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How to Outsmart the Serial Interviewer

Imagine this: Three candidates are in the final interview stages for a high-level executive role at a fantastic company. The interview process is coming to close, and there’s just one last piece to the puzzle before final decisions will be made. The interviewer brings each individual candidate into a room, totally empty except for a tub of children’s blocks sitting on the floor. Each is asked to take a seat and build something.

The first candidate laughs, shakes her head and politely declines. The second candidate furrows his brow and questions the purpose of this exercise in consideration to his candidacy for the role, before he refuses to “play with blocks like a child” and storms out. The third and final candidate takes off his suit jacket, rolls up his sleeves, and immediately sits down next to the pile of blocks, dumping them all out on the floor. He gazes up at the interviewer, with the question, “What’s my time limit to complete this project?”

It seems like a parable made up by wise hiring managers, but this is a true story from a former professor of mine.  Now that I can see things from the other side of the desk as a recruiter, I’m starting to understand the purpose of the reactionary interview question (as I’m going to call it). We’ve all heard of behavioral and situational interview questions, but reactionary interview questions are a new breed that should be utilized in some shape or form in every interview. They help build rapport, establish important characteristics such as sense of humor and the ability to think on the fly, and allow us gauge for specific attributes or responses. In my opinion, the careful and timely use of the reactionary interview question can provide valuable insight you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on during a standard interview.

As recruiters, we are always searching for the best candidate fit for our clients. When we find a top-notch candidate who checks off all the boxes on the job description, we then screen for personality, polish, and cultural fit. And that’s why every recruiter has a list of behavioral and situational interview questions in their arsenal, right?

Unfortunately, there’s still the chance of running into the “Serial Interviewer.” You know who I’m talking about. Serial Interviewers are always extremely well prepared and have no problem coming up with an adequate answer for any interview question you could imagine. They’re ready to fire off a response at the drop of a hat, they’ve got a list of insightful company questions they prepared the night before… these are the people who’ve got it all figured out. So how do we go about “outsmarting” the Serial Interviewer into showing us who they really are? Hit them with something they couldn’t anticipate if they tried (like asking them to build something out of blocks, for example) and watch their reaction. Since our instinct reactions are something we typically can’t control very well, they tend to paint a realistic picture of what we’re really thinking or feeling. Our reactions to situations that make us feel out of our element in some way are often the most truly refreshing glimpses into who we are.

As a recruiter, wouldn’t it be incredibly insightful to see what your candidates are really like in these settings? Instead of listening to a candidate tell you about a time they were frustrated, confused or caught off guard, you have the ability to see it firsthand… if you ask the right reactionary questions.

Fellow recruiters, would you ever use an unconventional tactic such as this? Can you see it benefiting your candidate experience process? Sound off in the comments below!

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