CBS MoneyWatch just came out with the “25 Weirdest Job Interview Questions of 2012.” Some of these weird (and dumb) questions include: “How many cows are in Canada?” [asked at Google], “What songs best describes your work ethic?” [asked at Dell], and “What kitchen utensil would you be?” [asked at Bandwidth.com]. [See the entire list here].

While the questions are amusing, they point to a bigger problem with hiring interviews and the hiring process. Good hiring procedures should be designed to determine if an applicant has the knowledge, skills, abilities, and other relevant characteristics (HR people call these the KSAOs) to perform the job. All of the methods used in hiring and selection should be sound, and these sorts of weird questions are indicative of bad hiring. Here’s why:

Although many of these interviewers will assert that these weird questions get at the candidate’s “personality,” “motivation” or “interpersonal style,” there is no scientific evidence that supports this. Good hiring is a science, not an art. Although interviewers may believe that their experience allows them to assess candidates accurately through these weird questions, there is no evidence to support this. There are, however, sound, validated measures of personality and motivation that can be used in hiring to better outcomes.

Beyond these really bizarre questions, there are a number of interview questions that are commonly used, but may not accurately assess anything relevant. Take for example, questions that ask about preferences (“What is your favorite movie/book/car?”). While it might give some indication of the interviewee’s likes and dislikes, attitudes, opinions, these are not likely related to performance for most jobs.

Some of the weird questions seem like they might get at skills ("Estimate how many windows are in New York." [asked at Bain & Co.] or "How many quarters would you need to reach the height of the Empire State building?" [Asked at JetBlue for a pricing/revenue management analyst position]. However, if the interviewer doesn’t know the correct answer, what’s the point? If you want to assess skills in calculation, analytical reasoning, or some other relevant skill, use a test, not an interview.

Open-ended questions such as “Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?” or “Tell me about yourself?” aren’t effective because they lead to such a wide range of responses that it is difficult, if not impossible, to compare applicants, and there should be a “correct answer.” Moreover, social desirability comes into play, as the savvy interviewee will try to answer in a way that will impress the interviewer.

It has been estimated that poor hiring practices account for billions of dollars in lost productivity in the US each year. If you are hiring, do it right, using appropriate and valid hiring procedures.

Share some of the weird questions you’ve been asked on job interviews.

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