact, and they sucked up their pride and went on this ridiculously early appointment, just out of sheer curiosity.

At any rate, back to those “puzzle” interview questions for a moment.  While such lines of inquiry are usually directed at computer programmers and engineers, I actually know a marketing professional who said she was subjected to this kind of brain-teaser question in a recent interview, right out of the blue.  Here’s what they threw at her:

The “Drunken Mice” Interview Question

Let’s say you’re given 16 bottles of wine and must drink one of the bottles 24 hours from now, but unfortunately, are also informed that one of the bottles is poisoned.  The only tool you have at your disposal to test the bottles is four mice.  It takes 24 hours for the poison in question to kill mice.  How would you use the mice to test the wine and prevent yourself from drinking the poisoned bottle?

I’ll post the answer early next week — as well as the two actual answers my acquaintance tried giving, simply by thinking on her feet.  If any of you are “puzzle freaks” and want to try to guess the solution in the next 72 hours or so, however, feel free to give it your best shot and submit a comment!