These days, it seems, it takes more than just a thank you note to impress interviewers: Anecdotal evidence suggests that recruiters are taking to unconventional screening tactics to find the best candidate for the job. Web giant Google is understood to have tossed out brain teasers at interviews, and the drinks company Heineken has staged elaborate disaster scenarios to see how candidates react. Not only that, but they’ve caught a few performances on tape – and broadcast them on Youtube.

We can assume that skills, education and glowing references are still important in the pursuit of a new position. But some firms want a real-life look at how candidates perform before they hire; and they’re going about this by dreaming up interview techniques that surprise, test and, in some cases, even trick the interviewer.

“The theory will be that this sort of approach offers more depth than the standard questions and provides more insight in to the candidate’s personality,” says careers consultant Karen McMillan. It therefore probes for formless qualities like decisiveness and creativity, and allows employers to gauge whether or not potential new hires will work well under their leadership.

There are lots of potential new hires out there right now: Figures released in April by recruitment website Total Jobs revealed that employers receive an average of 18 applications for each job vacancy in the UK, with that number reaching as high as 46 in certain sectors. The competition may make applicants more eager to jump through hoops if there’s the prospect of a paying job at the end of it. As a result, we might reasonably expect that candidates will more willing to put up with unusual and potentially uncomfortable interview tactics — and that employers will be more likely to use them.

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Ironically, the interview is not just a chance for a candidate to sell herself to the company, but can be an opportunity for the company to sell itself to you, the public. These alternative approaches to interviewing are potentially viewed as being more ‘creative’, says McMillan, and may link in with the strategy of the company’s brand. It’s no small coincidence that Heineken’s Punk’d-style interview video has had nearly five million views since it was uploaded to Youtube in February: It looks as much like a marketing exercise as it does a recruitment drive.

‘Extreme interviewing’ might help a company convey the image it wants to, and whether or not it benefits applicants at all is up for debate. But if companies are focusing all their energies on weeding people out rather than bringing people in with opportunities and benefits, then they might be missing a trick. “Employment is a two way process,” says McMillan; “if organisations put more attention in to what they can offer an individual, they would be in a better position to naturally attract the talent that they were looking for.”

Karen McMillan’s Extreme Interview Tips

● Given the on the spot nature of the process, there’s very little you can prepare for, other than be true to yourself. Don’t fabricate characteristics that you think the employer may or may not be looking for. Relax and be you. It’s enough.


● In any interview process, you have to be comfortable with what’s being asked of you, so be sure that this is the case while you’re in the moment.

● Don’t take the process too seriously! If the agenda is fun, so be it. In being yourself it will become clear to you and the employer as to whether the chemistry is there and there is a good fit for both of you.