BBC Capital

Want the job? First you'll have to meet the wife

  • Where's my easy button?

    Gone are the days where recruiters and hiring managers interview a promising job applicant, check their references and make a quick decision.

    Now credit checks, background checks, skills tests, personality tests and a tour of candidates’ social media profiles are just the beginning. Ask a roomful of job hunters about the oddest interview tactics they’ve encountered recently and you’re bound to hear an earful about bizarre curve-ball questions and off-the-wall proficiency tests they never expected.

    Blame the global recession. In its wake, job candidates — even mediocre ones — have become well-versed in the art of interviewing.

    “Everyone knows that they’re going to get asked ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ ‘What’s your strength?’ ‘What’s your weakness?’” said Debby Carreau, chief executive officer of Calgary, Alberta-based Inspired HR Ltd, which handles human resources for dozens of American and Canadian employers.

    To cut through the canned responses, employers have increasingly embraced new and unusual hurdles. While larger firms may be more concerned with adhering to hiring protocols in a way smaller firms might not be, extra wacky steps are popping up at big companies, too.

    Scroll through the images above to see six of the oddest job screening tactics we’ve found — from handwriting analysis to interviews at 30,000 feet and more.

    (Natalie Behring/Getty Images)

  • Snakes, err, candidates on a plane...

    Ara Ohanian cares deeply about how potential leaders in his organisation will perform under pressure. What better way to gauge this than a crowded flight on a commercial airliner?

    Finalists for critical management roles at Certpoint Systems, the software company he founded with his father in 1996, are asked to join Ohanian for a six-hour cross-country flight from New York to Los Angeles. The only luxury: the interview is usually in business class.

    Think snakes on a plane, without the slithering serpents, but with all sorts of other unknowns. How will the candidate react to being trapped in the air with crying babies and stomach-churning turbulence?

    “I’m more interested in learning about people’s behaviour,” said Ohanian, now vice president and general manager at Infor, the global enterprise software company based in New York that acquired Certpoint last year.

    “You have an opportunity to observe individuals that you want to be a part of your team in a less structured but more complex and demanding setting than a one-to-one interview,” he said. In other words, he gets a sneak peek at how a person carries themselves during life’s less predictable, often stressful activities — flight delays, cramped quarters and all.

    Ohanian schedules these one-way confabs to coincide with business trips he’s already taking. He meets candidates in the departing city’s airport lounge, takes them to dinner upon arrival and, if the candidate stays overnight, breakfast the next morning. He estimates he’s conducted 10 such interviews annually for more than a decade — $3,000 to $5,000 a year in added hiring costs that he said is well spent. No candidate has ever refused, and he’s extended a job offer to 90% of his seatmates.

    Among the characteristics he seeks: humility, a sense of humour, comfort in one’s own skin and empathy for, say, an overextended restaurant server or a frazzled flight attendant.

    “It gives me an indication of how they will be toward other members of their team,” he said. “You’re forced to catch them off guard… Their dominant traits start showing.”

    (Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Are you ready for the zombie apocalypse?

    Ashley Morris believes in the power of off-the-wall interview questions. For the past three years, the CEO of Capriotti's Sandwich Shop, a US chain with 100 locations, has ended each interview at company headquarters in Las Vegas by asking: “What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?”

    The question — which Morris asks in all seriousness — may be ludicrous. But the replies are telling.

    “Now you’re really going to get who this person is,” Morris said.

    Among the characteristics a candidate’s answer reveals: “whether they think quickly on their feet, whether they are a planner, what their priorities are and most importantly, whether or not they had fun with the question.”

    That last point is particularly important, given the tight-knit, light-hearted culture of the franchise’s 25-person corporate office.

    “We try to have a lot of fun,” said Morris, who has lobbed the question at potential hires about 50 times during the past three years. “Sense of humour is very important.”

    So is truthfulness. Morris is not impressed by candidates who feebly reply that despite their impending doom at the hands of blood-thirsty zombies, they’d still make it into work that day.

    His favourite answer came from his marketing coordinator, a former US Marine Morris recently hired. His response: if the zombies showed up, he’d want to go out peacefully:

    “‘I’d go to my house and kiss my wife and lay in my bed and let them take me.’,” Morris recalled him saying.

    (Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

  • Now, meet my wife...

    Most people expect their final interview will be with their boss, or perhaps their would-be boss’s boss. Not so at M & E Painting LLC, a commercial and residential painting company with two locations in Northern Colorado. There, the final interview is with the boss’s wife.

    Before extending a job offer, CEO and founder Matt Shoup asks finalists — and their significant other, best friend or whomever is “the most important person in their life” — to meet with him and his wife, who co-owns the company.

    Why? Shoup hires people he hopes will stay for a long time and he wants new members of his growing dozen-employee team to wholeheartedly support his company vision. That means the most important person in their life must believe in the company, too, he said.

    “If you’re not happy at home, then you bring that problem to work,” Shoup said.

    Since adding this extra step to his interview process two years ago, M & E Painting was named one of the best US places to work by Inc magazine and Shoup said he hasn’t had any employees leave the company because of job dissatisfaction, although he has made fewer offers.

    Last year, after a meticulous vetting process that included a 19-item written questionnaire, a panel interview with several of Shoup’s entrepreneurial pals and a couple of unpaid work samples, Shoup hired Eric Cooper as his new executive assistant. Cooper will be the first to admit that Shoup’s interview process was unusually thorough.

    But, he said, the working double date was more confirmation he was signing on with the right team. For starters, he explained, meeting Shoup’s wife gave him more insight into the type of person Shoup was. Plus, getting his own wife’s take on his future boss gave him more confidence in his decision.

    To say the meeting went well would be an understatement.

    “My wife told me she would be okay with me working late because she found a new friend to drink wine with,” Cooper joked.

    (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)

  • Show me your script...

    Handwriting analysis firm Graphology Consulting Group evaluates the scrawling of job candidates worldwide — to the tune of more than 5,000 job seekers a year, said director Ben Luck. More than one-third of the New York-based company’s clients ask for that service. (Outside of human resources, Graphology clients have included the US Federal Bureau of Investigations, Interpol and Scotland Yard, religious figures and celebrities.)

    How it works: with the consent of the job applicant, an employer sends a short handwriting sample to Graphology — often just two or three sentences. “We screen the handwriting to fit the job description,” Luck said.

    For example, does the person take direction well and pay attention to detail? Are they wildly imaginative? Leadership material? Are they a procrastinator? Do they have integrity? In all, Luck said, Graphology can look at more than 300 personality traits its experts say are revealed through handwriting.

    DiMare Enterprises, a family agricultural business in Newman, California, has been using Graphology’s handwriting analysis to help make managerial hires for 25 years, chief executive officer Tom DiMare said. Although he doesn’t use the handwriting results to decide whether to hire a candidate, he does use Graphology’s reports as a guide when checking a finalist’s references.

    “It helps us in asking the right questions,” DiMare said. For example: Does this person do well on collaborative projects? Or are they more of a lone wolf?

    Among the intel he’s gained about candidates: how well they handle criticism (watch those wide-looped lowercase d’s; they signal someone who’s more sensitive) and how open they are to people of different backgrounds (a full-looped lowercase e indicates open-mindedness), which is important in farming, DiMare said.

    DiMare shares the results with people who’ve had their handwriting analysed. (So far, no candidate has refused to submit a sample.)

    “The people that have taken the test have said it’s 85% accurate,” he said.

    (Graphology Consulting)

  • Pencils up for a speed quiz...

    Ken Bodnar, chief technology officer of, is extremely picky about the web developers and programmers he hires. The New Brunswick, Canada, e-commerce company runs on proprietary software that’s more complex than most job candidates are likely to have seen elsewhere.

    “We use advanced web and mobile technology that they don’t teach in school,” said Bodnar, who manages a 12-person team. So he needs to hire what he jokingly calls “trainable monkeys” — coders smart and skilled enough to pick up rapidly changing technology on the fly.

    Put another way: “We want to know if they can think,” he said.

    To weed out the “non-thinkers,” candidates who make it past the in-person interview are given a 15-minute, 15-question word-problem quiz.

    “Some of the questions are really stupid,” he said. “It goes between the trivial and the stuff that is really difficult to figure out.”

    For example: There are 10 birds in a field. Two are shot. How many are left? Answer: None. Shoot at a flock of birds, and they’ll all fly away.

    In the two years since Bodnar started giving the test, he’s weeded out more candidates who he believes wouldn’t have cut it at the firm. In an industry rife with referrals that aren’t always well-thought-out, this screening tool has been incredibly helpful.

    Those that aren’t up to Selectbidder’s pop quiz are eliminated accordingly.

    “I can't recall anyone giving up on the test, but some don't finish in the 15 minutes and leave a lot of blanks,” Bodnar said.

    Not surprisingly, they’re usually shown the door.

    (Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images)

  • You can type, but can you speak well?

    Mike Faith takes the voices of his customer service representatives very seriously. So much so that he asks potential hires to do a phone interview with Australian vocal coach Ken Welsh before he offers them the job.

    “If someone’s on the phone all day, which (people in) most of our positions are, that’s really important,” said Faith, CEO of, a San Francisco based provider of office telephone headsets.

    Hence the call with Welsh — after candidates make it past an initial phone screen, in-person interview and IQ test.

    What, exactly, does Welsh look for? Whether someone speaks too quickly, slowly, loudly, softly or clearly enough, Faith explained. To gauge this, Welsh runs candidates through a series of linguistic exercises and tongue twisters, offering suggestions for improvement as they go.

    “He’s looking to see if they are open to learning and changing and realising the importance of their voice,” said Faith, who added this step to his interview process a decade ago and usually brings on three or four new customer service reps one to three times a year, both because of growth and turnover. Depending on the year, the company might pay about $12,000 in vocal coaching bills.

    If hired, new customer service reps continue to work with the voice coach as needed. Faith said he believes the screening process also helps the company keep turnover down.

    Faith has even called on Welsh for a vocal tune-up.

    “I can’t change my accent,” said Faith, a British expat. “But I can change my tone and my pace and my pauses and my speed. He’s worked with me a lot.”

    (Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images)