Friday, August 31, 2007

More games

I've posted before (here and here) about how Google and other companies are literally using boardgames as part of their applicant screening process, and how I'm not a big fan of this technique.

The September, 2007 issue of Business 2.0 has an article titled "Job Interview Brainteasers" that highlights another type of game employers play--this time, it's asking "creative" questions during the interview.

Let's take a look at some interview questions from the article and who's asked them:

How much does a 747 weigh? (Microsoft)

Why are manhole covers round and not, say, square? (Microsoft)

How many gas stations are there in the United States? (

How much would you charge for washing all the windows in Seattle? (

You have 5 pirates, ranked from 5 to 1 in descending order. The top pirate has the right to propose how 100 gold coins should be divided among them. But the others get to vote on his plan, and if fewer than half agree with him, he gets killed. How should he allocate the gold in order to maximize his share but live to enjoy it? (eBay, and, similarly, Pirate Master)

You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and your mass is proportionally reduced so as to maintain your original density. You are then thrown into an empty glass blender. The blades will start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do? (Google)

These questions have been around for quite a while and are used to measure things like creativity and estimation ability. The question is: Are they any better than board games? Probably. But they're still a bad idea.

Why do I say that? Well, first of all, a lot of people find these questions plain silly. And this says something about your organization. Sure, some people think they're fun or different. But many more will scratch their head and wonder what you're thinking. And then they'll wonder if they really want to work with you. Particularly folks with a lot of experience who aren't into playing games--they want to have a serious conversation.

Second, there are simply better ways of assessing people. If you want to know how creative someone is, ask them a question that actually mirrors the job they're applying for.

Want to know how they would tackle a programming question? Ask them. In fact, you can combine assessment with recruitment, as Spock recently did.

Want them to estimate something? Think about what they'll actually be estimating on the job and ask them that question. And so on...

Another advantage of these types of questions? The answers give you information you can actually use. (Hey, you've got them in front of you, why not use their brains)

If you don't really care about the assessment side of things, and in reality are just using these questions as a way to communicate "we're cool and different" (as I suspect many of these companies are doing) there are better ways of doing this. Like communicating in interesting and personal ways (e.g., having the CEO/Director call the person). Like talking about exciting projects on the horizon. Like asking candidates what THEY think of the recruitment and assessment process (gasp!).

My advice? Treat candidates with respect and try your darnedest to make the entire recruitment and assessment process easy, informative, and as painless as possible. Now THAT'S cool and different.

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