Crazy, or Crazy Like a Fox? HR Experts on Unorthodox Hiring Practices

By Lin Grensing-Pophal July 27, 2018
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​A recent survey of U.S. job seekers by The Knowledge Academy indicated that most—72 percent—would like companies to use more "unorthodox" recruiting assessment methods, including games of capture the flag, escape rooms and professional speed-dating sessions.

But what do HR experts think about these practices?

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

Take a Practical Approach

Sy Islam is an assistant professor at Farmingdale State College in New York and a human capital consultant for Talent Metrics, an organizational psychology consulting firm based in Melville, N.Y. "Any recruitment process has to help an organization identify talent," he said. Any assessment practice must also show that it predicts future job performance. If an escape room measures problem-solving skills relevant to an open position, and you capture data that shows this practice predicts job performance, you're legally covered, he said. If an organization chooses to use a "gimmicky approach," it may not predict anything and instead open the company up to liability.

"While these tests can be fun, I personally prefer interviews that focus more on the real functions of the role," said Ed Donner, co-founder and CEO of untapt, an HR technology company in New York City. "Keeping interviews standardized is an essential step to reducing hiring bias and evaluating people fairly."

Potential Downsides

There are some clear negative aspects associated with these types of activities, said Mike Cox, president of Cox Innovations, a management consultancy in Houston. "Like all recruiting processes, there are legal risks if done recklessly," he said. Plus, managers may push back on the potential added costs and time involved, particularly if their own time or team members' time is required.

Keith Wolf, managing director of Murray Resources, a Houston-based recruiting and staffing firm, also recommended caution when using these approaches. "Less-traditional tactics, if not adequately developed or set up, could distract both employers and candidates from the purpose of the exercise and distract the employer from discovering the essential qualities and capabilities of the candidate," he said.

Any Upsides?

Despite general sentiment that unorthodox hiring practices may, at worst, carry risks and fail to elicit information to help make an informed hiring choice, are there any potential positive takeaways?

There may be.

Cox pointed out that introducing the element of surprise into an interview can help reveal candidates' authenticity. "Authenticity is important because people can behave in an artificial way during a recruiting process for the purpose of getting hired, but once onboarded it is inevitable that an employee reverts to his or her authentic behaviors."

Surprise is one of the tools commonly used to combat this issue, he said. He pointed to some additional benefits of using unconventional methods in the hiring process:

  • The company is immediately viewed as innovative for doing something different.
  • Innovative and fun hiring activities can increase engagement for existing employees as well.

Still, experts say, talent acquisition should, first and foremost, focus on:

  • Identifying a target candidate pool.
  • Aligning recruitment practices around the skills your organization is looking to hire for.
  • Selecting tools to assess skills based on job analysis/competency models.

"It is important that employers are very specific in the data they collect," Cox said. "These tools should be used for validation, not determination."

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.

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