Great Interview Question... Who is your favorite person in history?



  • In my profession my main responsibility is to find the best candidate for the task. ... ( I am laughing as I write this).

    Anyway, during a conversation with a close colleague of mine he proposed that I ask this question when interviewing a candidate 'who is your favorite person in history?'

    I was aghast by the answer given, number of candidates that gave the same answer and the amount of time taken to answer.

    I propose this to all of you, answer the question who is your favorite person in history

     

     

     



  • C'mon then, give us some examples!

    I wouldn't be suprised if people take a long time to answer that question; it's so vauge and open ended that I doubt anyone could accuratly answer it anyway.

     



  • There isn't one right answer. However, there are many WRONG answers.

    How about taking the approach of answering it honestly. It seems many people do not think of history enough to have a favorite. 

    Again, who is your favorite person in history

     

     



  • This is an awful question.  

    It will lead to political or religious discussions, which aren't appropriate in an interview (and could actually open you up to legal action depending on your local labor laws),  It completely leads you up to making snap judgements based on your own assumptions about the person they choose. 

    Ok, if they answer 'Hitler', that might be an indicator of a problematic hire, but you can find that out other ways, like by doing reference checks and see if anyone says "he was a great programmer, but systematically persecuted the jews...".

    -cw



  • Let me guess: two thirds of the candidates picked Einstein and the rest picked Jesus Christ.

     But I agree that it's a bad interview question.  It tells you whether they think about history/politics enough to actually have a favorite historical figure, but aside from that, their answer will tell you nothing that you can legally consider in hiring decisions.  I guess it tells you whether they're comfortable saying, "I don't have one" or they feel like they have to come up with something good for the interview. 

    P.S.  My answer is "I don't have one."



  • A much better question would be: "If you could fight any historical figure, who would it be?"



  • Not at all, you should review your laws better. Btw, so I guess if this was your dream job you would walk out, not answer or choose not to take the job based on the question? I highly doubt that.

    Get over it! 

     



  • May I ask why you do not have one?



  • No, I would answer the question honestly, just like you suggested.  My honest answer is that I don't have a favorite historical figure.



  • I really don't think about history in my daily life.  I have favorite athletes because I watch sports a lot, but aside from that, I don't really have favorites in any category.



  • If the given question was directed to a sports figure would you give the name of a person that is dead or alive?



  • I would say Peyton Manning, who is definitely alive and kicking.  (I'm from Indiana and a big Colts fan.)



  • @Hogart said:

    There isn't one right answer. However, there are many WRONG answers.



    Well, aside from fictional people, I don't think there are any wrong people to choose. I would interpret "facorite person" as "most interesting person" or "person I most enjoy learning about." I'm sure people can come up with all sorts of bad reasons to pick someone as their favorite.  I like Bendict Arnold because he made great eggs

    But I don't see why it should surprise you that people took a long time to answer. I don't think most people spend much time rating  historical figures in their heads. I'd probably start off with "I don't have one," and start putting strikes against the company (or at least HR) if that's not a good enough answer

    For the record, I also don't have a favorite actor, director, sports star, author, politician, food, or shade of blue.



  • Somewhat Annoying Interview Question... Who is your favorite person in history?

    @Hogart said:

    There isn't one right answer. However, there are many WRONG answers.

    How about taking the approach of answering it honestly. It seems many people do not think of history enough to have a favorite. 

    Again, who is your favorite person in history

     

    What are some of the wrong answers?

    Like others have said, I don't really like this question.  I don't like most questions that ask for a favorite because they imply some sort of "least favorite" to "most favorite" ordering when really things aren't that simple.  Also I don't really think that struggling to answer indicates a lack of interest.  If you ask me who my favorite athlete is, I will say Ozzie Smith right away, because I'm not that into sports.  Other than him and Micheal Jordan there's never been one athlete I've liked more than anyone else.

    If you asked me what my favorite song is on the other hand, I would straight out tell you I don't have one, even though I have hundreds of albums and listen to music every day.  I like so many different songs for so many different reasons that picking one above all of the others would be impossible.  Also, I've written a lot of code and I think about code all day, but it would be tough for me to pick my "favorite line of code" I've ever written.

    But I'll answer the question anyway.  Since the phrase "in history" generally rules out people who are alive, here are my top three:

    Charles Goodyear

    Simon Bolivar

    Emily Dickinson 



  • @Hogart said:

    Not at all, you should review your laws better.

    Here are some scenarios:

    • The candidate answers "George Bush" and doesn't get the job, sues and says he was discriminated against based on his political views
    • The candidate answers "Muhammed" and doesn't get the job, sues and says he was discriminated against based on his religious views
    • The candidate answers "My husband" and doesn't get te job, sues and says she was disciminated against because she is married

    People, rightly or wrongly, sue because of real or perceived discrimination all the time.  Even if you weren't being discriminatory, you still open yourself up to legal trouble.  Now, I feel that the US is overly litigious, but I still can't expose my company to that possibility.


    @Hogart said:

    Btw, so I guess if this was your dream job you would walk out, not answer or choose not to take the job based on the question?

    I didn't say I wouldn't answer the question, I said you shouldn't ask it.  Big difference. 

    -cw

     



  • Why is it that whenever an interviewer posts some secret method it's usually a WTF?

    Come one Hogart, give us some insight to why asking it is of value. Unless you're interviewing for a history-related field, I can't think if anything that you'll learn from that question that you couldn't learn from a much more neutral question.



  • @Hogart said:

    There isn't one right answer. However, there are many WRONG answers.

    Leaving aside the potential for legal trouble, this right here is the crux of why this is a bad question.   You're asking them a subjective, non-work related question and are starting with the assumption that there are wrong answers.   What makes an answer wrong?  Your opinion?  You might as well ask them what their favorite color is and then judge them poorly because you don't like the color red.

    -cw



  • I have to agree with cw and some of the others on this one, this is a bad interview question.  It doesn't provide any useful insight for the interviewer on the characteristics of the candidate since there isn't any right or wrong answer.  It's entirely subjective.  Asking that type of question only risks legal repercussions and annoys potential candidates.  Personally, I would be pretty pissed off if I spent hours or days preparing for and attending an interview only to be asked irrelevant questions.  When I interview, I expect to ask/answer meaningful questions relating to the position, not take a psych exam and interpret ink blots.


     



  • Unfortunately, most well-known persons in history are those who started, won or lost a war; for that reason, my favorite person in history is the long-forgotten king who ruled his country for five decades without ever fighting a war.



  • About 4 years ago, I interviewed for a Java-architect position at a place that did billing for the music industry. I nailed all the technical questions. Then came the portion of the interview where the hiring manager wanted to know if the folks in the office and I would get along. He told me how he frequently goes shark fishing, and then asked me the following:

     If you were stranded on an island, and could only take three songs with you, what would they be?

     I thought about it for a couple of seconds, and told him that I'd honestly never been asked that before, and had no idea how to answer. He told me to think about it for a minute and [i]try[/i].

     I told him:

    Imagine - because I just happened to have been brought to a live performance when I was *very* young and remember it to this day

    City of New Orleans - because of the line "And the sons of pullman porters, and the sons of engineers, ride their fathers' magic carpets made of steel", and everything it represents

    Brown Eyed Girl - because I just like the song

    Apparently, this disqualified me from designing real time billing systems...

    It wasn't until a few days afterward that I thought up the answer: If I were stranded on an island, I would have been The Professor, converted the record player into a radio transmitter using nothing but coconuts, called for help, gotten off the island and had all the music ever written to enjoy for the rest of my days...

    As usual, my timing sucks!

     



  • Gosh, that's a hard question to answer honestly. I'd say it might be a bad interview question after all, because (a) it probably has little to do with what you're interviewing for, and (b) unless the person has thought about it in advance, you'll either get a snap answer with no real justification or a long delay while they think about it.


    But since you asked... let's see...

    Religious figures aren't good choices. The ones who are genuinely documented in a historical sense tend to have big obvious flaws, and you can't help but think of them as hypocrites when you find out about them, and the ones who don't have more than one source of real documentation are usually uninteresting because most of what you can find out is either speculation or propaganda.

    George Washington's a good one; for all his faults, he was definitely trying to be a good person. He's sort of an anti-Bush: he fought his wars himself, tried to keep his country out of overseas problems, didn't directly cause any wars, and limited the powers of the presidency by deliberately setting precedents. (Did you know that the reason the President doesn't sit in on Congress sessions is because Washington tried it and was so bored that he walked out?)

    Thomas Jefferson's another famous figure from the same time and place, and interestingly ambiguous to boot.

    Confucious (whose name I probably just misspelled... that's okay, it's transliterated anyway) is pretty interesting, and so is Lao Tsu (although when you read about Lao Tsu you can't help getting the impression that many of the stories are a little too pat to have actually happened).

    Peter the Great is interesting, because he spent a lot of effort trying to force reform on a populace that didn't particularly want it, so he makes a good study. (Note that I said "interesting", not "nice".)

    Harold Ross was an interesting person, too, and connected with so many famous wits that reading about him entails lots of amusing anecdotes.

    Then there's Victoria Woodhull, an American woman who lived in the nineteenth century, ran for president on a platform of socialism and free love, and eventually married a British nobleman and spent her declining years trying to get everyone to forget her early life. Sad, but definitely interesting.

    But I'd say that, for intesting (as opposed to "good") subjects for research, the best is probably William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the 5th duke of Portland, who was insane but in a fascinating, amusing way, and was even the subject of the Druce Affair, which is a notable story in itself.

    So. Do I pass?



  • @CodeWhisperer said:

    "he was a great programmer, but systematically persecuted the jews..."


    Right to left text is responsible for all the wars in the world.

    Anyway, I think you have to pick yourself for a question like that.



  • Awful question. There is NO wrong answer and if you think that there is, that's a definite limitation on your part and I, as an interviewee, would seriously doubt the managerial skills in the company, even if it were my "dream" job. I would probably refuse to answer and if pressed, I'd say "No one".



  • @BillWaite said:

    I would say Peyton Manning, who is definitely alive and kicking.  (I'm from Indiana and a big Colts fan.)

     

    Wait a minute, isn't he the quarterback?

     

    I kid... I live in Indiana, too, although I'm a Bears fan. Looking forward to the game tomorrow...
     



  • "A much better question would be: "If you could fight any historical figure, who would it be?"

     

    Ghandi

    Easiest fight ever. 



  • Let's see if I can pick an answer that's both right and wrong.

     

    My favorite person in history: John von Neumann

     

    If you think it's because of his involvement in mathematics, physics, and digital computing, it's a good answer.

     

    If you think it's because he hosted parties every night until 4:00 a.m., it's probably a not-so-good answer. 



  • @Hogart said:

    There isn't one right answer. However, there are many WRONG answers.

    You've got me intrigued.  So what exactly constitutes a "wrong" answer to this question?

    Incidentally, my favorite person in history is Bach.  Is that wrong?



  • What constitutes a wrong answer? Well, for example, just saying "Bach" would be wrong. It's an [i]interview[/i] question; one-word answers are [i]automatically[/i] wrong. The interviewer is not asking because s/he is interested in your favourite person in history: s/he is asking because s/he wants you to demonstrate your ability to identify what makes you interested in that person and present a concise argument in favour of that person being worth studying, which will give him/her an insight into your thought processes.

    For example, let's consider the case where the candidate is interested in Hitler. Merely admitting to an interest in Hitler cannot be wrong (if it is, then the candidate is better off not working for a stupid boss). What makes the answer right or wrong is [i]why[/i] the candidate picked Hitler. If they answer "Hitler, because he nearly got rid of all those goddamn Jews and cripples and faggots", obviously that's a no-brainer No Hire. But if they answer something along the lines of "Hitler, because he presents so many interesting questions about leadership and human nature - it's fascinating reading all the different opinions about what motivated him and why he made the decisions he did, and there are important lessons for us to learn from the way he managed to convince so many people to support a policy of mass murder. I really enjoy investigating complex problems like that, and trying to piece together all the contradictory evidence to come up with consistent theories", then clearly that's a different matter altogether.

    (Indeed, I would have thought that a candidate who admitted to being fascinated with Hitler would be ideally qualified to take on a job maintaining a COBOL behemoth...)



  • @Hogart said:

    There isn't one right answer. However, there are many WRONG answers.

    How about taking the approach of answering it honestly. It seems many people do not think of history enough to have a favorite. 

    Again, who is your favorite person in history

    I've thought about history lots, I have favourite events, or periods in history, but that doesn't translate to a person.

    For example, I find the dark ages very interesting, or the crusades. What notable person from those periods should I pick?



  • @SpoonMeiser said:

    For example, I find the dark ages very interesting, or the crusades. What notable person from those periods should I pick?

    The obvious approach would be to state which periods of history you're interested in, and then identify one or two of the prominent figures with a "for example" and a summary of why that person stands out to you from the generally interesting period.

    Plenty of choices. For the Dark Ages you have the likes of Alfred the Great or Charlemagne, who brought political stability to portions of the fractured Roman Empire, setting up the foundations of modern Europe, and who also promoted literacy and education at a time where most modern people seem to think nobody really cared about such things (Alfred's campaign to promote literacy in English was centuries ahead of its time). For the crusades, well, you have the old storybook favourites like Saladin or Richard Lionheart - their mythologisation by subsequent historians is fascinating - or you could pick on the role of the various Popes, or on controversial military leaders like Peter of Cyprus (the cynical sack of Alexandria is a great example of where the Crusades went totally wrong).

    The only way you could really go wrong would be to claim to be interested in those periods and then be unable to identify a notable person to describe. 😉



  • @Iago said:

    For example, let's consider the case where the candidate is interested in Hitler. (...)

    Interesting. Here in Austria, as well as in Germany, "Hitler" is an absolute no-go, unless you apply as for job as historian (or for a job in an extreme-rightwing party). Expressing interest in Hitler makes the applicant at least suspicious, and it's "politically incorrect". Hmm... I think "Stalin" is also off-limits. "Marx" is ok, "Lenin" might difficult.



  • This question is absurd. If I were asked it, I would purposefully give you a wrong answer, let you not hire me, then turn around and sue your ass off. I'd make more money that way anyway. If I felt like answering seriously, my answer would be an explanation of why the question is absurd and would not contain the name of any historical figure.



  • The interviewer might consider it to be the wrong answer, but that's part of the problem with the question. Hitler is an important figure in 20th century history, and there's
    nothing wrong with wanting to study and read about him. You'd probably be better off lying to the interviewer in this case, but knowing when to tactfully lie isn't normally a requirement in IT jobs.



  • @SuperousOxide said:

    The interviewer might consider it to be the wrong answer, but that's part of the problem with the question. Hitler is an important figure in 20th century history, and there's
    nothing wrong with wanting to study and read about him. You'd probably be better off lying to the interviewer in this case, but knowing when to tactfully lie isn't normally a requirement in IT jobs.

    Pffffffft. I only wish. I've at least managed to tactfully evade answering questions, but... shakes head



  • @Iago said:

    What constitutes a wrong answer? Well, for example, just saying "Bach" would be wrong. It's an [i]interview[/i] question; one-word answers are [i]automatically[/i] wrong. The interviewer is not asking because s/he is interested in your favourite person in history: s/he is asking because s/he wants you to demonstrate your ability to identify what makes you interested in that person and present a concise argument in favour of that person being worth studying, which will give him/her an insight into your thought processes.

    A cogent defense to "there is a wrong way to answer" the question, but I'm more interested in the OP's defense of his position that "there are many wrong answers" to the question.  Subtle difference, sure, but wording it as he did implies there are distinct "wrong" answers he had in mind and I'd be interested to know what these are.



  • I've got a candidate wrong answer: Bill Gates.


    'nuff said. 🙂



  • Interview questions and attitudes like this are, IMO, part of the reason so many people I know have near-zero respect for recruiters and HR people, and can sit around for hours telling WTF interview stories.  And believe me, being asked "Who's your favourite person in history" (and then being told "no, you're wrong"?!?!) most definitely qualifies as a WTF.  So I guess this is the place for it.  🙂



  • @Hogart said:

    There isn't one right answer. However, there are many WRONG answers.

    Please, don't hold back!

    Tell us what a wrong answer would be.



  • @dande said:

    @Hogart said:

    There isn't one right answer. However, there are many WRONG answers.

    Please, don't hold back!

    Tell us what a wrong answer would be.

    Here are some wrong answers: 

    - Alfred Einstein

    - Konrad Marx

    - Jim F. Kennedy

    - Gandalf 

     



  • @Iago said:

    What constitutes a wrong answer? Well, for example, just saying "Bach" would be wrong. It's an [i]interview[/i] question; one-word answers are [i]automatically[/i] wrong. The interviewer is not asking because s/he is interested in your favourite person in history: s/he is asking because s/he wants you to demonstrate your ability to identify what makes you interested in that person and present a concise argument in favour of that person being worth studying, which will give him/her an insight into your thought processes.

    For example, let's consider the case where the candidate is interested in Hitler. Merely admitting to an interest in Hitler cannot be wrong (if it is, then the candidate is better off not working for a stupid boss). What makes the answer right or wrong is [i]why[/i] the candidate picked Hitler. If they answer "Hitler, because he nearly got rid of all those goddamn Jews and cripples and faggots", obviously that's a no-brainer No Hire. But if they answer something along the lines of "Hitler, because he presents so many interesting questions about leadership and human nature - it's fascinating reading all the different opinions about what motivated him and why he made the decisions he did, and there are important lessons for us to learn from the way he managed to convince so many people to support a policy of mass murder. I really enjoy investigating complex problems like that, and trying to piece together all the contradictory evidence to come up with consistent theories", then clearly that's a different matter altogether.

    (Indeed, I would have thought that a candidate who admitted to being fascinated with Hitler would be ideally qualified to take on a job maintaining a COBOL behemoth...)

     

    Heh.  This post reminded me of a Jesuit professor for a required philosophy course I had in college.  When he was explaining how to write the term paper, he said we could feel free to just give hypothetical examples by referring to people in the third person as simply "he" so we didn't have to write "he or she" every time.  And he also went out of his way to mention, in so many words, "and for crying out loud, if you absolutely insist on being politically correct and writing [demonstrates on the chalkboard] 's/he' then be sure not to omit the male, female, and of course, the neuter.  So write it like this: 's/h/it.'"

     



  • It doesn't take me that much time to find out what would be my honest answer.

    I would have had time to review a few potential "favorite candidates" a person might have, and the answer I'd give in an interview is :

    Ponders "- I have the impression you didn't realize how offending this question may be. No problem, though, I'll simply not answer it."

    Which is quite cristal-clear.

    BTW, my honest answer is Gandhi, too. Not much of a model to me, but quite wins the favorite person contest.

     



  • @Hogart said:

    Not at all, you should review your laws better. Btw, so I guess if this was your dream job you would walk out, not answer or choose not to take the job based on the question? I highly doubt that.

    Get over it!  

    May I ask why you consider it such a good question? The "get over it" suggests to me that you don't know and cannot defend this question. Which would make you a bad HR person.

     

    Another reason to think so is that the hiring process is supposed to be an objective affair, in the best interest of the company. Several parallel questions have been proposed (what is your favorite color). That's obviously subjective. What makes this question different?



  • @Hogart said:

    I propose this to all of you, answer the question who is your favorite person in history?

    As aforementioned, this question is terrible, and I would refuse to answer it.

    If pressed, I've got one that ought to fool with clued interviewers until the end of time: Richard M Stallman



  • @shadowman said:

    [ ... ]  "and for crying out loud, if
    you absolutely insist on being politically correct and writing
    [demonstrates on the chalkboard] 's/he' then be sure not to omit the
    male, female, and of course, the neuter.  So write it like this:
    's/h/it.'"

     

     Hey!  That's not
    "political correctness", that's the officially-mandated standard way of
    referring to net.kooks on Usenet!

     



  • My favorite person in history is ME!!!! 🙂

    Do i get the job? 😛



  • @ammoQ said:

    Here are some wrong answers: 

    - Alfred Einstein

    - Konrad Marx

    - Jim F. Kennedy

    - Gandalf 

     

    "Gandalf". 
    Love it.  (I realize you were probably goofing on Gandhi, but bear
    with me...)  I think this is a great tack to take in this
    situation (at least if you know you don't want the job at this point):
    mess with the interviewer by answering with a fictional character as if
    it were a real person. See how long you can keep him going before he
    either a) realizes you're messing with him, or b) tells you how stupid
    your answer is, at which time you can make a point about the absurdity
    of the question.

    P.S. My vote is for Superman.

    P.P.S. Did I see something wrong, or does editing a post increase your post count? WTF? 



  • My answer would be:

    What do you mean by 'favorite'?  Favorite how?  Any specific person you're looking for?

    And if you answered with "Any persona in particular" I'd answer with "I don't get what you're looking for here.  This feels like a trick question."

    I grow tired of interviewers that feel they need to be clever or tricksy.



  • I meant to say "Type of person" 🙂



  • My favorite person in history was Debbie Bond.  She sat next to me in history class and she was cute.  Not terribly smart, but I didn't need to copy off her paper anyway.  I wonder where she is now.

    Now here's the best interview "challenge" story I ever heard.  I don't remember the person's name, but she is a well-known disc jockey on a jazz radio show (well-known if you get that station and listen to her show).

    She knew nothing about jazz when she applied for the job.  The boss told her to go down to the record library and pick out 50 jazz records (LP's).  Perfect interview challenge, right?  You've gotta know your jazz to get the 50 best ones.  She went to the library and quickly picked out the 50 most worn-out albums.  With LP's in their cardboard albums, you can easily find the ones that have been pulled out and played a million times.  She brought them back up and wow!  they were the station's top 50 and the boss' favorites.  She got the job.

     



  • @Hogart said:

    In my profession my main responsibility is to find the best candidate for the task. ... ( I am laughing as I write this).

    Anyway, during a conversation with a close colleague of mine he proposed that I ask this question when interviewing a candidate 'who is your favorite person in history?'

    I was aghast by the answer given, number of candidates that gave the same answer and the amount of time taken to answer.

    I propose this to all of you, answer the question who is your favorite person in history

    Yamamoto Tsunetomo - You don't just kill your enemy, you stomp their faces in and then urinate on them. That's the way of the Samauri and that's the way of capitalism.

    Patton - There's nothing better than a leader that swears, has a strong bias for action, and a bunch of tanks to blow shit up with

    Jesus Christ - Persecuted cult to state religion of the roman empire. A billion followers just 2000 years later. Now that's fucking marketing, kids. McDonalds is envious.

    Sun Tsu - War's hell, so is life, get over it.

    John F. Kennedy - He got Monroe

    Washington - Put in charge of a volunteer army, where most "soldiers" had little experience and felt they could come and go as they please. Fought against a superior army with success even though the engagement was very protracted. Our current president would be wise to consider the implications of an imperial nation attempting to secure a very remote colony when support at home is lagging.

    Gandalf - One of my favorite fictional characters because I am a nerd.

    Tolkien - Because, as I mentioned, I am a nerd.

    CS Lewis - Screwtape letters; chronicles of narnia (special place to me as these are the first books my dad and I read together)

    Most intriguing (not favorite):

    Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler


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