Oddball interview questions are signs of desperation
BUSINESS LIFE:WHEN LARRY Page interviews people for jobs at Google, he gets so bored listening to their pat responses that he orders them to teach him something he doesn’t know.
I learnt this a few days ago at the Hay Festival in Segovia when a panel of famous writers was asked the same thing. Great question, I thought, but then started to fret: if I found myself interviewed by Mr Page, what on earth would I say?
After much rummaging I came up with two things I know and he probably doesn’t. The first is the best way of killing Japanese knotweed: you cut the plant near the ground and inject glyphosate into the hollow stem using a turkey baster.
The second is the ideal mix of animal hair used in traditional upholstery – 80 per cent pig, 20 per cent cattle. I could discourse at length on either but would he be impressed? I have a nasty feeling he might not be.
The panel of writers didn’t fare much better, though one did say that if a puppy is born not breathing, you should put it in a towel and sling it around as if drying a lettuce so that whatever was blocking its lungs would come flying out.
After everyone else had had their go, the last author – whose work is the strangest and most original of the lot – sighed and said he didn’t know anything that other people didn’t know, and that whatever he used to know, he’d forgotten.
Listening to this, I changed my mind. Mr Page’s question isn’t great at all. It is as hopeless as all the other things people ask applicants.
For the past 2,000 years and more, we have been interviewing people, but far from getting better at it, we’re getting worse.
The earliest example of the genre I can find is in the New Testament where Jesus, who at the time was recruiting for the position of disciple, kept the process short and snappy with a single question: “What do you seek?”
Modern interviewers make much heavier weather of it. In the past decade or so, everyone has become hooked on asking things like “tell me about the time you showed courage”. Or “tell me about a time you learnt from failure”.
The poor candidate has then to spit out a rehearsed, almost certainly fabricated answer, while the bored interviewer nods sagely, a process that is most unpleasant for both sides and leaves no one any the wiser.