Feature

The funhouse of recruitment


Are your ‘wacky’ interview techniques really helping you find the right candidates?

Words by Beckett Frith | Design by Matt Bonnar

Words by Beckett Frith


Design by Matt Bonnar

Taking on a new hire usually follows a similar pattern. They send in their CV, you interview them, and then you offer them a role if you think they are suitable. While this is efficient, it also means the amount of time you have getting to know your new colleague face-to-face is often extremely short – limited to an average of between 45 to 60 minutes, according to REED Recruitment. As a result, some firms are trying to shake up the traditional job interview by setting their potential new employee a variety of tasks to see how they respond to new or unusual situations – but it might be difficult to see if these novel situations actually offer you a useful insight into your candidate’s abilities.

One interviewee, posting on the Student Room forums, shared their experience of applying to work at a supermarket. “We had to do two tasks,” they wrote. “One was making a tower out of marshmallows and another with balloons.” Another wrote: “We were put into groups of three or four and asked to write a short story, using only three letter words.” The latter was for a role at a cinema – nothing to do with having to write on a daily basis.

Dan Lucy, Principal Research Fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies (IES), told HR Grapevine that offbeat recruitment is a growing trend. “New recruitment approaches, such as gamification and brain-teasers, are growing in popularity with big name brands using them to set themselves apart from the competition in tight talent markets, and to market themselves as fun places to work - in particular to millennials,” he explained. “However, the jury is still out in terms of whether or not these new approaches actually add anything in predicting how likely it is any given candidate will succeed in a job.”

Proponents argue that asking a candidate to build marshmallow towers indicates their creativity, or writing a story in a group demonstrates their teamworking skills – but others argue that it’s more effective to tie the tasks you ask your interviewees to complete at interview more closely with the skills you will want them to use on the job.

“I’m not a huge fan of making straw buildings or curating plays in interviews,” Terry Jones, the VP of Talent and Development EEA at Chubb told HR Grapevine. “Those are best kept for team building exercises.”

Instead, he suggests the right approach depends on what you're trying to hire for, considering both the culture of your organisation and the context of their potential role. “One technique I like is putting people in scenarios and seeing why, how and what they'd do,” he said. “In particular I'm looking for cognitive ability, learning agility, emotional intelligence, performance under pressure and the ability to deal with complexity - all skills and mindsets that are required in the modern leader.” He also suggested that interviewers consider exactly what they want to learn about their candidate when deciding what they will ask them to discuss or demonstrate.

“It quite good to use an abstract scenario and test out the general cognitive response from the individual, [so you can see] their thought process and how are they processing the data given to them,” he said. “We used to use this technique a lot at [my former role with] Google, partly to test out someone’s ‘googliness’ – which is if they fit culturally and can think really innovatively.”

IES’ Lucy added that strange interview tasks could be having a far more serious impact on an employer’s brand than they realise. “Before adopting such approaches, think carefully about their potential impact on the impression they are giving of your organisation, how well that reflects the culture and day-to-day reality the candidate is likely to experience should they be successful, and the potential impact on candidate experience,” he said. “A poor candidate experience can have a negative knock-on effect on the strength of your employer brand and undermine future recruitment prospects.

“So, in short, think carefully before you leap.”


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