Some job interviews contain strange questions, such as, “What would you want written on your tombstone?” These “oddball” questions are intended to convey a sense of the organization’s unique and playful culture. While this approach may seem appealing to certain hiring managers, there is currently limited empirical research on the subject. Consequently, this study investigates how job candidates respond to the inclusion of oddball interview questions and assesses the overall effectiveness of these questions.
THE RESEARCH STUDY
The authors (Zhang and McCord, 2023) conducted a study with 172 participants who were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions. Each condition corresponded to a specific set of interview questions for a hypothetical job position. Three out of these four conditions included a set of unconventional questions. These unconventional questions fell into three categories: (a) open-ended inquiries, such as “Design an outfit that represents yourself”; (b) preference-based questions, such as, “Which of the seven dwarves do you relate to?”; and (c) biographical questions, for instance, “Describe your most recent costume.” Additionally, the study incorporated a list of conventional interview questions, such as, “Tell me about yourself.”
The study’s findings revealed that when organizations posed one of the three types of unconventional interview questions, people perceived the organization as more stylish and innovative compared to others employing only traditional interview questions. However, people did not feel a greater attraction toward the organizations that utilized unconventional interview questions.
PRACTCIAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
The authors offer several recommendations based on their research:
- Quirky questions may add a unique flair to an organization’s image, but they do not necessarily enhance its overall appeal. Organizations should weigh the trade-off between appearing innovative and raising concerns among applicants who might question the fairness of the hiring process when confronted with unconventional interview questions.
- If organizations intend to incorporate unusual questions, the most effective approach is to reserve them for later stages of the recruitment process. For example, the authors suggest that oddball questions could be used in cases where job offers have been extended and the interview’s primary goal is recruitment, rather than selection. This would allow for the questions to be used to signal the company’s innovative culture without incurring the associated drawbacks.
- Overall, organizations are advised to exercise caution when considering oddball interview questions, as the potential benefits seem limited, while the drawbacks have yet to be fully explored.
Zhang, D. C., & McCord, J.-L. (2023). “That is an interesting question!” Oddball Interview
Questions and Organizational Personality Perceptions. Personnel Assessment and Decisions, 9(1), article 4.
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