Interview Question | Weed Out Non Technical Candidates

Weed out non technical candidates by asking how to open notepad.
Weed out non technical candidates by asking how to open notepad.

I’ve since evolved a little since I posted this and would like to hone my focus of this post to a clearer target: Look For Ridiculous instead.

This is my hands-down, go-to interview question to weed out non-technical candidates. I have had such great success with this interview question and have shared it with other colleagues who have experienced equal success that I think it deserves a place on this blog. I’ve talked about this before, a little over a year ago is when I made my first public announcement of my new-found favorite interview question:

How do you open notepad on windows?

I typically preface the question with a short disclaimer like, “This question is a bit unorthodox and there really isn’t a wrong answer, having more than one answer is also equally acceptable…” This sets the stage for the actual question which I’ll phrase like “On a windows machine, regardless of version specifics, how do YOU open windows notepad?”

First off, nobody expects this question. The candidate has likely spent the past week reading up on design, OLAP/MOLAP/ROLAP/HOLAP and all the different types of dimensions – they will laugh at the silliness of the question while at the same time they will succumb themselves to the harsh reality that they may not actually know this answer. This is how you weed out non-technical candidates…

The answer itself isn’t important, there are a dozen ways to open notepad.exe and none of them are incorrect. There are, however, grades of correctness that will shed light on their experience with windows in general. I find that the people who are skilled with the environment they develop in are equally skilled in their craft. These same people can rattle off numerous ways to open notepad and scoff at the question. These are the people I have seen become successful hires!

It’s operating system agnostic. I need to make it clear here that I’m not being biased against Windows users, I can attest that Unix users alike also know the answer to this question and yet, often perform better.

So, how do you open notepad on a windows machine?

Let’s take a look at all the ways to open notepad and order them, in my opinion, from the best response to the worst response:

  1. [Windows Key] + [R] -> type “notepad” -> hit [ENTER]
    1. Great answer!
  2. Click [Start] -> type “notepad” -> hit [ENTER]
    1. Good answer.
  3. Click [Start] -> goto “programs” -> goto “accessories” -> click “notepad”
    1. Meh, is an okay response, it’s cool that they were familiar with older versions of windows.
  4. “I put a shortcut in my taskbar at the bottom”
    1. Nobody does this; If they do then that’s terrifying. Most likely they can’t come up with a better response and this is the result – they likely don’t actually do this.
  5. “I right-click the desktop and choose New -> Text Document”
    1. Ugh, I’ve actually seen someone consistently do this. This is a cringe-worthy response.
  6. “I open a previously saved notepad file and open a new one from that.”
    1. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
  7. “I don’t know”
    1. This, although last in my list, while a little less creative than the others, is still  a commendable answer. But you’ll likely see their other technical skills equate.

Yes, I’ve heard all of these.

Now, none of those are incorrect responses. But, if you make this question your first and continue with the interview, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that their skillset and the answer to this question correlate.

I challenge you to ask the people you work with this question. Start with the rockstar of the group, see how she answers the question. Then, go ask the dummy.

What are your results of using this technique?