Are these interview questions alienating your perfect candidates?

What’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked in an interview? I was once asked:

‘If you could be any animal, what would you be – and why?’

I imagine the reaction to this type of question is a mixed bag. I immediately blurted ‘TURTLE’ (I’m not sure what this says about me…I answered this question faster than many of the other questions that day!) I bumbled my way through the reasoning behind this answer; I chose to be a turtle because I love the sea, and I love to travel. Asking this question enabled my interviewers to find out two random facts about me, and potentially reveal a little fragment of the kind of person I might be. Perhaps it allowed them to see how I’d deal with a curve-ball, under pressure – or maybe it was intended as a fun, light-hearted way to end the interview. Whatever the intention, it left me feeling baffled afterwards. Did I give the right answer? What if they wanted me to be a tiger, or a humming bird? What if they’re not looking for a turtle?!

It seems many other people feel the same way. Former interviewees of Google revealed some of the toughest questions they were asked, including ‘how would you improve a shoe factory?’ and ‘how many ways can you think of to find a needle in a haystack?’

However, in a 2013 interview with the New York Times, a Google Executive revealed that their interview techniques had been reviewed following extensive research. Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, said that he failed to see the point of ‘brainteasers’ during interviews:

‘How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane? How many gas stations in Manhattan? A complete waste of time. They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart. Instead, what works well are structured behavioural interviews, where you have a consistent rubric for how you assess people, rather than having each interviewer just make stuff up.’

Starting in the right place

Creating an engaging workplace shouldn’t start whilst the ink dries on an employee’s contract; it should be top-of-the-list from attraction and recruitment, all the way through an employee’s time at the organisation.

Any employer who’s passionate about creating a great place to work will understand the importance of asking the ‘right’ interview questions (i.e. questions aligned to the culture and values of the organisation). If an organisation’s values are truly reflected in its day-to-day behaviours, these questions will come naturally – because it’ll just be part of how the organisation does things.

It’s a two-way street

An interview is more than just a chance for an employer to ensure an interviewee is the right fit for a particular role. It’s an opportunity for a potential employee to see that an organisation has integrity, reflecting its culture and values in everything it does. It’s a chance for candidates to quietly interview their potential employer; is this the kind of company I want to work for? Do I like the way they do things? Do I actually want this job, based on what they’ve shown me today? If an employer doesn’t ask the ‘right’ kinds of questions during an interview, they could risk alienating the perfect candidate – and end up losing them altogether.

One of the best (and toughest!) interview questions I’ve ever been asked is:

What would your friends say about you? Tell me three things they’d say.

It took a while to answer this, and really made me think. But what it told me was that this organisation was interested in me personally, rather than just the technical items listed on my CV. What am I like in my personal life, outside of the office? Why are my friends my friends at all – what qualities do I possess? What do they know about me, that a stranger might not pick up on? All of these important things could be answered with this one, simple question.

What’s the best (and worst) interview question you’ve ever been asked? Do you think the questions listed by former Google interviewees are useful, or not? We’d love to hear what you think – let us know via Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section below. 

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