Next up in my end-of-2011 article catch-up is a Wall Street Journal piece on the growing trend by companies to ask off-beat questions in their interviews of prospective employees. Pioneered by Google, these include questions like:
You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender. Your mass is reduced so that your density is the same as usual. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?The reasoning behind such questions, explains reporter William Poundstone, is:
Design an evacuation plan for San Francisco.
Use a programming language to describe a chicken.
What is the most beautiful equation you have ever seen? Explain.
that Google isn't looking for the smartest, or even the most technically capable, candidates. Google is looking for the candidates who will best fit Google.Eerily reminiscent of the open-ended "creative" questions on the Aurora Battery, a giftedness-screening test that Robert Sternberg has proposed as a replacement for the traditional IQ test, and on the college entrance exam that Mr. Sternberg has designed as a replacement for the SATs, such questions presume that the best way to measure people's creativity is to gauge their spontaneous responses to off-beat, open-ended questions. As Poundstone notes:
By design, none of these questions has a right answer. This has led to intense speculation and even paranoia among Google job candidates. It's also led to other companies adopting Google-esque questions without having any idea what constitutes a good answer.Copy-cat questions from AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and Bank of America (respectively) include:
"If you could be any superhero, who would it be?"Unfortunately, there's no more evidence that this kind of question actually does measure creativity--especially of the sort that's relevant to the given workplace--than there is evidence that the ability to write spontaneously from an off-beat prompt measures the kind of creativity it takes to be a good creative writer. The main effect of such questions may instead be to screen out the many left-brainers who clam up when asked for their spontaneous responses but who may be extraordinarily creative when it comes to search engine optimization, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, and investment banking.
"What color best represents your personality?"
"What animal are you?"