Job Search Tip of the Week #12 (2018)


How to Ace Your First-Round (or Really, Just About Any) Interview

Think Like an Interviewer – Q6

When you’re hit with a brainteaser like “If you were to get rid of one state in the US, which would it be and why?” at your next interview, don’t sweat it! Interview questions like this are supposed to challenge how you react and think under pressure. Can you think on your feet and stay cool when the heat gets turned on, both in the interview and on the job?

As is the case with most of these crazy oddball questions, your interviewer is far less concerned with your answer and more interested in your approach. The actual state you choose is irrelevant. This particular question is intended to assess your analytical, decision-making, and communication skills. The interviewer wants to see if you’re able to set priorities and make a case for them.

So…if you were to get rid of one state in the US, which would it be and why?

Where to start

You should always attempt this question, because although it sounds crazy, the scenario it poses could be related to an aspect of your prospective job now or down the road. For instance, if you had a 50-person company and had to determine who to lay off, or if you were an engineering team lead or in some managerial position and only had the resources to implement one initiative (of many) a day – how would you choose? It depends, doesn’t it. After all, you need to know why you’re doing something so you can figure out what factors to consider when making your decision.

As such, the best way to approach this question is to first clarify the goal: Why are you getting rid of a state? So show your interviewer that you’re goal-oriented by starting your response with, “Which state I’d get rid of depends on why I’m getting rid of it.”

Walk your interviewer through your way of reasoning

Most likely, your interviewer won’t give you a reason why you’re getting rid of a state. So it’s up to you to mention some possible goals and talk through your thought process to determine which state you’d eliminate to help you achieve them.

For example: “If we’re looking at states based on population, I’d get rid of Wyoming because it has the smallest. And if we’re going by economy, I’d get rid of Alaska because it consistently ranks among the worst states for economic growth. But if we’re talking about getting rid of the state that’s of the least value to [Company Name], I definitely wouldn’t eliminate x because that’s where you’re headquartered, or y and z because that’s where you have additional sales and software development offices. And although the company doesn’t have any locations in these states, I would consider keeping them because they’re home to cities with deep pools of tech talent who could help the company grow. Speaking of, I was wondering if the company plans on expanding to any of these markets in the next few years…”

This is a good response because it not only identifies a goal (getting rid of a state based on its value to your prospective employer), but also shows you’ve done your research into the company and why they should hire you. Whenever you see an opportunity to redirect the conversation back toward the company and what you can do for it, take advantage of it!

In the end, if you do select a state to eliminate, finish with the pros and cons of doing so. If you don’t, that’s alright too – again, it’s not your answer that really counts, but your explanation of how you’d go about determining it.

(For a completely different take to this question which considers what happens to the people of the state eliminated, check out this snippet from William Poundstone’s “How Would You Move Mount Fuji?: Microsoft’s Cult of the Puzzle – How the World’s Smartest Companies Select the Most Creative Thinkers.” The most popular answers to this question are Wyoming (smallest population so minimizes the number affected/casualties), North Dakota (of the five least populous states, it’s the only one lacking natural beauty and tourist attraction), and Alaska or Hawaii (both are outside the contiguous US, and can be offered to other nations as part of a trade or military deal, for example). For a step-by-step through this approach, click here and skip to question 3.)

Word of warning

While it’s not an illegal interview question, you should still be careful how you respond to avoid encroaching on dangerous territory. You don’t want to volunteer personal details such as your political affiliation or racial biases you may have that can be used against you in the hiring decision. So avoid saying (even jokingly) that you’d get rid of a state for social, political, or religious reasons.

You also don’t want to name a state without giving a reason because it sends up a red flag that you may have something to hide. Nor do you want to blurt one out without putting any thought into it, because that indicates you don’t think before you act. Remember, this question is an interviewer’s creative way of assessing your ability to think under pressure. Use it as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to brainstorm ideas, consider various perspectives, and reach a logical solution.

Oh, and speaking from personal experience – if you pick a state to get rid of and your interviewer deadpans, “I’m from there,” don’t break a sweat. Just laugh and say, “I didn’t say I was getting rid of you!”

Sound Off: If you could remove any of the 50 states, which would it be and why?

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