Why you should care
Because you could be working with the worst people for your whole career.
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There are precious few things you can count on in this world: Bánh mì will taste worse than you expect, birthday phone calls will be awkward and, in any job interview, you’ll be asked inane questions like “What is your greatest weakness?” and “What’s a mistake you’ve made?”
OK, these questions sound deep and meaningful, but they’re so predictable that the questions might as well be “How do you feel about breathing air?” Indeed, it’s well past time to overhaul the job interview, which — let’s face it — is pretty flawed, what with unconscious bias, short face times that yield no real sense of the person and questions that either lend themselves to canned answers or are head-scratchingly random: What kind of tree would you be? (A tree that works hard and is a team player?)
We propose an alternative: Ditch the mechanical, robotic interviewing in favor of improvisation. The notion may sound too wacky, but hey, there’s a reason Michael Scott, the woeful office manager in The Office, is a wretched improviser: Improv ruthlessly reveals any douchebaggery and other weaknesses. Interviewing with an improv-oriented technique — yep, getting up and acting different scenes on the fly — will bring out the “authentic and genuine” character of people, says Bob Kulhan, CEO of Business Improv. You’ll be able to tell, for instance, if job candidates are good listeners and have confidence. And in general, “offbeat” tactics take candidates “out of interview mind and they start acting like a real person,” says Russell Tuckerton, author of 15 Minutes to a Better Interview.
Either mankind has come up with the most effective way of job interviewing, or no one is thinking about how to do better.
Let’s be clear here: Even though jokey work environments have been shown to be more creative, the improv interview is not meant to test comedy potential. Instead it’s about finding people who are willing to try something new, commit to something scary and embrace creativity. And try to think of any work environments today where working on a team or with other people isn’t important. Collaboration is key to creating value in an organization, according to 68 percent of the CEOs PriceWaterhouseCoopers surveyed.
Before we go too far, we will note a couple of things. First, the job interview is notoriously impervious to change. Jorg Stegemann, CEO of global headhunting firm Kennedy Executive Search, tells us that across the board, different cultures tend to stick to the same interview tactics. (Our takeaway: Either mankind has come up with the most effective way of job interviewing, or no one is thinking about how to do better.) And there are some jobs, like nuclear engineer, for which we’d prefer the improv test not be a litmus test. Perhaps improv will turn out to be too goofy, and other ways of evoking more genuine selves will emerge.
But we know one thing for sure: A manager asking “What mistakes have you made?” and expecting an uncanned answer — now that’s a mistake.