How to spot a sadist interviewer

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Recently I wrote an article called “There is no such thing as a stupid question”

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This was based on a saying from a trainer I had when I first joined Medtronic many years ago, and in essence it means that when you are training or leading you should create a culture where people do not feel inhibited to ask any type of question that might improve their knowledge. Gaps in knowledge can be dangerous and so individuals should be confident they can fix those gaps without having opprobrium pored upon them by their trainer or manager.

Like with everything, there are exceptions to this useful rule. The biggest exception is interviewing. In this I am not referring to the interviewee, I am referring to the interviewer.

Yesterday I read a great article in The Times (the London one). It was entitled “Interview brainteasers are a sign of a sadistic boss”

Examples included “How much does an aeroplane weigh?”, Why are tennis balls fuzzy and ”Explain a chair to an alien”! The Times article reported on a study done for the journal Applied Psychology Today where 700 adults were asked interview questions and asked how appropriate they thought the questions were if used in an interview context.

They also had to fill in a personality survey. The researchers were looking for individuals with what are known as “dark personality traits”, such as narcissism and sadism. Such people would respond positively to such questions that included “I have humiliated others to keep them in line” and (really worryingly!), “People would enjoy hurting others if only they would give it a try” .

The researchers found that those people that thought “brainteaser” questions were appropriate strongly correlated with sadistic and/or narcissistic traits. Sadly, for those of us that are men, most of these individuals were male. The conclusion was that interviewers using such “questions” are not using them to gain further insight on the suitability of the applicant, but as a way for the interviewer to “maintain their inflated sense of self”.

The important message from all this is that if you want to attract the very best people it really is not a good thing to make them think you are a jerk. Aggressive or “smart-Alec” interviewing may well be a turnoff to the very people you want to hire. On top of this we now know that the people that ask these questions are likely to be seen as narcissists or sadists, which is not a great image for a hiring company’s employer brand!

The conclusion I drew that was not in the article, though, was that if these questions are favoured by people with dark personality traits then those that answer them best are likely to share those traits! All very well if you like hiring psychos I guess, but for those of us that like to hire high performance talent with an ability to work in a team, that is a personality profile you can well do without!

Have you been asked “brainteaser” questions at interview? Let me know any examples. The greater the cringe the better!

If you are interested in finding out ways to attract high-performance talent book your free consultation with me

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