Fortune presents a list of job interview questions that are too clever — I was going to say “by half,” but in fact they’re too clever by about 1000%…if “clever” is even the right word. The article describes these questions as a “desperate measure” that employers have resorted to in light of the fact that there are too many candidates for the jobs available. I’m calling B.S. on that justification (although I don’t doubt for a second that some employers offer that explanation in all seriousness.)
“Too many candidates” is also one of the reasons given for the practice of considering only currently employed candidates for new openings. Anyone who reads this blog knows how I feel about that policy and the employers who follow it. I find it interesting that the glut of candidates is apparently being used to justify a whole host of misguided hiring practices.
Here are a few examples:
“How many bricks are there in Shanghai? Consider only residential buildings.” –Deloitte Consulting
“How would you market ping pong balls if ping pong itself became obsolete? List many ways, then pick one and go into detail.” — Microsoft (MSFT)
“Given the numbers 1 to 1,000, what is the minimum number of guesses needed to find a specific number, if you are given the hint ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ for each guess you make?” — Facebook
“How many balloons would fit in this room?” — PricewaterhouseCoopers
“If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?” — Goldman Sachs (GS)
I love brain teasers and I’m a big fan of lateral thinking puzzles. As part of an exercise given to an individual or team already working for the company, these questions would be fine. But it seems to me that job interviews are nerve-wracking enough without this nonsense, especially in a market where candidates know that, numerically, their chances aren’t great.
Why can’t a job interview just be a conversation? Why does it need to be some elaborate piece of theater or a something akin to an initiation or hazing? I wonder how many of these companies pull brain-teaser questions on potential vendors? And if they don’t, why not?
Questions like these are sometimes used to build a kind of mystique around the company or the position. At this point, based on the list presented in the linked article, pretty much everyone is doing this now. So much for the mystique.
Maybe now would be a good time for employers to start distinguishing themselves by asking relevant questions. Relevant questions can be just as hard as irrelevant ones, and they can show us as much about how a person thinks as irrelevant ones can. Moreover, as an added bonus, they’re relevant — which means that limiting the interview to them shows a certain amount of courtesy and respect to the candidate. I can think of few other business contexts where it would be considered acceptable to call someone into the office to talk about one thing, and then sit them down with some idiotic hypothetical about being caught in a blender. Why is it suddenly okay to do that when someone comes in looking for a job — because you’ve got them over a barrel?
Hiring companies can do better than this, and should.
UPDATE: In the comments, Joe Brooks recommends this video — which is completely on point: