An Unusual Interview Tactic

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Transcript

Ben Forstag:

Hi, everyone. This is Ben Forstag, managing director of Mac’s List, and I’m sitting here with Mac Prichard, the founder and editor of Mac’s List, and Jenna Forstrom, our community manager. This week, as a bonus episode, we’re going to talk about an article that we posted on the Mac’s List Facebook group in mid February, and this article is actually the most shared piece of content that we have ever put on our Facebook page, so we thought we’d share it with our audience. This is an article from the New York Times, and the headline is Walt Bettinger of Charles Schwab, You’ve got to Open Up to Move Up.

The key thing from this article is one of the things Walt Bettinger does when he’s interviewing executive staff is he takes them out for breakfast. Before he shows up in the restaurant, he actually calls up the restaurant manager and asks them to intentionally bring the wrong dish for the applicant. He promises he’s going to tip everyone, and this is what he wants to have happen, but the idea is he wants to see the applicant’s reaction when the wrong meal is brought to him. This is one of the ways he tests his applicants. I wanted to touch base with the Mac’s List staff here and ask them what they thought about this as an interview tip.

Jenna Forstrom:

I thought it was a real interesting article. I think it’s a great way to judge how people in an instant are going to react to a negative situation. The only thing where I think this could be a really bad idea is if you have a food allergy, and you’re expecting something, like an omelette to not have mushrooms, and it’s got mushrooms in it, but maybe that’s just the Portlander in me where everyone has a food allergy that we deal with. I don’t know. Ben, Mac, what did you guys think?

Mac Prichard:

This rang true to me. In fact, when I was starting the hiring process that brought you on board, Ben, I met with a local business owner and they asked for tips about hiring, and she said two things. One was that she spent about 15 hours getting to know a candidate, and the reason she did that and put people through multiple interviews was that we end up spending about 2,000 hours a year with somebody, so you want to get to know somebody really well before you make that decision to bring them on board so it’s a good fit for not only you, but for them, as well.

The other thing she told me was that she made a point of taking the candidate and the candidate’s partner/spouse out to dinner with her and her husband to see how the candidate behaved around servers, and she said she’d actually had people make it that far in the process, and because of the way they treated wait staff, decided not to hire them.

Ben Forstag:

That’s really interesting. I love this technique because it’s so out there. It’s totally from left field. I don’t think anyone’s really expecting this if they’re applying for a job, but I totally agree with the idea of how you treat other people, particularly how you treat people who have less power than you, being a real strong indicator of who you are as a person.

I can imagine situations in which the waiter brings the wrong dish and the applicant just freaks out and screams. I can also envision situations in which the applicant doesn’t say anything and quietly accepts what they’ve been given. I’m actually thinking on that latter point, Mac, if the person didn’t say anything about the mistake and just ate their meal, what do you think that would say about the applicant if you were hiring them or considering hiring them?

Mac Prichard:

I guess I would wonder why they didn’t speak up because there is a polite professional way to say, “I think a mistake has been made here. I ordered this. Could you bring that me?” I think it’s fair to say that whether you have a food allergy or not. What are your thoughts, Jenna?

Jenna Forstrom:

I’m not a picky eater unless there’s strawberries, which I’m allergic to so I would totally freak out if there were strawberries, but I’m trying to think, if I was in that situation, what would I do? I feel like I’d either just not care and eat it or I’d just be, life or death, “Hey, I’m not going to eat this strawberry cobbler. Sorry.” I guess I’m from the generation where my mom used to put food in front of me and I would just eat it, just go with the flow, which could be a good quality in a potential hire.

Ben Forstag:

I guess I’m like Jenna in that way because you guys know, when we go out to restaurants for a business meal, I always tell the waiter, “Just bring me anything on the menu. I’ll like it.” I guess my inclination would be to not say anything and just take the meal and roll with it, but it’s interesting to hear that that is a wrong answer, I guess. The other question I had for you guys is, is there anything job applicants could do to prepare for this kind of test, something that’s so out of left field? I can’t imagine anyone preps you on this kind of interview technique. Can you think of any way that job seekers could prepare?

Mac Prichard:

I think the best way to prepare is to be yourself. If you’re a polite, gracious person, this is not going to be a problem. I don’t think if you take the meal and eat it, that’s a black mark. I expect what this fellow is trying to draw out is to see what people do when somebody else makes a mistake and how they react. To your point, Ben, how do they react towards people who have less power than they do? Be yourself and if you treat people the way you want to be treated, this is not a problem.

Ben Forstag:

I think that’s right on the mark. Any thoughts from you, Jenna?

Jenna Forstrom:

I think in this day and age you need to be ready for those curve ball questions or those curve ball actions. It could be you’re talking about business and strategy and then the next question is, what was your favorite childhood movie? That’s just to get, you go from left brain to right brain or right brain to left brain, and it’s just to check how well you are at transitioning, but also trying to get more insight into how personable you are, can you hold a conversation, and what are you willing to offer up because it may be something really embarrassing or it could be, “Oh, I loved the Brave Little Toaster,” and then you’re connecting about that, or something, but if you get caught off guard by those kind of questions, it’s like, can they jive with our company culture over doing the actual role?

Ben Forstag:

I think, speaking to your point, Jenna, and what this whole exercise with going to the restaurant really is about is finding culture fit, and what we hear again and again from employers is that culture fit matters as much, if not more, than your skill set when you’re applying for a job. Again, be yourself, but be kind, courteous. Be good to each other, folks. That’s the key. Thank you, Mac and Jenna, for giving us some time today to talk about this and thank you all for listening. If there’s a article about job search or creative element you’d like us to talk about, please send it to us. You can contact Jenna with the link at Jenna@MacsList.org. In the meantime, thanks, and have a good week.

On February 4, 2016, The New York Times published an article, “Walt Bettinger of Charles Schwab: You’ve Got to Open Up to Move Up,” in which the CEO revealed a very interesting interview tactic.

Before hiring an executive-level candidate Bettinger takes them out to breakfast. The trick? He pre-arranges for the restaurant to mess up the food order so he can see how the candidate reacts. This is definitely an unusual interview tactic.

What would you do if you were the candidate in this situation?

On this seven minute bonus episode, the Mac’s List team talks about the unorthodox interview tactic. From food allergies to how you want your potential boss to view you – Mac, Ben and Jenna cover it all.