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Job interviewing, to the extreme

Some firms are using offbeat interview practices to get a real-time look at how prospects tackle problems, think on their feet and work as part of a team.

February 19, 2012|By Tiffany Hsu

Cole Harper, chief executive of SceneTap, which provides real-time information on the crowds at nightspots in Austin and Chicago, said good people skills are crucial for his employees.

The online start-up takes groups of applicants out to bars to see whether "they get along and play nice in the sandbox or get paranoid and defensive and throw each other under the bus like on 'The Bachelorette,'" Harper said. He said job seekers who spend their time trying to one-up other applicants are usually nixed.

"The last thing you want is for someone to spend their energy trying to prove they're better than someone else," Harper said. "At a small company, if one person fails, it's going to hurt the entire business."

Even candidates for entry-level jobs are facing tougher scrutiny.

Want to sling sprinkles at Pinkberry? The chain requires applicants to brainstorm commercials for its frozen yogurt and then work in teams to devise a marketing plan for a hypothetical product such as a paper cup. Those who make it to the next level have to answer questions such as "If you could invite three leaders to dinner (living or dead), who would you invite and why?"

That's a lot of effort to screen workers, often for entry-level jobs. But Pinkberry said the effort pays off. Such exercises "allow us to see immediate impact on team connectedness, demonstrate service and leadership skills and unveil entrepreneurial spirit," the company said in an email.

But while some applicants reveal a creativity that might have been smothered in a more conventional interview process, others expose tics and weaknesses that might have remained hidden.

Digital marketing company Acquity Group asks job candidates to come up with a pitch on the spot to promote the virtues of that company.

Jim Newman, Acquity's executive vice president of operations, recalled a promising job seeker who seemed confident and articulate through his presentation. That is, until he inserted some X-rated imagery into the pitch.

"It was awkward," Newman said. "Otherwise, he was pretty good. But then all of a sudden it was like, 'What is this guy going to say when he's in front of a client?' He didn't get the job."

tiffany.hsu@latimes.com

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