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    Get Creative in Your Next Interview (but don't take things too far)
    The Vault

    Get Creative in Your Next Interview (but don't take things too far)

    February 2016

    In a recent interview with the New York Times, CEO of Charles Schwab, Walt Bettinger, revealed that he sometimes moves interviews to a restaurant for breakfast.  Before the meeting, Bettinger arrives early, and asks restaurant employees to intentionally mess up the job candidate’s order.  The goal is to see how the interviewee deals with adversity.  Does he get upset and frustrated, or is he understanding and cordial to the wait to staff as he brings the mistake to their attention?  It’s a clever exercise, really, and Bettinger claims one that goes a long way in revealing how that candidate responds to disappointment.  Life and business are full of disappointments, after all.

    Creative interview techniques are popular these days, and with good reason.  Tossing in the element of the unexpected allows employers to assess candidates more comprehensively than traditional forms of Q&A sessions in the office.  Every job candidate in the world goes into an interview prepared to answer questions like “How would you describe yourself?” and “What are your long range objectives?”  Catch a candidate off-guard with a question like “What is your favorite song and can you perform it for me?”, and now you have an exciting interview.  Some companies even play games with candidates to break the ice and establish rapport.  In a 2013 article by Entrepreneur Magazine, writer Gwen Moran wrote about a Jenga game plays with its job candidates.  During the game, players take turns removing one block at a time from a tower.  Each block removed is then balanced on top of the tower, creating a progressively taller but less stable structure. writes interview questions on each block which must be answered before the block can be placed on top of the tower.  Discussion flows, and the employer sees how candidates will get along in a team environment when presented with the unexpected.

    I like quirky interview questions and tests.  But is there a point when they go too far?  Or even not far enough?  The problem with off-the-wall interviews is that they run the risk of not meeting the standards of being both valid and reliable indicators of success, and may not have the documentation to show they are job related.

    The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures, set for by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), require that all tests used for selection be statistically proven to be both valid and reliable instruments.

    “Use of tests and other selection procedures can also violate the federal anti-discrimination laws if they disproportionately exclude people in a particular group by race, sex, or another covered basis, unless the employer can justify the test or procedure under the law.”

    This discrimination is called adverse impact. The EEOC goes on to say that “The challenged policy or practice should therefore be associated with the skills needed to perform the job successfully. In contrast to a general measurement of applicants’ or employees’ skills, the challenged policy or practice must evaluate an individual’s skills as related to the particular job in question.”

    Unfortunately, “creative” methods of selection and interviewing often don’t have the documentation that meets the standard required by the EEOC, and companies are risking potential discrimination lawsuits because of it.  So, before you decide to establish and use a “unique” method of employee selection, make sure you are doing all the justification to show that the resulting candidates are indeed successful and that the “test” does not result in any discrimination.  Here are just a few suggestions:

    1. Conduct an off-site interview to assess the candidate’s real personality in a relaxed environment.  If the candidate will regularly be meeting off-site with clients, this allows you to analyze his/her manners and social skills outside of the office environment.
    2. Ask open-ended questions to obtain the most information possible from your candidate.  Questions like “What is your motivation for applying to this position?” requires that the candidate provide examples and details in response, and you’ll gain incredible insight into his/her personality.  Just remember to never ask questions about political or religious affiliation, marital status, or family because such factors do not dictate his/her ability to perform the job and could be viewed as discriminatory.
    3. Conduct a simulation interview so that you can witness the interviewee’s skills in action.  For example, if your candidate is applying for a sales position, you might ask him pretend he’s on a sales call and pitch your company to a potential client (you play the client).  This will reveal how much your candidate has studied up on your company and also how he interacts with people.  Is he truly qualified or overstating his capabilities on his resume?  Now you’ll know.

    Whatever you choose, be sure you’re in compliance with the EEOC.  

    By the way, Walt Bettinger didn’t say in that NY Times interview if there was a right way or a wrong way to respond to the messed up breakfast order.  While throwing a fit would be an obvious disqualifier, my bet is that completely ignoring the situation would be, too.  Bettinger likely wants to see that the candidate is willing to right a wrong.  Saying something -- politely and respectfully -- would be better than saying nothing at all.  


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