Narcissistic and sadistic investigators are more likely to ask puzzles

“Our research suggests that people who score high on measures of narcissism and sadism are more likely to choose to use these types of questions. The common factor here is a general lack of empathy.

“Narcissist, sadistic, socially inept”

This finding is based on a 2018 study co-authored by Professor Highhouse that looked at the types of people who liked to ask job candidates brain teasers. The study builds on previous research that found that puzzles produced anxiety in test takers and were often used to test a test taker’s ability to handle stress.

The study, Dark motives and optional use of puzzle interview questions, asked 736 employed adults to select their preferred options from a list of traditional interview questions (“Are you a good listener?”), behavioral (“Tell me about a time you failed “) or puzzle (like McKinsey’s example). About half of the participants had conducted at least one job interview during their career.

The researchers then asked the participants to take personality tests and, after controlling for interview experience and gender, found that “narcissism and sadism were significant predictors of the perceived relevance of the questions. brain teaser”.

“People who would consider using brain teaser interview questions when hiring someone are more narcissistic, more sadistic, less socially competent, and more strongly believe in the power of intuition in the interview process. hiring,” the study showed.

Professor Highhouse and his fellow researchers have recommended that employers limit interviewers’ ability to use brain teasers.

“Based on the results presented here, it appears that insensitive interviewers who lack the ability to step back will be more likely to use inappropriate or offensive hiring tactics,” they said.

BCG and McKinsey deny using puzzles

BCG and McKinsey said they did not ask potential recruits for brain teasers during job interviews, spokespersons for the two companies said.

“We don’t use puzzles in our interview process. Our interviews contain case studies designed to see how candidates define and structure a problem, break it down into solvable parts, prioritize critical aspects, and then design analyzes to arrive at a solution,” the BCG spokesperson said.

“A question relating to the value of the ocean as a resource was posed as part of an interview case study based on a pro bono project that BCG undertook with WWF in 2015.

“We have shown that more than two-thirds of the ‘value’ of the ocean depends on maintaining ocean health and that the marine economy that sustains the world’s livelihoods is under threat. At the time of the study, the economic value of the ocean was over $24 trillion.

The McKinsey spokesperson said: ‘Puzzles and ‘weird’ personality questions are not part of our recruitment process for a number of reasons, primarily because they are not predictive.

McKinsey uses a type of puzzle, known as a guessing or “market sizing” question, designed to see the logic a candidate uses to come up with an answer. An example of this type of question is “How many golf balls can a Boeing 747 hold?” Research on puzzles by Professor Highhouse and his co-authors did not distinguish between standard puzzles and ‘market sizing’ questions.

“We ask for analytical estimates in areas where people wouldn’t necessarily have basic knowledge, so they can demonstrate problem-solving skills,” the McKinsey spokesperson said.

“Puzzles should not be used”

“We also ask a series of questions that draw on candidates’ previous experience, as well as case studies that reflect the types of problems clients ask us to solve. There is also a focus on understanding their broader leadership skills, which are an important complement to problem solving to impact our clients.

“Our goal is to give all candidates the best possible opportunity to demonstrate the skills and characteristics that bring them to McKinsey. For this reason, there is a range of information and resources on our website to guide them through the process.

Other experts agreed that brain teasers should not be used because they confuse applicants and reveal no useful job-related information.

Consultant Peter Klugsberger, who has worked at consultancies McKinsey and Partners in Performance, said BCG’s sample question on the value of the ocean is upsetting to the candidate and provides no useful information to the candidate. interviewer.

“That question [about the ocean’s value] is more a matter of personality. This is called the “airport test” in council. “Am I ready to sit with this person in the living room for the next four hours?” said Mr. Klugsberger.

“Why I really don’t like these types of questions is that it puts people in a very negative emotional state because the expectation is that when they go to that interview they’ll get a rational question. based on data, not on each other.

“So they will feel unprepared. Their emotions will go on a roller coaster and they will feel stressed. It’s unintentional and their cognitive function will decline, and they’ll be more likely to fail the interview.

It’s unclear what information the puzzle questions were trying to uncover about a candidate, said Margot Faraci, chief executive of executive search firm Derwent.

Derwent Search managing director Margot Faraci says brain teasers don’t get useful information out of a candidate. Louise Kennerley

“I look at these questions and wonder what they are actually testing. I was asked these kinds of questions when I was more of a junior and I wasn’t sure what they were really asking me.

“So there could be a real power asymmetry at work here if you like asking puzzles,” Ms Faraci said.

“We are focused on recruiting the C-suite, so we don’t use puzzles. We are dealing with highly specialized and very experienced executives and we want to test their executive presence. It is to see if they can respond with credibility and seriousness. The further you go on the leadership journey, it all becomes a matter of judgment. Puzzles won’t test any of that.

Estimates, “market sizing”

Klugsberger, who consults on organizational change and development and building high-performing teams, also opposes the use of “market sizing” questions.

“The question of ‘market sizing’ tries to get an idea of ​​an approximation of the size of a thing. For example, “how do I know how many petrol stations there are in Sydney?”. Investigators want to see if you can think in a structured way and really be able to identify the relevant categories that need to be in play with this question,” he said.

“The idea is to show if you know the relevant data points that you would need to answer the question. Would you be able to find your way around them? I’m not a fan of them because my point of view is everything what i can google shouldn’t be asked during an interview.

Another example of these types of approximate questions was provided to Financial analysis following a request on the professional networking site LinkedIn.

One candidate for a financial modeler position at PwC was asked “How many planes are flying over Australia at the moment?”, and another person replied that he had been asked: “How many cars are crossing the Sydney Harbor every day? during an interview with Deutsche Bank.

PwC and Deutsche Bank declined to comment on their use of proxy questions.

As for the aspiring consultant, he has now moved on from his confusing experience to the BCG interviews. He said his answer to the question about the value of the ocean was that the ocean is priceless, which he tried to back up with anecdotal evidence.

Although he did not receive a job offer from BCG, he has now accepted a graduate position at a major bank.

Types of interview questions

  • Behavioral: A question about how the candidate has behaved in a specific situation in the past. It is based on the idea that past behavior is a good indication of future behavior. Example: “Tell me about a time you failed”
  • Puzzle: a question whose answer cannot be calculated. There is no peer review evidence that puzzles are useful for screening employees. Examples: “If you could put a price on the ocean, what would it be?” (BCG), “How would you determine the weight of a commercial airplane without a scale?” (McKinsey)
  • Case Study: Candidates are asked to describe how they would solve a fictional client project. Interviewers want to know the logic and calculations the candidate is using to make their recommendations. Used primarily by consulting firms.
  • Market estimation/sizing: A type of puzzle question where the interviewer is interested in the logic and structure used to find an answer rather than the specific answer. Used by consulting firms and investment banks. Examples: “How many planes are flying over Australia at the moment?” (PwC) and “How many cars cross the Sydney Harbor Bridge daily?” (German Bank)
  • Quirky Personality: A question designed to uncover information about a candidate while signaling that the organization has a “playful” culture. Researchers doubt that these types of questions reveal useful information about a candidate. Examples: “What animal are you?” (CBA) and “If someone gave you a brick, what’s the first thing you would think of doing with it?” (Investment bank)
  • Traditional: Designed to find out why the candidate wants the job and if they would be a good fit for the job. Examples: “Why do you want to work here?”, “Why should we hire you?” and “Are you a good listener?”

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