The interview process is becoming increasingly exhaustive as the cost of a bad hire skyrockets. Gone are the days when a candidate had to merely complete a generic application and muddle through an interview or two.
Now, we have not only résumés, cover letters, and extensive online application forms, but also screening questions, portfolio submissions, the two-hands test, and interviews--many rounds of interviews. In fact, as many as seven rounds of interviews are conducted for successful candidates at Google. But what candidates aren't necessarily aware of is that with every interview, employers aren't just looking around for the right responses.
Employers ask all sorts of interview questions, and yet what candidates don't know is that their eligibility might ride on more than their answers. This is because strategic employers secretly test candidates during interviews a number of ways--most of which candidates will never realize.
Here are some of the ways employers secretly test candidates to find the perfect fit:
1. Staging interactions
Candidates are naturally trying to impress employers, so naturally they present themselves differently to them. But as they attempt to butter up hiring managers, they may overlook how they treat those who are not directly involved in the hiring decision--or so they think. How a candidate treats others matters. It's not only very telling of their character, but also how they might function once they've secured a position.
So employers may stage an interactions with, say, a cleaner, so that a candidate passes them on their way in, and later get feedback from the cleaner to see what their interaction was like. Did the candidate acknowledge their existence? Were they friendly? Or did they look right through them or fail to say "thank you" as the cleaner held the door?
2. Asking irrelevant questions
Hiring managers or interviewers may ask seemingly irrelevant questions. For example, an interviewer at Apple asked a candidate "Is coconut a fruit?" out of the blue and mid-interview.
The random question isn't exactly random. It serves a purpose and that is to disrupt an interviewee's train of thought. This reveals not only how they will react on the job, where interruptions from colleagues (or customers) are commonplace, but also how quickly they're able to regain focus.
3. Staging an interruption
In addition to asking a question that interrupts a candidate's train of thought, interviewers may also stage an interruption for the same purpose. Except for this time, an interviewer can see how someone responds to someone they're not looking to impress.
4. Engaging in small talk
People typically want to talk about themselves in an interview, so any time used to listen to someone else is often time that makes a candidate uncomfortable.
Seemingly unrelated chat about someone else happens frequently within the average workplace, so it can be telling to see how a candidate will respond. This can help gauge how well a candidate will fit into an existing team. Which, in return, helps you better understand how likely they are to enjoy the role and their likelihood of workplace satisfaction.
5. Showing up late
An interviewer may keep a candidate waiting to see how they respond. It's an easy way to potentially unlock a great deal of character. It exposes the candidate's patience, flexibility, and demeanor as stress surmounts. For many positions, these are key to success on the job, but are otherwise difficult to reveal with situational or anecdotal interview questions (e.g., the "tell me about a time when ... " question).
6. Analyzing seat choice
According to psychology, where you sit matters. This holds true for both in-person and virtual interviews.
In-person interviews often happen in meeting rooms, offering candidates a number of seats to choose from. And so which seat a candidate selects can offer insights to an interviewer. For example, do they take the seat beside the interviewer, the seat at the opposite end of a long table, or an adjacent seat? While there's no right or wrong answer, it can exude a degree of authority, comfort, and confidence--or not.
It's also true for remote interviews. While there's no specific seat at a table, it can be telling where a candidate chooses to sit.
For example, I once had a virtual interview in which the candidate chose to sit outdoors for the video call (for a fully remote position). As lovely as fresh air and sunshine is, it was mid-summer and the candidate resided in a city in the South. Not only was it evident that the candidate was uncomfortably hot, but the city was loud and so it was difficult to hear them.
As the interview went south, the candidate got increasingly nervous. In realizing that it was difficult to hear, the candidate noted that their spouse was inside practicing an instrument. The candidate may have been great, but the interview wasn't. And it gave the impression that the candidate would be working in an environment that wasn't necessarily conducive to focus and productivity.
7. Offering a drink
This is largely subconscious. However, it can influence an interviewer's perception of a candidate, and as strange as it sounds, it puts the interviewer at ease. The reason being is that psychologically, people like to feel as though they have something to offer that others want. And so when someone accepts a drink, such as a coffee or water, it sets a positive tone that you not only have what they want, but they're looking to accept what you have to offer.
By saying no, a candidate subconsciously sets a negative precedent, which can set the stage for an interview and unknowingly influence the interviewer.
At the end of the day, or at the start of an interview, it's important to have a system of gauging a candidate's candidacy from multiple angles. Every interview is an opportunity to gain insights about the candidate, and the reason for multiple interviews is to better get to know the person.
After all, someone might do great one day and completely flop the next. As employers, it's important to find people who are not only ideal once but ideal consistently--and on many accounts.
By using these types of undercover tests in addition to Apple's rule of 3 E's, you can get a better read on how a candidate will function and act within your working environment. They can help employers gain more insights and more effectively find the right candidate for a role. In return, you make better hiring decisions, which can help lower turnover and increase workplace satisfaction.