Games Interviewers Play: Why Job Candidates Are Asked to Do Strange Things

We’ve heard all about the general characteristics of top employees: quick learner, relationship builder, ability to multitask, intellectually curious. Companies, however, frequently fail to hire these people because they make personnel decisions based on academic degrees or former titles. In fact, candidates often have to do things that might feel a little odd to help employers understand who they are and how they work.

Rewiring the hiring process to focus on a person’s character requires companies to know which attributes are critical for the position in question. For example, a creative problem-solver with a knack for building consensus might make for an effective product manager. But you wouldn’t necessarily hire that same person for a risk management position.

Once you know the personal traits you want for the job, recognizing them in a candidate is a major challenge. Trying to intuit character through interviews alone is almost impossible, because this method is only as good as the interviewer’s ability to see through an applicant’s self-promotional blather.

Less traditional methods can provide insight into character (on top of interviews and reference checks). These alternative techniques get beyond tests of basic competence, which are, of course, also important:

• Written or online aptitude tests—along the lines of an IQ exam—can be tailored to industry-specific content.

• Online games, such as Wasabi Waiter, let you analyze decision-making or problem-solving instincts, identifying star performers.

• Personality assessment tests, such as Myers Briggs, provide an objective analysis of how the candidate will “fit” with other workers, as well as an overall predisposition toward a particular career path.

• Written statements explaining long-term ambitions or employment history not only reveal a candidate’s ability to write—it can also be checked against statements made in the interview or additional information the candidate provided during the process. This tests for truthfulness and provides more depth into the way a candidate thinks about his or her career.

You’re probably wondering how to prepare for these tests. As with any interview, preparation means going well beyond a quick look at the website. Get a clear sense of a company’s culture and which values it prizes. Talk to current and former employees and do a thorough screen of the company’s assorted job descriptions, which may reveal a pattern of the characteristics they ask for most. Try to figure out what sort of people succeed at the company and, as a result, what attributes are in demand.

Then, look hard at yourself. Like it or not, you have an innate set of strengths and weaknesses and need to come across as authentic, not simply parroting what you think the hiring manager wants. Reexamine your personal story through a corporate lens—how do your strengths reflect their needs? What strengths suggest a match?

For companies, the value of hiring for character extends beyond finding someone to slot quickly into the organization. When companies recruit and hire well, it reduces attrition and boosts job satisfaction. Companies get an individual they know more thoroughly, which helps link career aspirations with evolving corporate strategies. Over time, this approach pays greatest dividends by creating a workforce that has the capacity and adaptability to respond well to inevitable changes in the marketplace.

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