Driving tests, free flights and table tennis: interviews are not what they used to be

Some companies’ modern interview techniques will leave you scratching your head, while others might give you an idea or two

Driving tests, free flights and table tennis: interviews are not what they used to be
erviews are more fun than they used to be, it seems. On top of the gamification craze is a newfound penchant for mixing up interview settings, at least at some companies.

Nashville-based TechnologyAdvice CEO Rob Bellanfant loves a friendly game of table tennis so much, he’s incorporated it into his hiring process. He’s even working with Vanderbilt University researchers – and the Nashville Table Tennis Club – to study the whether it can truly help hiring managers gauge a candidate’s ability.

Here’s how it works: at the end of a standard interview, candidates are asked if they’d be keen for a spot of ping pong. If the answer is yes – which it nearly always is – they’re given a three-question quiz asking them to indicate on a scale of 1-10 about their level of excitement for the game, their table tennis skills, and their level of aggression.

Next, they enter a dedicated table tennis room alone with the company’s control player, Stephen Belcher, where he gradually becomes a more challenging opponent over three games. They’re recorded on video, and their interactions are analyzed by the researchers.

After the games, they’re offered another questionnaire, which this time asks how they felt about the experience, and their retroactive feelings about their levels of skill and aggression. All of the company’s 41 employees have gone through the process, and Bellanfant says what the questionnaires revealed about their confidence remains accurate reflections of their personalities.

Table tennis is far from the most unusual interview technique, though. The New York Times revealed a quirk of Trex chief executive Ron Kaplan this month. He divulged that when he’s interviewing someone that’s come in from another city for the meeting, he invites them to lunch – but makes them drive his car on the way there. “On the way to the parking lot,” he told the New York Times, “I hand them my car keys and say, ‘Why don’t you drive,’ and see what kind of reaction they have to driving my car in a strange city. Then I’ll be giving them directions and asking them questions while we’re driving to see if they can multitask. Some people can handle it with aplomb, and others can’t.”

More unusual interview techniques include:

The mile-high interview
If you want to test how a possible new recruit performs under pressure how about conducting the interview on a crowded flight cross-country? That’s what Ara Ohanian does when it comes to deciding who to appoint to critical management roles at Certpoint Systems, the software company he co-founded.

Ohanian, now vice president and general manager at Infor, who acquired Certpoint, schedules the flights to coincide with planned business trips. The interview begins in the departing city’s airport lounge and on arrival at the destination Ohanian takes the candidate to dinner. If it’s an overnight stay they have breakfast together too. Ohanian explains that throughout the process he is looking for humility, a sense of humour and empathy towards a busy restaurant server or flight attendant.

“It gives me an indication of how they will be toward other members of their team,” he said.
The audition
It can be hard to know how suitable a candidate is based on interviews alone so how about asking them to audition? That’s something every final candidate has to do if they wish to land a role with Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com.

Matt Mullenweg, founder and CEO of Automattic, states that the company expects every final candidate to work at the company for three to eight weeks on a contract basis carrying out real tasks alongside their potential colleagues. They can complete work at night or on weekends so they don’t have to leave their current jobs and are paid a standard US$25 an hour, regardless if they are interviewing to be the an engineer or chief financial officer.

“Tryouts may not offer 100% overlap with the job in question, but they give us a better window on someone’s skills and cultural fit than a lunch meeting would. We’re especially interested in how well candidates self-motivate, how well they communicate in writing (because most of us work remotely, we rely heavily on instant messaging), and how they deal with mistakes,” he wrote in the Harvard Business Review.
 So does it work? Mullenweg wrote that last year they hired 101 people of which only two didn’t work out and since starting up the company has employed 270 people of which only 40 no longer work there.
The significant other test
If you make it to the final interview stage for a job with M & E Painting LLC don’t expect your potential new boss to be the one questioning you – instead it will be him and his wife.

Before offering a job CEO and Founder Matt Shoup invites finalists and whoever is the most important person in their life (partner, best friend etc) to meet with him and his wife. Shoup introduced this step to the interview process two years ago because he wanted to employ people who stay for a long time and for new members to support his company vision wholeheartedly, which means, he said, the most important person in their life must believe in the company too.

“If you’re not happy at home, then you bring that problem to work,” Shoup said.
Handwriting analysis
Tired of using psychometric testing to find the right candidate? How about handwriting analysis? That’s what DiMare Enterprises, a family agricultural business in California, has been doing for the past 25 years to help assist with managerial hires.

CEO Tom DiMare uses handwriting analysis firm Graphology Consulting Group to evaluate the scrawling of potential hires. Candidates are asked to write two to three sentences which the company then screens against the job description to see if the person takes direction well, if they’re imaginative, a procrastinator or a leader. Graphology say they can look at more than 300 personality traits revealed through handwriting.

While DiMare doesn’t use the results to decide whether to hire a candidate he does use them as a guide when checking a finalist’s references.
“It helps us in asking the right questions,” DiMare told careeraddict.com.  “For example: Does this person do well on collaborative projects? Or are they more of a lone wolf?" 

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