Application Questions Explained, Part I

We use these questions to gain insight into candidate’s mindset, attitude, and worldview.  We generally seek employees who are coachable and will ultimately express our values (we are in the business of selling our values).  We think responses will give us some idea how someone will turn out not only as an employee, but also as a citizen.

Review of questions:

Earthquake during math class! Big enough to topple bookshelves. Nobody is hurt, everyone is okay, just jittery. What do you, as teacher, do?
a) Stop class, act jittery and anxious because that’s how you feel.
b) Have students clean up mess and continue class as if nothing happened. Assign double amount of homework and quizzes for rest of the week.
c) Stop class, bring in school psychologist to discuss how everyone is handling the event and “post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Question inspired by how famed Math teacher Jaime Escalante (one who built an AP Calculus “dynasty” at low income Mexican American high school). dealt with an earthquake after class.

Two years ago our class was surprised for a few minutes by an earthquake. While I am as afraid of earthquakes as the next person, common sense tells me that it is unwise to scurry around in their aftermath frightening impressionable young people by asking if they are still worried about them. Thus, I refused to allow a solicitous psychologist, who was part of a team sent in to lecture our students on “post-traumatic stress syndrome,” to speak to my kids. I imagined the “lesson” which children lectured on “post-traumatic stress” would take away from such incidents. What a hopeless state of mind it must engender in a child; if memories of earthquakes and bad dreams are such formidable opponents, what depths of apathy must engulf a child confronted by the constant specter of drug abuse, gangs, crime, poverty, illiteracy, broken homes and racial prejudice?

Children dealt with in such an indulgent fashion soon learn that it is impossible to change or improve in the face of so many enormous obstacles that are out of their control. I believe that the recuperative power of young people is great if they are given a little boost in the right direction. So I devised a more workable (and less expensive) remedy – an educational remedy. After the quake I gave my students extra homework and doubled their quiz load. Soon “earthquake stress” was no more than a faint remembrance and my students were moving toward their goal, far too preoccupied with the challenge of math to find time to dive into complexes or other excuses.

Question helps us assess mental toughness, drive, competitiveness, focus, and confidence.

Roughly 40 percent picked “A.”  We’re concerned about their ability to survive a day at Alive, because there are  random “earthquakes” there all the time.   Like fires, power outages, line of customers who have 30 minutes for lunch and need their food NOW, and creepers (not many, but they appear).  May suggest self-centered behavior and self-absorbed mindset.  Poor leadership skills.

Ten percent picked B.  Identified these as possibly or potentially  mentally tough and intensely competitive, may be capable of showing extraordinary amount of compassion. Potential leader, highly focused on completing task regardless of obstacles and distractions.

Fifty percent picked C.  Concerned and compassionate person.  Likely to be polite and friendly.  Soft, nice, not intensely competitive.

Those who picked A should keep in mind that the “glamorous” jobs involve immense amount of pressure.  Like the lead engineer building a bridge used by millions.  Vascular surgeon sowing arteries so person can live.  Plumber who installs infrastructure so hospital can do its job.  If you’re rattled by an earthquake, then you won’t be able to handle a stressful job.


How many hours a week does the CEO of Walmart work?

On lifestyle of CEOs:

CEO of Walmart likely works what most would consider inhumane hours and he’s probably been working that way his entire life.  Is probably unusually energetic, has extroardinary leadership skills, can handle immense pressure (how many people hate you, how many supply chains are you managing?). That’s why owners of Walmart (stockholders) are willing to pay him millions.  Those who don’t understand this point will likely end up poor and blame others for their lot. Or become ivory tower academics in humanities and social sciences.  How one feels about Walmart should be irrelevant.  Picked Walmart to test how one is distracted by irrelevant facts and feelings.  Can’t let feelings get in the way of thinking.

How many hours a week does Eminem work?
a) 110

Eminem is regarded by industry insiders as a workaholic and perfectionist.  He’s obsessed with perfection, will put in 18 hour days in the studio 7 days a week to achieve it.

Point of these two questions is to assess work ethic and worldview. Those who picked “A” for both questions understand and can probably appreciate how much effort it takes to achieve greatness, that one becomes great not because of luck but due to extraordinary effort.  Doesn’t mean those who choose A have what we consider good work ethic — they may be lazy and shiftless by our standards — only means they know what it takes to accomplish something.  But even if lazy and shiftless, less likely to blame others and circumstances for personal shortcomings.  We have no problems hiring someone who is lazy and shiftless (they’ll fit right in) as long as they have a realistic understanding of how greatness is achieved.  At least these people are less likely to be envious of those above them and are more likely to be psychologically grounded in reality.  We’re not expecting superstars.  We’re not superstars.  Nor do we want to be superstars.  We just want those who can appreciate what superstars do to become who they are.

Those who picked C for both don’t understand the value of grit and effort.  They likely think that greatness is achieved solely by connections (rich parents!) or lucky charms.  When they don’t get what they want, they become resentful, unsure why nobody recognizes their brilliance.  I’ve worked hard, they tell themselves, when in truth, they’ve worked far less than  most.  Despair, depression, and destitute life, they’ll probably live with.

Very few picked “A,” probably because they’ve never been exposed to people who work that many hours, so they can’t imagine how anyone can work that much.

Considerable number picked B, probably because they recognize that there’s a link between amount of effort and ultimate result.  Likely unsure how anyone can realistically work 110 hours.


First three questions don’t tell us if someone is lazy or not.  But we think it gives us a sense if they are or will become envious of others, easily distraught when confronted with difficult circumstances, and frustrated by life in general.  It’s ok to be lazy.  We encourage laziness!  That’s why we’re in business, because our customers are too lazy to do what we do.  But it’s not ok to not understand that we’re responsible for the choices we make, that we ultimately get what we deserve.  Being poor or lazy isn’t what makes people go crazy.  It’s not understanding oneself — how one became oneself — that makes people crazy and unproductive.  It’s the dissonance between expectations — what one thinks one deserves — and results –not getting what one thinks one deserves — that crushes motivation and the will to live.

Part II coming soon.

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