Being a bit random

When I’m interviewing people for senior posts I like to throw in a question that has nothing to do with anything, and also doesn’t have a definite answer.

A few months back my boss was telling me about writing some interview questions for a senior post within her team, so I suggested that she asked the question “how many jelly beans can you fit in a suitcase”?. The question has no answer because there are too many variables. How big is the suitcase? What type and size of jelly bean? What is the suitcase made of, soft or hard? Are the jelly beans in packets or loose? Can you squish them to get rid of the air spaces between them? And so on.

Essentially the question is to throw the interviewee off guard, to wake them up from the serious questions, and to get them to vocalise how they might approach a problem and how they might handle being thrown a curve ball.

I’m assisting with some interviews next week for a senior role in another service. The person I’m on the panel with was the successful candidate of the jelly bean interview. Again I’ve suggested a random question. Too many people have heard about the jelly bean one so we have a different one in mind. I’m confident none of the candidates read this blog, so I’m not going to be letting g the cat out of the bag. We’ve decided to ask the question “how many balls can you fit in this room?”. It has the same effect on the candidate, they won’t be expecting it, there are too many variables like size of ball, whether the furniture could be removed, could the balls be deflated, etc.

The trick then is to place the question somewhere in the middle of the interview. They won’t be expecting it, but afterwards they might be cautious that there’ll be another random question. It helps to identify their ability to think on their feet and to cope with the unexpected. It’ll be an interesting insight to their personality.


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