The traditional job interview is familiar to the vast majority of us, and we are by now well versed in the rigmorale of explaining why we’re a perfect fit for the position, and in cunningly positioning our weaknesses as strengths.
Of course much of what is discussed in these interviews is pure formality. After all, does anyone REALLY know where they see themselves in five years? And would anyone actually be idiotic enough to espouse the virtues of working solo, when they know full well that their prospective employer wants to hear what a brilliant team player they are.
As such, the entire exercise rings somewhat false, and the results of this bog-standard line of query speak for themselves. Recent studies suggest that up to 25% of those hired via traditional interview processes leave their jobs within a year, and almost half in under 18 months, indicating that this methodology is inherently flawed.
After all, one of the most important tasks of today’s leaders is to discover tomorrow’s, something you’re unlikely to do by posing a question your candidate has likely answered 100 times already, refining their response to the point of perfection.
Happily, much is being done to renovate the ramshackle job interview, with tech industry pioneers like Google leading the charge. Besieged by hordes of highly qualified people, the Silicon Valley giant quickly realised that these archaic techniques weren’t proving handy in helping them to separate the superb from the merely excellent. And so the oddball question was borne.
So how do you get an elephant into a fridge?
Yes, this is an actual job interview question. And one that’s likely to flummox a vast majority of prospective candidates. Which is the point of course. Questions like these, fired relentlessly out of the left field, quickly rocket interviewees out of their comfort zone, testing their ability to think on their feet and maintain calm under pressure – two attributes any employer would be delighted to find in a new recruit.
This is, of course, more about the situation than the answer – obviously you simply open the door, stuff in the elephant and shut it in. What makes a question like this so effective is that it’s impossible to anticipate, and as such will give you enormous insight into a candidate’s true personality.
Will they come up with an answer they think you want to hear? Will they disregard the problem as impossible? Or will they methodically deconstruct the scenario to reach a logical conclusion? No matter what, you’ll know a lot more about them than if you’d simply asked them about their five-year plan.
So how do you go about adding a twist to your interviewing tradition? Here are a few examples you might want to follow from around the world:
EXPLAIN SNOW TO A PERSON WHO HAS NEVER SEEN IT.
This tests a candidate’s capacity to think on their feet, to imagine how others see the world and to communicate clearly an idea that is simple to them but unimaginable to the listener. If you’re interviewing someone to take on a role in marketing or communications, this is a very revealing and important question to ask.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOUR BOSS ASKED YOU TO LIE?
A question like this cuts to the heart of any discussion about values. Will the interviewee tell you what they think you want to hear? Or will they suggest that some lies are tolerable? Candidates very often struggle to hide what they think in response to values-related questions, and almost all answers open them up to further examination.
DESCRIBE WITH ONE WORD EACH YOUR THREE GREATEST STRENGTHS AND YOUR THREE GREATEST WEAKNESSES.
People quickly and readily identify their strengths in one word. Weaknesses present a different problem. First, while it is prudent to be prepared in an interview to discuss an ‘area for improvement’, naming three can be tricky. Secondly, confining one’s self to a single word for each is a challenge. It’s one thing to answer ‘loyalty’, but another to say ‘impatience’ without adding a qualifier to it. A question like this will quickly separate those who understand themselves well from those who constantly ascribe blame to others.
HOW MANY BASKETBALLS COULD YOU FIT INTO THIS ROOM?
The answer you get here can tell you a lot. Does the applicant dismiss the question as silly? Or launch into an answer without a moment of reflection to arrange thoughts? Ultimately, you’re looking for a candidate who can take time to think rationally and explain their thought processes in a calm, clear fashion – this is a test of communication skills rather than spatial reasoning.
WHERE WOULD YOU GO IN A TIME MACHINE?
Fantasy is useful in assessing job applicants, as it removes the discussion from the workplace and allows the imagination free rein. You’ll quickly learn a lot about your candidate based on their choice of time period and the motivation behind it – are they forward thinking and achievement-driven or do they prefer to dwell on days gone by? Ask and all shall be revealed.