College graduates and people looking to get back into the workforce should brace themselves not only for a still-tough job market — U.S. adds 113,000 jobs in January — but also for their interviews: Some hiring managers have started asking job candidates to break out into song, play a game, or worse.
Facing a flood of applicants with similar skills and equally impressive academic backgrounds, companies are turning into professional matchmakers, coming up with creative ways to test for personality, character and — yes — sense of humor.
Like first dates, job interviews can be an exercise in stamina. Management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. was rated the toughest company for interviews, in a 2013 report by career site Glassdoor, with the average interview process taking 39 days. Global consultancy and software firm ThoughtWorks and management consultancy Bain & Co. were rated No. 2 and No. 3. What’s more, the average length of all interviews has doubled to a total of 23 hours over the past five years, Glassdoor found.
But trivia questions, problem-solving and brain-teasers — just some of the tasks cited in Glassdoor’s report — are the least of some interviewees’ worries, according to Piera Palazzolo, senior vice president for marketing at Dale Carnegie Training. The post-interview stories are becoming increasingly bizarre, she says. “People can be asked to sing a jingle,” she says. Her advice to job seekers in 2014: “Have one ready that’s relevant to your industry. It shows that you’ve done your homework and react well under pressure.”
Computer puzzles that pose ethical questions and video games are another growing area, says Dan Schawbel, author of “Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success” and founder of Millennial Branding, a management and consulting firm. “Gamification is one of the biggest trends in recruiting right now,” he says. In fact, research firm Gartner predicts that 70% of the world’s top 1,000 companies will require candidates to complete at least one electronic game in their applications this year.
Unlike most games, these aren’t testing motor skills or reflexes. “We apply the most recent research in neuroscience,” says Bob Schafer, founder and CEO of Prophecy Sciences, a neuroscience and talent management company. “We assess how well you will fit into a role and team,” he says. He uses six neuroscience-based games that test traits like cognitive function, attention control, decision-making and memory by tracking and understanding a person’s behaviors, pulse and electro-dermal activity (sweat glands).
“The Ultimatum Game,” for instance, pits the candidate against a “virtual negotiation partner.” It assesses their negotiation, behavior and interaction style. A person’s heart rate variability — the changes that occur from beat to beat — is tracked to see how it changes when he or she is making decisions under pressure. “Higher heart rate variability indicates a more relaxed state of mind,” he says.