I just met one of the managers at the company I work for in the break room. I was surprised to see him as I knew he was interviewing this morning. He told me that he asked his interviewee to write an essay about why he wants to work here.
Is this common or even recommended?

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

it's not common, and I would only rarely recommend it.

It does depend on what the job is he's interviewing for.  Is writing a factor?  I remember advising a CEO once to ask three applicants for a technical assistant (to him) role to create some excel spreadsheets, and not one could do it.  They said they could, but they were miles away from where we needed them to be.  To this day, I think...why did it take an outsider to suggest that???

But if writing isn't an issue in the role, the only thing I can think of is a test about language, which MIGHT be a criteria that he wants data against.

But otherwise, I'd bet it's just silly and weird and another reason that proves to me that managers haven't a clue about hiring.


eastbayrider's picture

Thanks, Mark.
The job is for a low pay, entry level inspector. There will be no technical writing.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

 Readign the post I was reminded the book "Interesting Times" by Sir Terry Pratchett where applicants for a night soil remover were required to writer a popme about mists rolling across the marshes.  Later in the book one character bemoans the fact that applicants are judged more for their ability with poetic form than skills required to actually do the job so they had lots of people who knew about metre and rhyme but not how to handle a shovel.  I suppose that this could be framed as an example of  "What gets measured, gets done" (from Drucker I think but I could be wrong).  If you hire people on the basis of their ability to write a poem (or essay in the situation described in the OP) then you will get people who are good a writing poems/essays.  If that's not relevent to their job then you have a problem.

I think using simulation in a selection process  is reasonable so long as what you're simulating is relevant to the job.  I remember seeing one job advert that a friend responded to where applicants were told to phone the company to get an application form.  The job was a proof reader job, the advertisement had a number of errors.  When they phoned the applicant was asked, after they had given their name and address, to list off the errors in the advertisement.  If they got more than half they were sent an application form. 

I attended one interview, for a Database Administrator (DBA) role, where as part of the process we were first permitted to check a working system and make whatever backups or records we felt necessary, so long as we could later justify them as something that we would do on a live system.  The company's existing head DBA would then break the system in someway and we then had to discover what was broken and fix it, under timed conditions.  Apparently quite a lot of the people, some with many years experience, really struggled.  I was told after one of the problems (which I'd solved) that some applicants had said that it would never happen in real life, I had to admit that I'd only been able to solve it in the time allowed because I'd seen that exact problem on a live system 2 weeks previously.  I was surprised to see it again as it was a really unusual problem and would only occur as a result of sabotage or a major error by an administrator.



Skype: stephenbooth_uk  | DiSC: 6137

"Start with the customer and work backwards, not with the tools and work forwards" - James Womack


acao162's picture

We asked applicants for one job to do a bank reconciliation as part of the hiring process.  This is a critical skill for the position & narrowed the field in a hurry.  One applicant couldn't finish & the one who ultimately got the position balanced it in two different ways (both correct, really a matter of presentation) because she didn't know if we preferred a "show your work" or a "show your answer" style.

FWIW, I was hired into an admin position way back when...because I could operate the printer.  This was in early 2002, the printer was new & operating this (simple) HP model was a core competency.  I took one look at it, started opening drawers, punching buttons and made it look easy.  As I understand, the calm "take charge" attitude got me the job, even though my first print job didn't even work!

So, when relevant to the position, I am a big fan of testing.  Essay writing - not so much.  News release, maybe.  But we have no need for essays here.

I love your comment Stephen - computer stuff that could "never happen in real life' happens pretty often in my office.  If an IT person ever says something can't happen, I say oh yea?  Watch out, someone here will do it.  It's not malicious, we just push our software to its limit & sometimes that 'breaks" a piece of code.  So, we have incredible IT/programmers.



mdave's picture

For the last couple interviews that I have conducted (where oral presentations is a key part of the position), I have provided the candidates withinstructions ahead of time that they will be asked to give a 4-6 minute oral presentation (no media) on something relevant to the job (for instance -- what is the greatest leadership challenge they have faced and to included the context, challenge, actions taken, results, and what the impact was to their organization).

My logic is several fold. Can the/Do they prepare? Can they follow instructions? How is their delivery of known material they should be comfortable with? And it gives the candidate the opportunity to develop a more in depth answer on a critical subject that may reveal more than if they were doing it on the fly during the first interview

The results are surprising -- I am consistently surprised at how few candidates come close to hitting a single, let alone a triple. This should be a gimme. The get ill thought, disorganized ramling that misses the key points and goes well over time is astounding. This should be a home run and  about half the candidates act like stumped like they have have no idea how to respond.  I continue to be amazed. It is not as if I am asking for a novel and this does not strike me as being out of line of the basic preparation for common interview questions.

afmoffa's picture

I had two interviews this week for two very different positions, and in both cases my interviewers gave me sample problems.

(It's worth noting that I'm trying to change roles, or even industries, so I think people are right to be skeptical of my abilities. Still, each of these interviews lasted over 90 minutes, and only spent 20 minutes or so asking me typical interview questions.)

Interview 1, for a job teaching writing skills to technical professionals for whom English is a second language, the interviewer had me write a Five Paragraph Essay™. It was a flashback to eighth grade. I got to pick from a list of topics, they left me alone with a pen and some loose leaf paper, it was deja vu. I don't know how many Silicon Valley code jockeys are out there languishing on a professional plateau because they haven't mastered the art of writing Five Paragraph Essays by hand, but there you go.

Next, the interviewer gave me an E-mail and a memo written by a client (redacted names) and asked me to read them, make some notes, and present a short lesson on errors and improvements. "Pretend I wrote it. Teach me how to improve. I'll be listening for diplomacy and grammatical rigor." That seemed a valid test.

Interview 2 was at a different company. (This has been an unusual week.) #2 was for a marketing job where I'd be revising a lot of their publicity materials. I want to move into marketing, and I'm hoping my design skills will get me in the door. They sat me down in front of a Mac with InDesign and asked me to make a few edits to a brochure.  Next, the interviewer described an upcoming event the company was trying to publicize, and asked me for a no-huddle-offense marketing plan. The interviewer seemed to like my answers, and I'm certain I aced the layout stuff.

Honestly, though, my cover letters and E-mails should give recruiters all they need to know about my writing ability, and my portfolio is where I'd like interviewers to suss out my design skills. Interviewer #2 asked me if he could hold on to my portfolio, which in my book is a mild faux pas, but of course I said yes and handed it to him with a smile.