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For most companies, hiring processes boil down to three steps at most: phone screening, in-person interview, reference checking. But with a troubled economy pushing greater and greater numbers of jobseekers into the workforce, it’s now harder than ever to differentiate qualified candidates. What’s a hiring manager to do?

Increasingly, companies are turning to unconventional hiring methods as a way to identify the best applicants out of a huge pile of resumes. If you feel like you’re stuck in a hiring process rut, consider applying one of these 10 methods in your next applicant search.

1.) Ask for an Essay

Many jobs require a person to have good writing skills – increasingly so if the job is in communications or another writing-centric field. Consider asking that applicants submit an essay at some round of the hiring process. Reading candidates’ essays will give you a better idea of their writing skills and their communication styles.

You can make the essay question anything you want: “Why do you want to work for this company?” is pretty standard. But going outside the box with a question like “Write a page from your autobiography,” will yield much more interesting answers and give you better insight into the personality of the candidate.

2.) Set Up a Group Interview

If you’re hiring for a position that involves heavy interaction with people, then you’re going to want to find out how your prospective candidates behave in a group. Arranging for a group interview can tell you a lot about applicants’ personalities, social comfort, confidence, and poise.

The nature of the position can dictate the size of the interview group, as well as how the interview is structured (asking questions in a small group or asking for individual presentations in front of a larger group).

3.) Require an Audition

The best way to find out whether a potential employee has the skills to do a job is to watch them doing the job in question. What does this mean? If you’re hiring a salesperson, ask candidates to sell you something during the interview.

Tech candidates could be asked to solve a logic problem, marketing candidates to put together a presentation, and so on. It’s up to you whether or not to give notice of this test before the interview so applicants can prepare or only give them fifteen minutes during the interview so you can see how applicants work on their feet.

4.) Throw an Open House

Larger companies that generally receive an incredible amount of applications for each position (sometimes over a thousand) often announce an open house to spotlight those who are truly interested in the position.

You’ll get far fewer applicants at your open house than you’ll get resumes from an online posting, leaving you with a smaller group of dedicated candidates from which to choose.

5.) Consider Company Culture

If your company has a very specific culture, you’ll want to know whether prospective candidates will fit in. Make questions related to your company’s culture part of the application process. For example, online shoe mogul Zappos lists “weirdness” as a tenet of its company culture.

Zappos’ hiring process requires candidates to respond to a questionnaire that includes questions like “On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?” You can glean a lot of information from applicants’ responses to questions of this slightly more personal, potentially flustering nature – and the respondents whose answers jive perfectly with your company’s culture will shine.

6.) Hire Outside the Industry

Though you may meet with a lot of internal resistance, hiring from outside your company’s industry can be a very successful way to inject fresh ideas into your talent pool. If a position’s responsibilities are roughly equivalent among your industry and the industry of the potential applicant (for example, marketing, sales, HR, or tech positions), the applicant will only require a minimum of training to get up to speed on your company’s business.

Choosing a person from a different industry guarantees that you’ll be selecting a candidate whose fresh perspective can keep your company competitive.

7.) Go for the Brainteaser

Tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple famously require their applicants to pass pre employment assessment tests, usually with logic puzzles and other types of brainteasers included.

While this strategy might not translate exactly to hiring non-tech positions, you can still use this line of thinking to devise challenging interview questions that require candidates to think outside the box when answering. (Just make sure your questions are relevant to the job in question – going too far off the reservation with non sequitur questions can turn off potential hires).

8.) Speed Date the Candidates

Not literally, of course. Instead, arrange the hiring process so that candidates spend a short amount of time with four or more hiring managers and potential supervisors or coworkers. How an applicant performs when asked to bounce from one short interview to another can be very illuminating and gives you the advantage of gathering a greater number of opinions from the people who will be most affected by the hire.

9.) Break Bread

When hiring for senior-level positions, it can be incredibly advantageous to see what candidates are like after-hours in a social setting. Taking an applicant to dinner can be a great way to get to know a person and analyze how he or she might fit in with the company culture.

Other companies think a little outside the box on this one, inviting prospective hires to a baseball game, barbecue, or company picnic as a way to really kick back and evaluate their personalities when they’re at their most relaxed.

10.) Get Stuck at the Airport

Finally, you can use an incredibly unconventional hiring technique as a quick way to make a selection among a tight group of talented applicants. Whoever you hire is going to spend an incredible amount of time either with you or the members of their department.

So once you’ve met all the applicants, imagine who you’d least mind being stuck in an airport with. The snap answer that comes into your mind should tell you all you need to know.


This piece was written by Andrianes Pinantoan who is part of the team behind Open Colleges. When not working, he can be found on Google+ or @andreispsyched.

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