Carly Chynoweth Published: 13 March 2011 The Sunday Times
Once candidates have made it through the initial 30-minute telephone interview, they are invited to the web hosting firm’s office and handed a piece of paper and some coloured pencils. “I sit them down and say ‘you have 10 minutes to draw a picture of something that inspires you’.”
He doesn’t expect anyone to produce a Van Gogh — he can only recall one person who has shown the least bit of artistic talent — but asking candidates to talk about what they drew gives a much better sense of who they are than simply asking them questions about their CV, he said. Even a simple refusal, as happened with one senior candidate, is helpful: “If he thought that was daft, he would never have fitted in.”
For the next step the candidate has to accompany Monkhouse and a couple of his team members to the “golf course”, where he can get a sense of how competitive they are and whether they can cope under pressure as their chips skid across the office carpet and into another room.
He also uses more formal interviews and psychometric testing, but candidates who do not get along well with the team are not offered jobs, no matter how well they test.
Even traditional interviews may have more to them than meets the eye, according to Alex Linley, founding director of Capp, the organisational psychologists. He is called in when employers want someone to analyse not only what people say but how they say it. Whether the candidate knows who Linley is and what he is doing depends on the client.
“The key focus is to enable [employers] to identify people’s engagement and capabilities in what they say,” he said. “We get a good read for their natural strengths and preferences in how they answer questions.
“If people naturally have strength in an area, they typically would be able to respond faster and with a more graphic answer, and they would be more energetic and engaged when they gave it. By contrast, if it wasn’t a natural strength it might take them longer to find that answer. In terms of body language things such as leaning forward, more use of hand gestures and movement can be indicators of confidence and knowledge.”
Some candidates, hearing that the interviewer is looking for energy, say, will try to look enthusiastic and energetic on every answer, but it is obvious when this happens. “We would not expect anyone to demonstrate energy across all the questions we asked,” he said.
Hazel Carter, the founder of Carter Corson, an organisational psychology business, said she was once told to show balls by climbing on to a table in a hotel lobby and singing a nursery rhyme. She refused. This went down well, as the interviewer saw her willingness to stand up to him as a good indicator of ballsiness.
There are three key problems with this type of gimmick: it may so irritate the candidate that he or she decides not to accept the job (Carter did take it); it may not be any help in finding the right person; and, finally, it could break the law.
“There are quite strict laws on what is seen as a fair assessment and once you deviate from that you could be on quite sticky ground,” she said. “Unless you can show you know what you want to mea- sure, how you are measuring it and that it is relevant to the job, you could be in trouble.”
This does not mean all creative approaches to assessment are out. For example, Carter works with a big company that takes candidates out to dinner the evening before they undergo an intensive assessment. While there, they are plied with wine to see how they maintain their business presence in social situations.
On one occasion a candidate, not realising that the dinner was part of the test, got drunk and made off-colour remarks. At the assessment the next morning, he was told to go home.
While unusual, this sort of approach could be fair as long as the recruiter could show that the job required people to be able to entertain clients without behaving inappropriately, Carter said.
Pitfalls of the bizarre
There are a number of pitfalls to consider when using unorthodox interview techniques, said Lisa Mayhew at Berwin Leighton Paisner, the law firm. “Unusual assessment arrangements shouldn’t detract from the importance of basing decisions about whether to recruit somebody for a business role solely on job-related criteria and not, for example, on grounds of race, age, sex, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, religion or nationality.” Avoid remarks about a candidate’s appearance and steer clear of “clumsy” humour, which can offend people, and ensure you make objective notes about candidates — remember that they are entitled to see them. Unfairly treated candidates can bring discrimination complaints against individuals as well companies, Mayhew said.