The quirky interview question has become a proven method for some companies’ recruiting strategy: e.g. Google’s puzzles designed to weed through some 2 million applicants per year.
Yet while the curveball query, “Who would win a fight between Spider-Man and Batman?” can throw the candidate off their carefully scripted answers and force them to react spontaneously, it can also serve to make only the most verbally adept applicants shine, disregarding other potential talent, according to Tim Toterhi, HR professional and author of Job Hunting For Introverts, in a previous interview with Fast Company. “I’d rather get deeper thought and greater insight that can actually be applied,” he told us.
At Yashi, CEO and cofounder Jay Gould prefers the deep dive. The video-ad tech firm based in New Jersey has grown from humble beginnings in 2007 with just two cofounders, to a staff of 12 in 2012, to 60 now. Yashi was on Inc.’s list of fastest growing companies for three years running, and voted one of the state’s best places to work in 2014 by NJBIZ. Recently acquired by Nexstar Broadcasting for $33 million, Gould tells Fast Company that one of the reasons the business continues to thrive is its hiring process.
“One of the most important aspects of a successful team, no matter the size, is the company culture,” he explains. “Even as we continue to expand, we’ve maintained our team dynamic by hiring people who are cut from the same cloth in terms of their goals and motivation,” says Gould.
A thorough multi-step interview series ends with the candidate talking to him. “If they reach me, their strengths have been vetted by my managers and their potential future co-workers,” Gould explains, “I step in to assess their character, tenacity, and whether or not they’re a cultural fit.”
The way he does it is with a curveball question. But not the one about Disney princesses or how many marbles would fit into a bus. “Everything you need to know can be learned in the moment when you look a candidate in the eye and ask them, ‘Why shouldn’t I hire you?’” says Gould.
In this way, Gould maintains, he gets immediate insight into their self-awareness, integrity, and honesty. “If they they think too long, or can’t answer the question at all, they may be hiding something. If their answer is genuine then you have a contender,” he says.
It’s not enough to gauge the length of hesitation. After all, extroverts who are quick to think on their feet can do a verbal two-step around the question in the time it would take a more introspective introvert to voice their reply.
“Why shouldn’t I hire you?” is the final part of a 45-minute interview, Gould says, but he’s still alert to nuance. “How they answer the question is just as, if not more, important than the answer itself,” he says.
Gould believes that to adequately gauge the truthfulness in a candidate’s response, the interviewer needs two things: a high EQ (emotional intelligence) and to be great at pattern recognition.
“The ability to identify existing or emerging patterns is a critically important skill in intelligent decision making,” he says. Drawing from past experience, intuition, and common sense, the interviewer can recognize if a candidate is holding forth on a response that could be part of what they think the person opposite them wants to hear, or if they are offering a genuine view of their personality.
“Aside from that, the interviewer needs to keenly assess eye contact, body language, voice inflections, etc. to make sure they’re being transparent,” says Gould. Lack of eye contact could suggest the candidate isn’t being honest, while crossed arms unconsciously communicate arrogance or defensiveness in most people’s minds.
Gould’s question isn’t designed to divulge weaknesses. It’s purpose is to identify their integrity, self-awareness, and transparency, which he believes are the most important strengths a person you wish to work with can possess. Gould subscribes to the wisdom of Warren Buffett, who once said: “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”
The reason he believes “why shouldn’t I hire you?” works to reveal a candidate’s integrity is because people aren’t prepared to answer it. “It forces people to try and disqualify themselves from the position, which takes them out of the mindset of putting their best foot forward,” he contends.
Indeed, Gould asserts that candidates often interpret this question as, “What’s your greatest weakness?” and attempt to provide generic answers like, “I’m too much of a perfectionist” or “I care too much about my work and it tends to interfere with my personal life.”
When he gets those answers, Gould says he instructs them to avoid spinning a weakness into a strength. “This stumps a lot of candidates,” he admits, “Some people are totally caught off guard and refuse to answer, which disqualifies them from being hired.”
Those who are self-aware and candid enough to share something authentic prove ring Gould’s integrity bell. “People who are upfront about their shortcomings possess the element of humility that makes them a likeable person you want to work with,” he underscores.
Gould is a proponent of other questions that candidate’s may not be prepared to answer such as: “How smart are you?” This one, says Gould reveals if they are able to be humble or simply to defend how intelligent they think they are. Body language and vocal inflection plays a role in gauging the authenticity of this reply as well.
“I also like to ask them to describe their proudest moment,” Gould says. “If they begin listing their professional accomplishments, they are missing an opportunity to illustrate their depth of character, or they might just be trying too hard to put their best foot forward,” he contends. “There’s also a chance they just aren’t being honest.”