Sunday, March 11, 2012

Extreme Interviews: Necessary or Narcissistic?

Probably one of my favourite ‘extreme interview’ questions that is commonly asked by Google is; ‘how would you weigh your head?’ Others include, what sort of dinosaur are you? If you answered Tyrannosaurus Rex, then the bad news is that you won’t be getting a job with at least one City of London financial institution (Sunday Times, 11th March 2012, p.13).  
A recent Los Angeles Times story explored the trend it refers to as ‘extreme interviewing,’ in which candidates are subjected to shenanigans that wouldn’t seem out of place on a reality TV program like ‘The Apprentice’ or ‘Survivor.’ Where for example, college students applying for an internship with one company were asked to make the case why they should be selected solely via 13 different 140-character messages on Twitter.
As James Gillespie and Lou Stoppard highlight in their Sunday Times article, “no amount of revision and practice can prepare the candidate who finds themselves on the receiving end of an ‘extreme interview.’ The dinosaur question has become a bit of a City of London favourite, as most candidates plump for Tyrannosaurus Rex, whereupon the hapless soul is told – aha, so you’re a cannibalistic predator preying on the weak are you?” (p.13).
Tiffany Hsu, writing in the LA Times highlights how “Google Inc. is renowned for peppering candidates with brain twisters such as ‘You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown in a blender. Your mass is reduced so that your density is the same as usual. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?’ according to the book "Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?" Hewlett-Packard takes the same approach: ‘If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?’ Tony Hsieh, chief executive of online shoe retailer, likes to ask potential hires, ‘On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?’
Gillespie and Stoppard mention that “it may seem like a game, but extreme interviewing is deadly serious. The idea is to see how quickly job-seekers think on their feet and, at a time when in the UK 25% of recent graduates are unemployed, it offers a new way of sorting the brilliant from the merely exceptional. For example, Google renowned for its exhaustive interview process (where a 50 page dossier prepared on each interviewer is not uncommon) asked a recent candidate: you are stranded on a desert island. You have 60 seconds to choose people of ten professions to some with you. Who do you choose? Go.”
But one has to ask whether these questions really help identify exceptional talent or simply give the interviewer that feeling of power and control as they watch the candidate squirm. It’s not that there is a right or wrong answer to these questions anyway – so it’s not unreasonable for candidates to wonder what the point in all this is. In business you’d imagine that organisations are looking for people who can make decisions around the facts - where who you’d take on a dessert island has little relevance.
I think to conclude, Brad Tuttle puts it best in his article when he writes, “if you’re interviewing for a job and Joe Rogan, the guy from ‘Fear Factor,’ suddenly appears carrying a bucket full of live cockroaches, my advice is to make a run for it. That might not demonstrate entrepreneurial skills. But at least it’d show you have common sense”. Now I’m off to weigh my head…..
Gillespie, J. and Stoppard, L. Big beasts fail ‘extreme interviews’. Sunday Times. 11th March 2012. P.13
Hsu, T. Job interviewing, to the extreme. Los Angeles Times. 19th February 2012.
Tuttle, B. How job candidates now resemble reality TV contestants. TIME Moneyland.  21st February 2012.

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