Other than the rise of the behavioral interview, the components of the job interview really haven't changed much over the past decade. Still, approximately 10 percent of my interviews included "outlier" interview techniques.
Here are a couple of outlier scenarios I have experienced:
The Bad Cop
The apparent goal of this technique is to see how you respond under pressure. Its most common applications are to interrupt the candidate mid-sentence to ask something completely irrelevant (basic math questions, etc.), or to excessively criticize the candidate's credentials and job prospects with the firm.
I'm not comfortable suggesting anything as a good response, because I have a hard time taking this technique seriously. What do you think the likelihood is of a senior executive interrupting you in a business meeting to ask you "What is 7 * 7?" I think the right response is to stay clam and unflustered. My response is to calmly stop and answer the question, ask the interviewer if he or she needs any additional math questions answered, and then pick up my story where I left off.
I would be interested to hear from users who experienced such techniques and what they did to successfully cross this hurdle.
The Group Interview
This "Survivor" technique seems to be fairly popular with consulting firms. But outside of b-school and reality TV, you're never going to go into a meeting with three or four complete strangers and need to solve a problem on the spot.
I believe the goals of this technique are to see how you perform in a group setting and to assess your leadership skills. I don't see where this scenario applies in the real world. I can't think of a time in the last 10 years where I went into an internal or external meeting unprepared. It would be insanely foolish to walk into a room and deliver a "cold pitch," and very few people I know of have had much success doing this. To be effective, you always research the people, pre-sell the idea, and align interests before the meeting.
Interviewing With Potential Subordinates
There are two sides to this coin. Before joining a company, I would want to meet with any managers or employees whom I would inherit. Recently, though, I have been surprised to see companies giving these employees a major say in the hiring process. This is one area where I think the consensus pendulum has swung too far: There's an inherent conflict of interest when employees get a strong voice in choosing their next manager.
I have had hit-and-miss experience with these types of interviews. On the positive side, I have met potential employees who were looking for a strong leader who can give organizational credibility to the group. On the negative side, I have encountered complete hostility from employees who'd been passed over for the management position.
Although it's a tough job market, I strongly question whether I want to work for, and could be successful at, a company that uses any of the above techniques as part of its interview process. I recently read about companies that have employees monitoring Twitter to ensure they can quickly respond to customer complaints. This same degree of care should be applied to potential employees.
Rob Gordon (a pseudonym) is a senior professional who has held management roles in product development, business management and technology.