Please Stop Using Stupid Puzzles in Job Interviews | Hacker Noon


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At a job interview, how many times have puzzles pestered you?

Rather than focusing on your core skill, your interviewer might ask you to solve those irrelevant puzzles for adults. Alas! 

That ridiculous puzzle, an unacceptable part of job interview questions, is going to determine your future. It might be a deal maker or a breaker when they become common interview questions.

Imagine attending an interview for the position of Data Scientist.

Here goes the question thrown upon you by the "panel":

“Sam’s uncle’s mother’s brother’s sister’s daughter’s grandfather’s name is John. How are Sam and John related?”

Wouldn’t you be muddled on how this particular question can undermine your chances of working for that reputed MNC?

What about your certificates, courses, and hackathons for which you have meticulously burnt your midnight oil?  

Many companies have been using puzzles for adults in the tech sector. Be it lateral-thinking questions or riddles, we still don’t have any clarity on how this long-time practice can help an HR professional pick out the right candidate and what questions to ask in an interview.

The idea of leveraging a puzzle for job interview questions

Many businesses are of the idea that puzzles are a reflection of software development tasks. While solving a bug, it might resemble a riddle or a puzzle. True, the proven myth is that people identifying patterns can solve more bugs faster and vice versa. 

But that needn’t be the case always. The false positives, where the coder wouldn’t be in a position to solve a puzzle, might not be good at his job. 

The false negative, which is a smaller problem, might involve excellent debuggers who think it’s not their duty to solve the math problem. There would be instances where the puzzle solver might be a bit smarter than the asker. They could provide a better answer than what the asker had in mind, which might be mistaken as a wrong answer. 

In such cases, the organization might be missing out on gems while looking for pebbles if they make puzzles and brain teasers as one of the common interview questions.

Why aren’t puzzles a great idea?

Many Fortune 500 companies are notorious for their way of filtering interview candidates. From scrutinizing candidates with brain teasers to dwindling their patience with logical questions, they have successfully missed out on many candidates who could have been the best fit ever.

For at least two decades, companies have pampered an impression that candidates solving puzzles under stressful conditions would be better in comparison with those who fail to do that. That is nothing less than lore.

According to HBR, puzzle interviews aren’t preferred by many cognitive scientists and psychologists. With conventional job interviews, the applicants can straight away jump onto goals and achievements. The chances are high that candidates can exploit the chances of HR by providing fake information about themselves. 

There were times when HR professionals asked questions about the worst technical fault of a candidate. Can they expect nothing but the truth from the employee while looking for an answer to these questions? That’s up to to the knowledge of the almighty.

Uncovering the bottom layer

An HR professional would form a first impression of a candidate within 6 minutes and 25 seconds, as per Monster

But is that all? Is that candidate who failed to give a firm handshake or who didn’t pass the brainteaser session a rookie? Not at all. Situational and immersive interviews can tell a different story for these same candidates.

What’s that? 

It could be a scenario where an employee might be asked about their real-time job atmosphere and how they would solve a particular work-related problem. Sounds sensible, right?

73% of HR professionals use behavioral interviews. (LinkedIn)

We are hiring humans, not robots

The problem is, the candidates taking up puzzle interviews are humans. Who cannot deny the effects posed by a bad hair day? An early flight, alien atmosphere, fatigue, or an uncomfortable experience at the reception can ruin the day for even a tech genius. 

In that case, companies cannot risk losing them just because they could not answer a puzzle question on trigonometry or Algebra.

We shouldn’t forget that hiring the right candidate would demand craft, experience, money, and time. A wrong decision in hiring can prove to be a costly affair for the organization. The average cost of one bad hire is nearly $15,000!

Not all candidates who solve puzzles can be ethically strong. Working as a team is more than being intellectually capable. Hence companies should look for ways to hire candidates good enough to collaborate with your team, listen to constructive criticism earnestly, and support the team at challenging times.

According to Mauro Morelli on applying Bayes theorem, a renowned enterprise architect, the probability that a particular candidate with a high-profile resume and work experience would fail to be the best fit after flunking the puzzle interview is just a mere 5%.

Chunk out those mind-boggling puzzles

There is a phenomenon called thin-slice judgment where we form an opinion on someone with frivolously limited information. Many HR teams fall prey to this ideology. Instead of focusing on the short-term achievements (those 30-minutes of their interview performance), start looking at the bigger picture. Think about what long-term value they can offer to your business. 

Every candidate has a story to tell. You are just viewing the cover when you ask them to solve the puzzles, not the actual book. And we know what the adage says!

It’s partially true that puzzles are going to blurt out problem-solving ability in new-gen candidates who might just have limited work experience. But it’s only one side of the fence. A few companies skip puzzles for senior management positions. That wouldn’t do complete justice when the candidate with 8+ years of experience is technically stronger than a candidate with 2+ years of experience.

Your questions should challenge the first impression. Delve deeper into their previous projects. Ask how they would go about solving a particular business challenge. It is always advisable to avoid questions that possess plenty of right answers. 

Not all candidates would possess the same values or thought process. Hence avoid them. They are not the right questions to ask in an interview. Form better phone interview questions. Talk to them elaborately before judging their ability or asking them to appear in person.

To sum it up

You might still argue that puzzles can reveal a lot about a candidate. The undeniable truth is that they can only show a handful of information. There should be a lot of other criteria to choose the candidate who fits. Only when they are implemented would the company choose the right candidate rather than wasting their money and time on a bad fit.

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