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5 Mind Games to Play When Interviewing Job Applicants

Interviewing candidates is a crucial step in the recruiting process. We all know that there are plenty of unethical applicants lying on their resumes and the job interview is your next step for weeding out these people. On top of skills validation, it's also your number one opportunity to learn more about who they are as a person, their work ethic, and if they'll be a good fit into your corporate culture. Sometimes, the cliché questions like "Tell me your top 3 strengths and weaknesses" or "Explain why you're the best person for this job" just don't cut it. Instead, you'll want to throw a few curveball questions or use some tricky techniques that will get the candidate telling you about their true self.

  1. Create an Awkward Silence and See What Happens This is a common strategy taken by many job interviewers. This article from Time explains that just 4 seconds of silence can "elicit primal fears, activating anxiety-provoking feelings of incompatibility and exclusion." As a result, people will do whatever they can to break the silence and start talking. When seeking more information from a candidate, just say nothing. Eventually, to eliminate the discomfort, the candidate will begin expanding on their response and divulge additional information.

  2. Confirm Their Former Supervisor's Information and Secure an Honest Interview A 2012 Business Insider article provided 8 interesting mind games for a recruiter to play, based on the work of leadership and training provider, Mark Murphy. It included some common techniques, including the awkward silence listed above, as well as this unique question: "Please spell your former boss's last name." This will make the applicant believe (whether it's true or not) that you have every intention to contact their former manager for validation. As a result, your chances of getting honest answers increase significantly.

  3. Let Them Feel They Can Be Honest Where the previous technique scared your applicant into being honest, this one does the opposite -- comforts them into being honest. Create a "safe place" that gives them a false sense of security. As the interview gets casual, your candidate will feel as though they're speaking off-the-record and divulge details about themselves that they would regularly hold back from a formal interviewer.

  4. Ask About a Problem, But Not How They Solved It Another common question to ask in interviews is "Tell us about a problem you had at work and how you solved it." This can tell a lot about an applicant, but if you don't prompt them for a solution, you can learn even more. A person who instinctively tells you their way out of a predicament is more likely to be a problem-solver, as opposed to the negative person who's quick to tell you about their unsolved difficulties. (Bonus: The strategy of asking only partial questions can be applied to other typical queries as well).

  5. Brainteasers Finally, there are the ever-popular brainteasers, such as "How many lights are there in New York City?" Advocates for these techniques will tell you that they demonstrate a person's critical thinking abilities. Critics (which are increasing) will tell you they add little value and just make your applicant angry.

Mind games and subtle tricks in job interviews can show some great results in learning about your true applicant and getting honest answers. However, there may also be some ethical considerations and, as noted above, it could just make your applicant frustrated and choose to move on.