7 unusual interview tests that go beyond behavioral interviews

Kathleen Escarcha, staff writerKathleen Escarcha, staff writer

Most interviews don't last too long—on average they're only about 40 minutes.

But while nearly every interviewee will assure you they can think strategically, be innovative, and work well with a team, bad candidates often slip through.

What does a good applicant really look like, and how can you tell if someone is truly the right pick from such a short conversation?

After some research and a look into our archives, we've rounded up seven unusual techniques that leaders employ to weed out weak applicants and choose the best candidate.

Test 1: Ask applicants to solve a real problem.

Provide candidates with an example of a challenge from your daily work. It can be a problem you've already tackled or something that remains unsolved, recommends John Sullivan, professor of management at San Francisco State University.

A truly strategic thinker will articulate an answer that includes testing early versions of the solution with the target audience and measures the success after implementation, he notes.

Test 2: Ask candidates to spot problems in a real plan.

Show candidates a draft a current strategic plan that is flawed or incomplete. Ask them to identify its issues. "If the individual can't find a significant percentage of what you know to be the flaws and omissions, it's unlikely they are a strategic thinker," says Sullivan.

The 4 questions that matter most when interviewing candidates

Test 3: Listen for questions about your organization's future strategy.

Take note of both the quality and quantity of a candidate's questions related to the organization's strategy.

According to Sullivan, the best candidates will ask questions that relate to:

  • Your organization's future strategy;
  • The opportunities they will have to contribute to strategy; and
  • The types of strategic projects currently taking place at the organization.

Test 4: Have candidates try some of the work.

Incorporate a skill test or work sample test, in which a candidate performs a task similar to what they'd be doing on the job, into your interview process. The tactic helps interviewers eliminate bias by comparing candidates based on their expected work performance, instead of a subjective judgement like personality, says Francesca Gino, professor at Harvard University's business school.

How one institution tests for real-world skills during the interview

Test 5: Ask the receptionist.

To get a better sense of a candidate's character, ask the receptionist what the candidate did while waiting. Sometimes, there is a difference between a candidate's attitude toward other employees and their attitude toward someone they're trying to impress, writes Jeff Haden for Inc.

Test 6: Go undercover.

A candidate's tour of the office is an opportunity to get deeper insight into their true intentions, notes Haden. When it's time for the tour, introduce a colleague whose opinion your trust and tell that person to be vague about their role in the organization.

If an interviewee assumes their guide has no influence on the hiring process, they may ask questions they didn't feel comfortable asking you or make offhand remarks that clash with their interview persona.

Test 7: Offer a bowl of soup.

Thomas Edison may take the cake for unusual behavioral tests. When interviewing potential hires, Edison would offer them a bowl of soup. Those who salted their soup before tasting it were automatically disqualified, writes Haden. Edison interpreted automatic salting as a sign the candidate relied on hasty assumptions—not a desirable quality in an inventor's workshop (Haden, Inc., 8/16 [1]; Inc., 8/16 [2]).

Have candidates show you what they can do—literally

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