I was very pleased to receive one of this blog’s first printable comments on our Penguin/Sombrero piece last week.  It is always reassuring to know that there are real readers out there!   Previous comments have included one ferociously racist in nature and a series of gently commendatory remarks which turned out to be spam for a loans company.

Nick the Employment Lawyer says in his comment that he would advise clients against asking the sort of odd-ball interview question referred to in our post “because the answers do not appear to be reasonably related to any legitimate business objective”.  They represent “pop psychology” of possible value only to professionals in the field and but not to most employers.  Nick notes that per my post, the factually correct answer to the chicken question (“I don’t know”) may actually be disqualifying.

Up to a point, I fully agree with Nick, but not beyond that point.  The questions are pop psychology, but no more so than other tests of verbal or visual reasoning which employers sometimes impose.   This is not a case where fine degrees of difference in the answer will lead to different outcomes, for example, as in MBTI and other psychometric tests which do indeed need to be unravelled or interpreted by a specialist.  These are unquestionably much blunter instruments than those scientific approaches, but I do not see why, in roles where personality matters (or indeed in a law firm), there should not be some form of test of that personality.  You can know all the law in the world but if you cannot apply it practically, you freeze when faced with an unknown or you are simply too dull in your demeanour to be allowed to talk to clients, the job I was dealing with was not for you.  Ascertaining a candidate’s likely “fit” in that sense is in my view a legitimate business objective.  “Define chicken” is so far away from any sensible answers to that question that it does shed an instant and terminally unflattering light on that candidate.  On the other hand, no-one would suggest (I do not, at any rate) that millimetrically different approaches to having a proper go at actually working out the answer could or should be used as the determinant of interview success or failure.

That does not mean that you cannot obtain any useful insight into the candidate by going a little off-piste in your questions.  The key, as I said, is to make a note of what led you to that insight.   Without notes, Nick is right – you then have your selection decision hinging upon a superficially irrelevant question to which you cannot remember the answer or what it told you about your candidates, and that is indeed a recipe for disaster.

Thank you for dropping us a line, Nick.   I appreciate your time in doing so.