Government HR managers may be asking the wrong questions during interviews

The government hiring process is cumbersome, of that there’s no doubt. And that’s a huge turnoff for a lot of people, especially those with little experience who are looking to get into government work. But are government human resources managers even looking for the right qualities in candidates?

Some private sector companies have taken to asking brain teasers during interviews; prominently, Google. One of their questions, which had made its rounds on the Internet, is “You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown into a blender. Your mass is reduced so that your density is the same as usual. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do?”

The best answer according to what I’ve read is to jump out of the blender. Since you are just as dense, you could jump higher. I didn’t reach this conclusion myself, but I was able to deduce that density is important to having a good answer to the question. Apparently it also helps to use “it depends” and explore various options when answering these type of questions.

Google is looking for individuals with a problem solving process, who can think through these tough questions. Upon looking at the interview questions for public sector jobs, they were much more traditional. For example, “What is your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it?”

It’s not that this isn’t a valid question, and it’s one that is probably also asked at the interviews of innovative companies. However, these type of questions are expected, and can be a better test of your ability to memorize a good answer you’ve worked through than how fit you are for any particular role.

Should government HR managers be asking brain teasers during job interviews? Or are those types of questions only relevant for hi-tech companies?

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Samuel Lovett

“How many dimples are there on all the basketballs in all the United States?” This was a favorite interview question I heard reported after friends’ consulting job interviews in college. The merit of these questions is definitely to evaluate how an applicant uses reason and thinks logically under pressure.

Reason and logic have equal importance to government work, so why not use these kinds of questions in interviews?

Corey McCarren

Have any interesting answers you’ve heard to that question, Sam? I can’t even imagine what nonsense I’d come up with for that one!

Terrence (Terry) Hill

Actually, the person who conducts job interviews is usually the selecting official (supervisor) and maybe some co-workers, not the HR manager. Also, we highly recommend that selecting official stick to job-related, validated, behavior-based questions. These creative/imaginative questions may be OK for a private company, but we have certain merit principles that require that the selection process is as objective, job-related, and valid as possible. Asking brain teasers doesn’t meet these criteria.