The number sandwich, or my most memorable job interview

23 Jan 2015

A few months ago, I was interviewing at a tech company. We were going through a typical programming puzzle — generate and print the first n rows of Pascal’s triangle.

        1   1
      1   2   1
    1   3   3   1
  1   4   6   4   1
1   5  10  10   5   1

As I walked through the code with my interviewer, I needed a term to describe the numbers in between the 1’s on each row. So I offhandedly called it the “meat of the 1-sandwich.”

Instead of just chuckling and moving on, the interviewer asked me what kind of lunch meat a “3” would be.

“Not sure,” I responded.

“I would say it’s probably turkey.”

And that’s how my interviewer and I, having only met 45 minutes earlier, decided that if the number three were a sandwich meat, it would probably be turkey.

It benefits the company when the interviewer does things — including silly things — to appear personable and put candidates at ease. Some people just get super nervous in interviews, so it helps to level the playing field a bit. And even if you don’t hire that candidate, they’ll leave with a positive impression of your company.