Some Application Questions Explained

Customers, especially those who have been involved in hiring, have asked how we use our application questions to assess candidates.  Below are explanations of select questions.

As mentioned in another post, we don’t have a “cut-off point.”  We use these questions to get to know candidates better and to let them know about our work culture.  Ultimately, we’re more concerned about our ability to develop a candidate, regardless of his ability, knowledge, and attitude.  The most difficult obstacle to overcome has been inflated self-esteem, which from our experience is correlated with low self-confidence.  (Poor motor skills is second most common obstacle).

We ignore applicants who think we ask these questions simply to be funny and thus respond with trite jokes (we’ve already received some bad ones).  These are serious questions and we expect applicants to treat them as such.

Note: all questions are original and I’m not a psychologist. So it’s not a certified psychological assessment tool.

July, Mount Baker.  You arrive at a cabin.  In the fridge there’s a whole chicken (gizzards, feet, neck included), 5 eggs and 2 cups of flour.  There’s also a blender, a fork, a spatula, a pan, a water source, a crockpot, electricity, and a charcoal grill.  You decide to make fried scrambled eggs.   How do you make it and what else do you make? 

Render fat from chicken to make scrambled eggs.  Forage for whatever is in season, use wood for charcoal grill to make grilled chicken, make liver pate with blender, use gelatin from chicken feed (or just slow cook and eat it), soup in crockpot, the possibilities are endless.   Point of this question is to test cooking skills, esp. ability to cook without recipes.  We also consider length of response – concise ones suggest no frills attitude, fast cook.

 Do you run a trade deficit with a business?  If you do, are you concerned about it?

Reading comprehension question, where we ask applicant to look up definition of “trade deficit.” Nearly all applicants haven’t been able to comprehend trade deficits, usually confusing it with budget deficit.  Seems that people often hear about trade deficits, usually as something problematic, but don’t understand what it is.  Anyway, nearly all of us carry a trade deficit with a business.  For instance, I run a deficit with my grocers (I purchase more from them than they from me) and I’m not worried about it because they produce the goods I need to operate my business far more efficiently than I.  Question tests applicant ability to understand and explain in plain language a simple concept.  We suspect many didn’t bother to look up the definition because they thought they already understand it.  We make a note of that if we think that that’s the case (we can figure it out during interview).

*Write your great-great granddaughter’s obituary.  Limit to 5 sentences.”

In other words, tell us what the world looks like in the future ie its mores, technology, geopolitical boundaries.  How old does she live till — 56, 207, 892?  Where does she die – United States of Africa, planet Xenox in Alpha Centauri, Los Angeles the capital of Bermuda?  How many spouses does she leave behind – one, four, any concubines?  What does she die from, disease unknown to us, war with Klingons?  Possibilities are endless.  Main point is to use question to envision a different world.  Question tests imagination and how applicant understands self-being in relation to time and the world.

*What is the guy driving a Corvette having for dinner on Thursday? 

Question tests ability to read social codes and nuances.  Several people associated Corvette with wealthy people and lumped all “wealthy” people together, regardless of cultural and political sensibilities.  A few figured out that Corvette is favored by (middle age) blue collar men. It’s the Camaro to Mustang to Corvette lineage.   One memorable response had guy eating store bought lemon meringue pie over kitchen sink.  Another had him eating at Dick’s w/large coke.  A few mentioned steak and potatoes.  I can see him at Scott’s Bar and Grill, Arnie’s, Outback Steakhouse, mocha from sluthut, popping supplements, drinking Muscle Milk. Not many are eating organic quinoa and drinking Perrier, as some suggest.

*How did a grocery store cashier, making $9/hour, convince her employer to give her a $5/hour raise?

 Cashier showed evidence that she generates, over past year, double the sales per register than average cashier and ranks first in accuracy.   In other words, she’s twice as fast as average replacement and argued that her labor is therefore worth twice as much.  Her boss, presented with QUANTIFIABLE evidence of her value, negotiated a $5/hour raise and promotion because he knew he’d save a lot of money by keeping her in place of hiring and training two replacement cashiers.  Got nothing to do with how hard someone works (a useless subjective assessment) or how nice they are (most CEOs are not nice and I’ve asked my employees to not be nice).  I don’t care how “hard” my employees work.  I only care that they bring value that exceeds the time and money I invest in them.   Applicants who tell me that they’re “hard workers” will not be hired because it’s dangerous to hire anyone who thinks their pay should correlate to how hard THEY think they work (even if everyone else doesn’t think he/she works hard).  I never tell employees to work hard.  I ask them to not be lazy and to think of ways to increase their productivity.   I ask them to work smart and responsibly.  Question assesses how well one knows oneself and ability to understand a different frame of reference and to evaluate value of one’s work.

What do you think is founder of Hustler magazine (hard-core porn) Larry Flynt’s passion?  If you’re not familiar with Hustler, borrow a copy of ours.  You can also probably find copies at a porn shop.  Be sure to read the articles (esp. editorials and opinions) and cartoons (not available online).
Question inspired by article on CEO’s and their passion(s).  Anyway, Flynt’s passion isn’t sex or raunchy pornography, it’s free speech.  Shouldn’t need to read Hustler to figure this out.  Wiki article provides plenty of information and insightful leads to films like People Versus Larry Flynt.  Question gives us a sense of how comfortable one is with being uncomfortable (we’re hoping they are uncomfortable).  Also tells us how well candidate can understand emotional and cultural meaning behind material objects. 

Why are you not special?
Wards off those who think they’re special.

Fight in the kitchen.  Hot soup, butcher knife, last month’s receipts.  Which do you throw?
Gives applicant opportunity to think about balance between need for self-expression (anger in this case) and consequences of action.  (Entertaining listening to employees discuss this one.  They settled on throwing the butcher knife).
Mary hires Peter and Paul to dig two ditches, assigning one to each.  Peter finishes in one hour because he used his latest invention, the super-duper soil remover zapper.  Paul, using a shovel and hard work, finishes his in 8 hours.  How much should Mary pay Peter.  How much to Paul?  Who should she hire if she wants a third ditch?
So many directions we can take this question.  Gives applicant opportunity to consider the monetary value of one’s labor.  We’ll then get them to think about who worked “harder” and who worked longer (how long did it take for Peter to invent his soil remover zapper?).  (Many applicants think pay should correlate with how much one “suffers”).

Write the lyrics for fictional song “When a Lamb Loves a Hungry Woman.”  Listen to “When a Man Loves a Woman” for rhythm and melody to match lyrics.
We run on rhythm so we want know more about applicant’s sense of rhythm.  Sense of humor too.

Why are your friends boring?  What does that make you?
The most personal question we’ve ever asked.  It’s not unusual for people to be dissatisfied with their friends (and colleagues, spouse, family, etc.).  It’s unusual for someone to be asked to confront this feeling.  Employees had trouble with this one, as it left them emotionally drained.  We use this question to get a better sense of applicant’s aspirations and weaknesses, and their capability to be self-reflective. ( We’re concerned about mental health of those who say that don’t have any boring friends).

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