Job interviews probe unlikely subjects

30-08-2005

In today's job market, polished shoes and a packed CV just don't seem to cut it anymore. Candidates are increasingly being asked to go that extra mile. One job seeker was told to talk to a teddy bear, while another was asked if he knew how it felt to kill a man.

So are companies becoming more wacky in their selection process, or are people so desperate to get a job that they will do whatever it takes?

"The labour market is getting tighter," said Mat Jackson, operations manager for London at recruitment firm Manpower. "While the average job interview probably retains the same format it did two decades ago, there are strange stories.

"There are lots of reasons for interviewers to ask a weird question - to see how fast a candidate can think on their feet, to gain insight into their personality, or to gain an idea of their thought processes."

Paper trail

One of the problems is that with more and more people passing A levels and going on to university it is becoming harder for firms to sift through the large number of well-qualified applicants.

Manpower found that 54% of graduate jobseekers were still looking for their first job 12 months after leaving university.

In some industries the competition already is intense and the problem is being exacerbated further by a significant number of people coming in from abroad.

Peter Gerrard is managing director of the retail division at recruiter Michael Page and has seen the volume of candidates applying for jobs grow dramatically in past years.

Mr Gerrard identified the internet as one of the main reasons behind the surge.

"People are more aware of what opportunities are available," he told BBC News, adding that it is just as easy to apply for 10 jobs online as it was for one.

'Dead from the start'

Goldman Sachs is one of the world's largest investment banks and spends heavily on its hiring programmes.

"If you are not recruiting the right people then you are dead from the start," Calum Forrest, Goldman's head of European Recruitment told BBC News.

Goldman prefers a practical rather than off-the-wall approach and splits its recruitment process into two stages.

The first involves an interview and a specially written test that probes a candidate's verbal reasoning and analytical skills.

The second has the successful applicants working within departments and sitting up to five further interviews.

While Goldman wants the process to be as realistic as possible, each company will have a different set of requirements often reflecting the views of the people heading the firm, Mr Forrest explained.

Uphill struggle

So, if you are applying for a firm with an offbeat reputation in a buzzing industry there is a greater chance that you will find yourself in an unexpected situation.

Just ask the candidates at a Japanese internet company who were marched up Mount Fuji for an interview at the summit last week.

Instead of being fazed, you should use the bizarre as an opportunity to shine, Manpower's Mr Jackson said.

"Show you're articulate, demonstrate you have outside interests and additional strings to your bow, and generally show off your people skills - all of which are sought after skills across most sectors," he advised.

By Ben Richardson
BBC News business reporter
BBC News

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