A 22-year-old job seeker's viral 'stress interview' illustrates exactly why even big-name companies like Google are moving away from gimmicky job interviews

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  • Interview questions designed to trick job candidates and stress them out are useless.
  • Tech giants like Google - once notorious for its tricky interview questions - have moved away, but some companies may still be using this strategy.
  • Olivia Bland recently tweeted about her "brutal 2 hour interview" at Web Applications UK, in which the CEO apparently humiliated her. (The company said in a statement that they didn't find evidence of bullying or intimidation.)
  • A better strategy is a structured interview, with a series of job-specific questions that are the same for everyone.

A 22-year-old woman's recent job-interview experience has made international news.

Last week, Olivia Bland tweeted about her "brutal 2 hour interview, in which the CEO Craig Dean tore both me and my writing to shreds (and called me an underachiever)." The BBC reported that Bland said the company's CEO humiliated Bland about her taste in music, her parents' marriage, and the way she sat during the interview.

Bland was offered the job, a communications role for Web Applications UK, and declined, posting her response to the company on Twitter. The tweet went viral.

Dean reportedly posted an apology on Twitter, saying it was "never my intent" to hurt anyone (his tweets are private). And Web Applications UK said in a statement that, after an investigation, "the Board is satisfied that no bullying or intimidation occurred."

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Media outlets including the BBC are referring to Bland's experience as a "stress interview," which is only the latest in a series of tales about various companies' tricky, uncomfortable interview styles.

Anything that could be called a "stress interview" doesn't seem like a particularly humane way to hire, and what's more, a candidate's ability to withstand the onslaught probably isn't a strong predictor of their performance once they get hired.

Structured interviews are typically more effective than being rude or asking bizarre questions

As Liz Ryan, the founder and CEO of Human Workplace, wrote in a Forbes column, "'stress' interviewing is a brainless and ineffective technique used by bullies and punks." Ryan added that even someone who effortlessly tackles a stress interview won't necessarily be an ideal employee. On the flip side, someone who buckles under the stress could be a stellar performer.

Tech giants like Google were once notorious for asking job candidates seemingly ridiculous questions, Business Insider previously reported. For example: "How many haircuts do you think happen in America every year?" The goal isn't to see if the candidate comes up with the correct answer; instead it's to see how they think - and how they react to the curveball question.

Read more: Science says IQ may be the best predictor of your potential to excel at work - and no one wants to hear it

But as Google's former HR chief Laszlo Bock wrote in his 2015 book, "Work Rules!" those prompts are practically useless. Instead, Bock recommends what experts call "structured interviews," Business Insider's Richard Feloni reported. Bock said Google uses an internal tool, qDroid, that compiles interview questions for specific positions. Behavioral questions focus on past scenarios, while situational questions focus on hypothetical scenarios.

Indeed, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has said that structured interviews - he specifically mentioned Google's strategy - are the best way to predict job performance. Some 60 years ago, Kahneman designed a structured-interview system for the Israeli Army, which required interviewers to measure young men on six dimensions in a specific order, and only then use their intuition to imagine what kind of soldiers the men would make. The system is still in place today.

And while it's hard to know exactly what happened in Bland's interview, it's possible that interviewers in similar situations could simply be on a power trip. As Justin Angsuwat, vice president of people at Thumbtack and a former Google HR exec, previously told Business Insider, many interviewers make the mistake of trying to look smarter than the candidate.

These types of interviewers typically say to themselves, "I can think of some really tough questions. I can trip them up," Angsuwat said. "That's kind of dangerous because you end up with some unfair outcomes, potentially," namely a sense of who's least frightened, as opposed to who's most competent.

Plus, the goal of a job interview is to hire the right person for the job, and whatever an interviewer's approach, they ultimately want to see if this person is a good fit. Scaring, confusing, or otherwise intimidating a job candidate probably isn't the way to do it.

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