"Tell me about a time when..."
Competency-based interviews (CBIs) were born out of the best of intentions. Their original brief was to make job interviews fair. They sought to banish forever the days when candidates were chosen from an old boys' network of those with the correct school tie or the right sort of handshake. Competency-based interviews pick the best candidate based on measurable, standardised criteria. Results are just maths. Right?
"Humanity is something to be overcome."
Well, not so much. An underlying assumption of CBIs is that high recruiter discretion is an undesirable quality. This human element is a problem that organisations must expunge from their initial contact with candidates. But aren't the interviewers and the interviewee, not to mention those who designed the interview questions and marking system, still human, all too human? Isn't the whole interview process, from beginning to end, shot through with humanity?
It's strange that companies are so keen to deny this personal touch with potential candidates when they wish to attract those who have it. There's little recognition in CBIs and similar interview methods that twenty-first century work skills are almost exactly the opposite of those that these sorts of interview require. How do CBIs in any way test for innovation, creativity, empathy, or initiative? Don't expect superhuman hires if you test for robots.
"Eight times eight is sixty-four..."
But the irony doesn't end there. Or, rather, it doesn't start there. It starts in school, where the old teaching methods of rote learning are for the most part obsolete. But those skills - the ability to anticipate stock questions and regurgitate memorised answers - are exactly what CBIs demand for success. As school exams move one way, work exams remain stuck in a sort of '70s time warp.
Competency-based interviews produce people who are skilled at sitting competency-based interviews, not people have shown themselves ready for the world of work, or a place in your team. These interview processes are a weird end in themselves, not the start of a journey. Never mind that, it's not even the start of a conversation. Personality is proscribed on both sides! And a robotic tone is set for the rest of the employer-employee relationship.
"Is this a question?"
So, what's the alternative? Those Oxford University admission type interviews where they expect you to improv around a question like, "What thirteen things can you do with half a brick?" No. A job interview is the beginning of a relationship, so an interviewer needs a way to find out as much about you in as short a time as possible. Your education and experience is captured in your CV. But what about personality, attitude and temperament?
Some talk of character interviews and values-based recruitment (VBR). But these, too, can suffer from our tendency to provide socially acceptable rather honest answers. There is an ancient, more accurate way to test for required qualities, and it's making a comeback. The ancient philosopher Plato (allegedly) said, "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." Different recruitment agencies and forward-looking companies are using technology to developing playful interview methods and so prevent serious hiring mistakes.
"If you would read a man's Disposition, see him Game."
So how specifically can we use playful tech to provide a more authentic and informative interview experience? Here are four suggestions.
Storytelling. There's lots of advice online about how to use storytelling to impress a hiring manager. But there's little on companies explicitly using this as a hiring technique. Some are employing biographically based interviews and presentations to make the storytelling element explicit. Others realise the need for them to tell their own transmedia stories if they want to attract the best talent.
Problem solving. Dyson don't do application forms. Instead, they ask potential candidates to solve a series of cryptic puzzles on the internet, beginning with their own website. Google uses what can only be described as riddles to sift their candidates for problem-solving abilities. Such a blend of analytic and creative intelligence can't be copied, practised by rote or reproduced on demand. Yet it is easily measurable: you either get it or you don't.
Role-playing. Role-playing is a standard trope of interview lore, although it's rarely enacted in an imaginative or realistic way. Work simulations offer a hi-tech twist to this tired hiring tool. The claim is that they reveal greater insights into a candidate's character and on-the-job potential that other methods. Unlike the amateur thespian feel of their ancestors, these role-play simulations make full use of virtual environments and video analysis to detect hard-to-spot traits.
Video gaming. ConnectCube uses memory games, rapid-fire quizzes, and special reasoning tests to improve the quality of new hires. Knack is a "talent platform" that designs games to test the personality and aptitudes of job candidates. It works by analysing not only how well you play, but also - more importantly - how you play. These games can amass massive amounts of data based on variables such as your hesitation time and screen control.
A more playful - and therefore a more creative and cohesive - workplace begins at the first point of face-to-face contact: the interview. 'High tech, high touch' should be your mantra here too. Otherwise, your organisation will continue to find itself getting played when it comes to hiring the best.