When a job interviewer asks you to how to get a hippo stuck in a hole out, this curveball question is meant to throw you off your game. The goal, interviewers who love brain teasers say, is to get authentic, creative answers. But their disorienting questions also could say more about the interviewer than they say about you.
When you take pleasure out of watching job candidates stumble over words to answer an irrelevant question to the role being offered, you may reveal your sadistic character. A new study in the journal Applied Psychology found that people who prefer using brainteasers in job interviews were also more likely to exhibit the “dark traits” of sadism, narcissism, and were less socially competent overall.
Brain teasers could indicate that your future boss is a sadist
In the study, psychology professor Scott Highhouse and his colleagues showed 736 people a list of job interview questions. Some were traditional questions like “What do you look for in a job?” But others were brain teasers that were purposefully out of left field. They included questions found on career websites like Glassdoor such as: “Estimate how many windows are in New York,” “What is your favorite song? Perform it for us now,” and “If you could be any animal on a carousel, what would you pick and why?”
These questions put the spotlight on the candidate, pressuring them to perform activities outside of regular job requirements for office jobs. Participants who thought that these brain teasers were appropriate and useful for choosing a candidate tended to “lack perspective taking ability” that these questions could be offensive or inappropriate, the study concluded. The researchers suggested that organizations should limit their use and train managers to stay on topic with job interviews.
Brainteaser questions ultimately may reveal more about what is going on in the hiring manager’s brain more than the job candidate’s. One former Google human resources executive found that they had no value in hiring. “On the hiring side, we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time. How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane? How many gas stations in Manhattan? A complete waste of time. ” Laszlo Bock, the former senior vice president of people operations at Google, said in 2013. “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”
Next time, a job interviewer asks you to perform karaoke on the spot, consider if you really want to work for a manager that enjoys watching you squirm in discomfort.