When job interviews go weird

Two successful businessmen shaking hands on business meeting in office

There is a theory out there that postulates that traditional job interviews don’t give hiring managers or recruiters an accurate read on a candidate’s likely performance in a certain role, largely because interviews can be too brief, formulaic, formal, or riddled with bias. Some organizations are taking a scientific approach to interviewing in which they control for obvious variables. For example, some orchestras require that musicians audition from behind a screen so that the panel of judges does not know the gender or race of the person. This enables the musicians to be judged solely on their performance and their musical acumen. 

However, for every hiring organization that applies logic and reason to its hiring process, others employ the opposite approach, using oddball questions and tactics in their quest for the “perfect” candidate. This is a bad practice. It’s a bad practice in an employer’s market. In the current tight labor market, it’s extra bad. Here are some examples of how “creative” interview practices can go over the cliff of reason. These are real. I have heard it all:

Oddball questions. This is the most common manifestation of interview silliness. Anyone who has been on more than ten interviews in their professional career is likely to have encountered something like, “What song best describes you?” or “How many manholes are there in New York City?” Dumb, irrelevant questions succeed in unintended ways. They waste candidates’ time. Also, they don’t give the interviewer any useful information, nor do they make the interviewer seem smart.

Perform for us!  Asking a candidate to demonstrate how she would solve a particular problem is a common and legitimate interview task. It’s completely reasonable for a hiring manager to ask prospective employees to create a brief overview of their solution and present it to a group. However, I’ve heard of candidates who have been asked to give an impromptu speech on a random topic (think high school debate team topics). Then there’s this one—where companies invite candidates for a workout. If you’re applying to be a personal trainer, coach, or fitness instructor, this would have merit. Otherwise, this is just bizarre and insulting.

Conducting interviews via text. Why???? Skype, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or the old-fashioned phone enable actual conversation. This is even worse than requiring candidates to submit written answers to your interview questions. 

Make it an audition or competition. Come on into this hotel conference room, folks, and get paired up with an employee where you and your competitors will solve a business problem! Your job? Make the employee look good so that you get invited back. 

Using undercover operatives. One company is known for being committed to hiring for cultural fit. How do they vet that out? When they fly candidates out for in-person interviews, the driver who picks them up from the airport is a company employee who observes the candidate’s demeanor, body language, and interactions with other people.

Successful job interview

The bottom line

Gimmicks don’t attract talent. Hiring managers need to put the interviewing process in its strategic context and understand that candidates are interviewing them as well. Focus on what matters—critical thinking, problem-solving, people skills, and a track record of achievements.

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