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Are Your Interview Questions Creative or Crazy?

Are your interview questions designed to see if the candidate is a good fit, or to make you feel superior?
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In a high school psychology class, our teacher, the football coach, assigned us to build a contraption that would allow us to drop an egg from the roof of the school and have it land unbroken. It was a stupid assignment then. It was a psychology class, not a physics class, and he didn't even have us work in groups, which could have (ostensibly) taught us something about the psyche of other high school seniors who really just wanted to graduate.

I objected. He told me I was stupid. And then our next assignment was to build a bridge out of drinking straws. I've forgotten his name, which is good, because if I hadn't I'd be tempted to call him out for his ridiculous "teaching" attempts, which were nothing more than a way for him to feel powerful as he laughed when people's bridges were crushed under his weight, or their eggs splattered on the ground.

When my editor called my attention to a company, Grand Circle Travel, which uses the "raw egg drop" as part of their hiring process, I was reminded of Coach Psychology and his need to feel superior. Grand Circle Travel, of course, doesn't see it that way. Owner Alan Lewis writes:

From this exercise, we're able to quickly learn which candidates exhibit leadership and teamwork qualities, which ones perform well in unusual situations, and which have done their background research on the company.

Now, I've traveled. A lot. And I've worked with a lot of people, solved a lot of problems and have encountered a lot of demanding situations and I can guarantee you that my high school egg drop in no way prepared me for, nor predicted how I'd handle, these situations. (For the record, my egg survived the fall. Thank you, Jello.)

Other companies use these "techniques" as a test, but what are they testing? What do you really want to know? If you want to see how people will work in a team, watch them, you know, work on something work-related in a team.

Now, to Alan Lewis's credit, he also sees that the very nature of asking candidates to do something like this weeds out candidates who don't wish to work in such an environment. And if your environment involves lots of pointless projects involving skills that you don't really need to grow the business, then by all means, weed out on that level. But, is that who he wants to weed out? Culture is extremely important, but is your culture the right one for the direction you want your company to go?

Other companies ask off the wall questions, such as

  • "A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?"--Asked at Clark Construction Group, office engineer candidate.
  •  "If you were to get rid of one state in the U.S., which would it be and why?"--Asked at Forrester Research,  research associate candidate.
  •  "What kitchen utensil would you be?"--Asked at Bandwidth.com, marketer candidate.

For the record, the penguin wouldn't say anything because penguins don't speak, Florida (see here), and a new marble rolling pin because mine broke and if I've got to answer a stupid question, at least that answer can be useful to me.

Job interviews need to be more like dates--where the candidate and the hiring manager (and the team) get to know each other and see if everyone will be better off with this new person on board. If your questions don't help you get to your goal, it's a stupid question. If you can't give a clear explanation to yourself as to why this oddball question helps you reach this goal of building your business, and what an ideal answer looks like, then throw it out.

If you're struggling with what to ask, get help. Buy a software program or hire a quality recruiter, but don't resort to games.

 

IMAGE: Halfdark/Getty
Last updated: Sep 12, 2013

SUZANNE LUCAS | Columnist

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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