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As many companies are becoming more innovative, off-the-wall interview questions are gaining popularity. These types of questions can include brainteasers and puzzles, and are often used to assess a candidate’s thought process. An article posted on Select International by Alissa Parr credits Microsoft for the initial use of these questions in the 1990s. At the time, they were thought to measure mental flexibility, entrepreneurial potential, and creativity of the candidate, but since then, have we really learned how these types of questions fit into the typical structured, behavior-based interviews?

Parr believes not enough research has been done on the effectiveness and utility of these questions to be sure of their place in the traditional interview. Nathan Wiita, Elnora Kelly, R. Patrick Bradshaw, and Rustin Meyer performed a study in which they asked candidates to report their perception of an organization after undergoing certain interview conditions. The results of their study suggested when candidates were asked to answer non-traditional interview questions they perceived the organization as being more innovative, and anticipated higher job satisfaction. However, after interviewing in more structured, traditional conditions, candidates reported they anticipated higher job success, more attraction, and a better fit with company culture. Wiita and his colleges found that non-traditional questions were more unfair than traditional ones. Considering these negatives, how well do these non-traditional questions actually predict performance?

Renee Payne, Tina Malm, and Melissa Harrell from Google, Inc. tried to answer that question in their internal study. Their results showed high performing employees did not score any better on brainteaser questions than lower performing employees. This suggests brainteasers are not an effective way to differentiate between poor and excellent performing candidates. While this is only one study, it does show the importance of ensuring the value of any new process before implementation.
Parr provides the following tips to consider when developing and applying a new interview process within your company:

  1. Decide what skills are essential for the job position, then consider only those skills when crafting interview questions.
  2. Develop measurable, behavior-based interview questions targeted towards those same essential skills.
  3. Use systematic scoring criteria and decide what answers would be deemed unacceptable, acceptable, and very acceptable behavioral actions.
  4. Review the questions and scoring criteria with job content experts to guarantee they are pertinent to the job.
  5. Once the interview process has been developed, train hiring managers on how to successfully implement this process, collect complete answers, and utilize the scoring criteria.
  6. Consistency is key. Make sure all job candidates are undergoing a consistent interview process, allowing them to be measured on the same skills and assessed using the same criteria.

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