Weird things people are asked to do in interviews
- 6 September 2013
- From the section Magazine
The electrical chain Currys has run into trouble after managers at one branch asked job candidates to dance in an interview. Colm O'Regan asks whether it's wise to take candidates that far out of their comfort zone.
To think there was a time when the most outre thing you had to consider preparing for in an interview was an answer to the question: "Where do you see yourself in five years' time?" For the man who had to dance to a Daft Punk song in a job interview, the answer is easy. He will see himself at the top of Google search results for "Daft Punk+Currys".
Michel Gondry, who directed the famous video for the song, probably thought he was breaking new ground with his four groups of dancers representing four musical instruments. But even he would be surprised to see the 1997 hit reinterpreted somewhere in the back offices of a gadget retail giant. Following some of the corporate monstrosities no doubt perpetrated against Daft Punk's Get Lucky, perhaps the band ought to issue a statement urging people to groove responsibly.
You can't criticise the Currys interviewer too harshly for trying something different. Some of the blame has to be attached to CV inflation. It's getting harder to differentiate candidates from each other. Nearly everyone wants to work in a "challenging, diverse and dynamic environment". These days so many people describe themselves as "passionate", it's a wonder the modern office isn't a writhing tangle of bodies like those "Roman party" scenes from I Claudius you used to be watching when your parents walked in.
But let's not sneer at candidates for doing everything to sell themselves in a tough jobs market. Recruitment experts reacting to DaftPunkGate, say that it's part of a trend of companies trying to see how people react to being outside their comfort zone.
What's wrong with being in your comfort zone? Surely when you are sitting in your favourite chair with a nice cup of tea and a biscuit you're bound to do your best work. And not everyone's comfort zone is the same. The scary lawless borders of one person's cosy region might be smack bang in the middle of someone else's sector of ease. Companies should be looking for people who are well acquainted with what they are comfortable with and when faced with something outside those limits, call for help.
The correct response to any interviewer asking you to dance to Around The World in front of strangers is to say: "I'll have to check with my supervisor." Then disappear into the stockroom for 20 minutes before returning and saying, "I'm sorry but it's not store policy to get funked up on tunes with steady hooks and repetitive robotic vocals, but if you'd like me to check in one of our other shops..."
Workplace dancing and singing of all kinds should be avoided. That kind of carry-on is for darkened rooms and anonymity - where there are no reminders of the real reason you are in work. To serve as a faceless cog in the remorseless perpetual motion machine of commerce until you retire and die.
The other phrase bandied about is team-building. It has its place of course. On the Lions Rugby tour, the management has to bring people together from different teams and get them to gel. There are team-building exercises organised. The chief function of this is to generate "banter segments" for the tour DVD. Outside that, team-building in an office context should be approached with caution.
Some of you may have been sent on training courses. Everyone is automatically bonded together by the fact they are not in work. No one expects them to learn anything but it's important to have "done the training" in case there's accident and the police come sniffing around.
That should be that. However to justify their cost, training course providers will often include role playing and pointless group tasks involving connect straws. Before you know it you are competing ferociously with colleagues and furious with members of your own team for not going with your suggestion on how to build the rocket.
That's if you get the job.
In the meantime, a message to employers - job hunting is tough so go easy on your candidates. Ask them about a time they took responsibility. Ask them about how they displayed teamwork on a final year project. Look for examples of initiative and "thinking outside the box".
Anything else is just daft.