Employer Branding Talent Acquisition

Taking Interviewing Outside the Box – Unique Practices by Top CEOs

Over the past decade, we’ve all been fascinated, entertained and a bit puzzled by the brain-teaser-type interview questions that many employers have incorporated into their hiring process. Why are manhole covers round? How many golf balls can you fit into a school bus? Popularized by Google, the jury is still out on whether the ability to answer these types of questions in an interview is in any way indicative of being able to excel at a job. But one thing’s for sure – it gets people talking about the company’s interview process and corporate culture, which enhances their employer brand.

Some CEOs, however, have opted for a more real-life approach to evaluating potential employees, developing their own unique testing methods for determining how each individual would react in working situations. While coming up with a clever answer to a tricky question may demonstrate the ability to think quickly under pressure, these CEOs feel that candidates’ actions are much more reflective of their ability to fit into the team dynamic, leading to their future success with the company. Let’s look at a few leaders who have developed their own interview techniques, and why they feel they’re effective.

The Early-Morning Text

Erika Nardini, CEO of sports and men’s lifestyle blog Barstool Sports, received a lot of press recently after sharing her method of evaluating job candidates in a New York Times interview. For those looking to work at Barstool, Nardini will text them at 11 am on a Sunday morning, or at 9 pm in the evening, to see how quickly they respond. Those who respond within three hours pass the test. While she says she does not intend to continuously contact employees at odd hours once they’re hired, she expects them to be responsive and constantly thinking about work, just as she does.

The Restaurant Choice

If you’re looking to work for music rights management company BMI, prepare to choose a good restaurant for your second interview. CEO Mike O’Neill says that after a first office interview, he’ll invite job applicants to a second interview over a meal, and have them pick the restaurant. After the initial question as to why they chose that particular restaurant, O’Neill says he can learn a lot about a candidate from what they order, whether they choose a location closer to them or him, and how hard they try to impress him during the meal. He then follows up with questions about the candidate’s coworkers, mentors, and peers, as he says he can learn more by asking about the people they surround themselves with than by asking direct questions.

The Beer and Barbecue Test

Back in 1994, Brian Scudamore, CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, felt he didn’t have the right people working for him, so he fired his entire company. Since then, he has prioritized finding the right team members in order to provide a great customer experience in an industry as unglamorous as junk removal. In order to do this, he asks himself two simple questions during the interview process: “Could I see myself sitting down and enjoying a beer or coffee with this person?”, and “If we had a company barbecue, how would they fit in?” Scudamore likens interviewing prospective employees to finding great friends. While friendships are made in a relaxed, casual environment, according to this CEO, so too are good employee relationships.

The Order Blunder

Like BMI’s CEO, the CEO of Charles Schwab, Walt Bettinger, also invites interviewees to a restaurant. However, he arrives early and gives strict instructions to the manager to deliver the wrong order to the candidate. Bettinger says that how they respond helps him understand how they deal with adversity. Do they get upset and frustrated, or are they understanding? Even choosing to not say anything about the mess-up tells him the candidate may be timid, not pay attention to detail or not be willing to right a wrong. Ultimately, Bettinger is looking for employees who know how to recover from a mistake and are polite and respectful to others when they make them.

The Two-Week Option

As the CEO of Build, the online seller of sinks, locks and home fixtures, Christian Friedland recruits regularly from nearby college Chico State University, as well as at the Burning Man festival. Like many employers, Build requires applicants to take a drug test. However, before doing so, Friedland provides an added option: Applicants can take the drug test immediately and, if they pass, start work the following day, or they can wait two weeks. Friedland considers this an IQ test in that any candidate who chooses to take the test right away and fails isn’t smart enough to work for the company.

Ask any hiring manager how to conduct an effective job interview and they’ll be able to provide a number of examples of techniques that are and aren’t effective. CEOs who are active in the interview process can do the same, though they have an added advantage: the freedom to alter the process in any way they choose. Hence, it’s not uncommon for an individual with the ingenuity to start their own company to also develop outside-the-box interview techniques that they feel provide essential information about candidates’ future success with the company beyond simply asking, “Tell me about yourself.” So, if you were CEO of your own company and had carte blanche to interview in any way you saw fit, what would you do to ensure the best hires?

By John Feldmann

John Feldmann is a Senior Communications Specialist for Insperity in Houston, TX. With over a decade of marketing and employment branding experience in the recruiting and human resources industries, John specializes in employment- and HR-related content development for a variety of media types in order to communicate Insperity's brand to both business professionals and job seekers. Follow John on X @John_Feldmann.