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Strip the tease artist!

THERE'S a new flavour in town now with the introduction of the new `Brainteaser' job interview. Suddenly more and more organisations want to see whether candidates can think their way into jobs that are on offer. The reason? Fitment is better if the candidate can `think' his way into the job rather than struggle to catch up with what is happening.

The Who

All the giants of international Industry like Hewlett Packard, McKinsey and Microsoft have discovered that the brainteaser interview is what the doctor ordered for their recruiting needs and at home, C&K Management ltd who pioneered this kind of interview three years ago have discovered that it actually works. And how satisfied are they with the results now that they have had their recruits on for the last three years?

"It's uncanny how well all those recruited through these teaser tests have done! They integrated almost at once, hitting the ground running as it were and were on the job being productive within the first week, even before the induction was over!" enthused Kamalakar Rao Sachin, manager, Content Services. In fact, so successful has this been that such interviews are being conducted for several Indian and foreign clients of TMI Network, one of the country's top recruiters. "In every case," says T.Sreedhar, Managing Director, "We have seen the highest level of comfort between the client and the candidate. We have seen applicants for low-level jobs being employed by top management as executive assistants at the management level just because they fit the bill so well as their performance in the teaser tests was so good."

The What

It's all about recruiters `choosing for chutzpah'. The domain knowledge of a candidate is discovered through traditional means and is generally the reason why they are escalated to the next level of recruitment.

Neither the expertise nor the attitude is in question here, what companies want to know at this stage is how good the candidate will be in dealing with day-to-day problems. The idea is to find out how the candidate performs and thinks under stress. Such strategies are important, as the environment today is demanding and stressful almost all the time. No two problems are alike and this uniqueness demands great coping ability.

Nothing demonstrates coping ability better than brainteasers. The idea is that such teasers show how quickly a problem is analysed and innovative remedies acted upon. What teaser tests reveal is the ability of the tested to move forward and push their teammates over their traditional boundaries.

Not everybody is convinced that teaser testing is HR's answer to hiring right. Some still cling to idea that its some kind of a gimmick that may not reveal the desired characteristics, and may actually disqualify otherwise suitable applicants. But then even insisting on basic degrees and diplomas could do this!

Nevertheless, many vibrant recruiters seem to find better acceptance with the `in-your-face' kind of interview! There is no doubt that this kind of questioning can help gauge an applicant's level of resourcefulness, creativity, enthusiasm and intelligence. The best of hiring practices sifts smart applicants with impressive credentials.

However the brainteaser interview allows recruiters to go a step further. It helps select, from a smart lot, applicants who exhibit a keenness for new challenges, do not shirk from difficult problems and showcase their brainpower with an attitude. Microsoft's low turnover and applicant selectivity are any recruiter's envy.

How often have we heard the `in-the-old-rut' puzzle. "Please sell this pen to me. Tell me about its design excellence, features, benefits and values." This is a favourite to select the best salesmen and the desired response to this question must begin with the applicant asking the `customer' a question or two about his requirement. This shows the applicant's eagerness to relate to a customer's need.

When the applicant attempts to sell the pen the recruiter tests far more than just his promotional ability. An applicant with good imagination and `reconceptualisation' skills can conjure up new uses of the pen in order to sell it. The goal of performance puzzles is to test an applicant's logic and problem solving skills while he is actually performing a given task.

Teasers with solutions

It does sound funny when a senior executive asks an applicant for the post of a Managing Director this question: "There are two men who want to balance on a see-saw. The first man weighs 150 kilos. The second man weighs 175 kilos. How do they have to arrange themselves to balance?" The answer is, "At a minimum." An applicant who gets through is one who can communicate, that to maintain a balance the heavier man must sit closer to the pivot.

An applicant who can draw the configuration is one with a keen sense of conceptualising images, which is a key asset for designers.

Puzzles with solutions aim to test an applicant's `logical' aptitude, awareness of the physical world and ability to communicate.

Puzzles without solutions

Riddles and puzzles without answers or with incorrect answers are designed to test the applicants' ability to think differently. They are good at gauging applicants' estimation skills. A good number of candidates are stumped by the question, "How many petrol bunks are there in India?" Nevertheless, a clever applicant wriggled out rather successfully by saying, "Let's see... on my way to the interview I passed four bunks, that makes it four for every ten kilometres... "

The applicant's reasoning skill allowed her to move from the specific to the general. By asking puzzles without answers the recruiter is only interested in the applicants' ability to reframe and comprehend the question and find a rational although incorrect solution. Another favourite amongst recruiters is, "How would you weigh a Boeing 747 without scales?"

A suitably impressive response is to ask which 747 model it was. This would disconcert the questioner, however if an answer is made, it is not difficult to know that the 747-400 weighs 7.5 tonnes fully loaded.

Or, one can load the aircraft onto a large ship and mark the water line at the hull. Once the aircraft is removed the ship naturally rises.Now start filing the ship with commodities of known weight till it dips to the marked point. The weight of the aircraft equals the weight of the commodities. The first is a factual common sense answer the second an innovative one! A win-win situation in either case!

Deconstruction teasers

Deconstruction puzzles test applicants' inductive (from the general to the specific) skills. The main idea of deconstruction puzzles is to see whether an applicant, given details visualises a `bigger picture'.

For instance, "Here's a saltshaker. How would you test it?" An applicant impresses a recruiter when he moves from the general to the specific by answering a few logical questions, "Does the shaker really contain salt?" "Is the top secure?" "Is the hole sufficient enough to allow free flow of salt?"

By answering these questions an applicant deconstructs and solves the puzzle.

The idea of asking applicants to solve puzzles and riddles might still sound bizarre to some recruiters.

However, with an increasing number of organisations gunning for applicants with `pluck' and `the attitude' it would be hard to dismiss the brainteaser interview.


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