Extreme Interviewing: sounds like fun!

I’ve just got wind of the latest fad in the recruitment industry.  You’ve probably been doing it for months already.  It’s called Extreme Interviewing, and apparently it’s the latest thing.  The idea is you ask candidates weird questions to put them under pressure and see how creative they can be in the moment.   Of course a wacky idea like this had to come from the likes of Apple and Google, but it’s now catching on in more, shall  we say, “conservative” corporate environments.

I love the idea.  They’ve been using it for a while in those terrifying interviews the last few surviving candidates on The Apprentice have to go through.  I remember so well the choleric Claude Littner (who puts the fear of God into me) putting a candidate through this:

Claude:  “It says here that one of your key strengths is your ability to build relationships with people.”

Candidate:  “Yes, that’s right.”

Claude:  “Well, you’re not building a very good relationship with me, are you?”

On another memorable occasion he told candidate Stuart Baggs, who had the audacity to claim he was a big fish in a small pond:

“You’re not a big fish.  You’re NOT a big fish.  You’re not even a fish.” 

Oustanding.  If you missed this hair-raising moment, take a quick look here.

According to the Daily Mail, the most popular  Extreme question is “What kind of dinosaur are you?”  Apparently “Tyrannosaurus Rex” is not a good answer.  On the one hand, since this is the most common dinosaur, you might be thought unimaginative (even though it may just mean you don’t know many dinosaurs). On the other, the answer might be interpreted to mean that you’re a bully and a predator.

I’m grateful to Heidi Nicholson from Richmond Solutions for supplying these other popular questions (I’ve supplied my answers in brackets):

  • If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it? (Feed them from tubes suspended 8 feet off the ground)
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you? (pi r squared)
  • What is your favourite TV commercial? (The one that never got past the cutting room floor)
  • What do you think of garden gnomes? (They need to get a life)
  • Name me three Lady Gaga songs? (I refuse to on principle.  Deal with it)
  • With a four-minute hourglass and a seven-minute hourglass, how can you measure exactly nine minutes – without taking longer than nine minutes? (Stupid question:  if you want me to measure exactly nine minutes, I clearly can’t take longer than nine minutes.)

What are your answers?

Now I’m wondering my Extreme questions would be.  I could spend all day on this, but maybe I’ll share the first three that come to mind:

  • What are the three best things about wasps?
  • Make a case for banning facial hair.
  • Explain the colour Red to someone who was born blind.

How would you feel about being asked questions like this?  I actually think I would enjoy it:  it would make the interview more creative and as there are no right or wrong answers I could let the creative bit of my brain out to play.  I suspect how you respond to the questions like these is a function of your own personality, and others would find them much harder to deal with.  Hence why, in fact, it may be a very sensible technique to use in an interview.  Why wouldn’t we want to examine how well developed the creativity muscle is as well as probing for more logical data?

Do please let me have your top 3 Extreme Questions.  I want to get Claude to try them out on the next Apprentice!

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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11 Responses to Extreme Interviewing: sounds like fun!

  1. Pourquoi tant de fautes d’orthographe dans un article sur ….l’académie française ? Subversion subtile, jalousie, ou bien défaillance du correcteur othographique (homme ou logiciel). A corriger!


  2. Pingback: Extreme Interviewing: The Apprentice shows us how! | Real Learning, for a Change

  3. davidparksn says:

    Extreme questions have their advocates – but if they are too clever – I’m not sure you learn much – especially if your confident candidate (like MB) refuse to actually engage with the question being asked.
    So I favour the “less-extreme” questions – along the lines of:
    When did you last wear odd socks and why?
    If we supplied you with the resources – what kind of new head wear would you design?
    How might you describe the term “holiday” in its widest sense?


    • Hi David
      Yes, I can see that working. I guess I like the idea of the more extreme version because it is more playful, and I think is a good test of the assertiveness of the candidate. And for those for whom it is too much because their brain just doesn’t work like that, an intelligent interviewer would take that into account.

      Do you think there might be a Myers Briggs thing here? Extreme Questions are more OK for NP’s than they are for SJ’s, for instance?


  4. Hmmmmm. I’m on the fence on this one. I think there is a line here. Some respond well under pressure. Other high potential talent needs time to digest, create, think – – and their work product is equally strong. Turning on heat lamps and water boarding doesn’t necessarily lead you to best talent. :). Great post…thought provoking.


    • Hi David
      I get your point, and have to agree. Thoughtfulness, and those that like the considered response, are certainly attractive and important qualities. I suppose I am curious as to whether the Extreme technique is a useful approach per se, ie witness the response yourself in the candidate, as opposed to asking them to tell you about it. Maybe there could be some Extreme techniques you could use to get evidence in the interview of thoughtfulness?

      I think the idea of interviewing so that you actually witness the real thing during the interview is an interesting one. Normally it’s kept until the assessment centre or whatever: doing it in the interview might be a good approach – help identify what you’re looking for earlier?

      Thanks for adding to the conversation.


  5. Oops just realised my typing took a Freudian turn there I meant If not Id!


  6. Not sure if this is an urban myth but the most famous Uni entrance interview extreme question was supposed to be “Is this a question?” to which the successful applicant apparently replied “Id this is an answer”.


    • Hour glass question……turn both over. 4 mins and 7 mins running…after 4 mins turn it over and 3/7 left in the other….after 7 mins there will be 1/4 left. START THE CLOCK!……1 min…..then turn over for 4 mins = 5…….turn over again and when empty = 9 mins. It appears our brains are wired completely differently Mr. B.


      • Thanks for this, Andy. Do you know what, despite your explanation I still can’t see how it would work, (my fault, not yours!). So my instinct is still to bat the question away!
        Do you think you could have come up with your explanation on the hoof, in the heat of the moment?


    • Hi Mary-Louise
      Yes, I remember that one. What a brilliant answer!!


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