Four Bold Companies, Four Creative Hiring Solutions

It turns out your favorite video game of 1994 can be a pretty useful hiring tool. Go figure.

Every new small business hits the scene like a rebellious teenager. They’re young, they’re proud and they’re full of energy. They know what they can do (and just wait till the world finds out). So why do so many of these trailblazing companies settle for hiring solutions that seem calibrated for picking out a particularly shiny industrial robot instead of the perfect human worker for the job?

When you’re fighting tooth-and-claw to grow your company in this shaky economy, you can’t afford to spend all day reading 1,000 rehearsed responses to the same application questions that companies have been asking since 1950.

That won’t show you what you need to know about an applicant. If you want to find cutting-edge employees that fit with your cutting-edge company, you need an employee selection process that helps you find the best clients, fast.

We asked some up-and-coming small businesses to share some of the clever hiring solutions that they use when it’s time to go panning for employee gold. Here are a few awesome suggestions that you might find helpful to incorporate into your own hiring process.

1. What’s Your Favorite Restaurant?

Matt McCormick owns JCD Repairs, a mobile phone repair shop based in Chicago. His company often posts on Craigslist when they’re looking to fill an open position, which tends to bring in more applications than they can handle. To help sort the great candidates from the mediocre, JCD asks every applicant to submit – along with their resume – a paragraph about their favorite restaurant in Chicago.

“It’s kind of an odd question for a cell phone repair job,” says McCormick, “but there are two big reasons why we ask it. First, the restaurant question tests whether or not an applicant can write a convincing paragraph and submit it quickly enough to not be lost in the flood of replies. Second, it reveals a lot about an applicant’s personality and tastes.

“Using this technique, we’ve been able to significantly improve our initial screening process, and as a result, our last four or five hires have been fantastic.”

2. Finish Him!

You don’t always need fancy job application software to help you determine the best employee for your company. If you’re a popular design firm like Cubicle Ninjas, a violent arcade game will do the trick nicely. As part of their creative employee selection process, the Illinois agency makes all interviewees battle their interviewer in an arcade fighting game.

“Shooting fireballs at an interviewer’s face is cathartic for the candidate, and it tells us a lot about their personality,” says Cubicle Ninjas founder Josh Farkas.

Farkas views the grudge match as a sort of psych test. Does the candidate ask for the rules before they play or do they jump in and learn as they fight? Are they afraid to be better than their potential manager? If they get shamed, do they make up excuses or ask for a rematch?

“We’ve had people who thought they screwed up an interview by winning, and we’ve had people who have flat-out refused to play,” says Farkas. “Our general rule is that if a candidate doesn’t leave smiling and hoping for another round, they probably aren’t the best fit for our team.”

3. Meet the Bottom of the Totem Pole

There’s a certain tension between interviewees and interviewers that can sometimes skew an employer’s impression of who a candidate really is. Eric Pratum, the marketing head, has come up with a creative solution for this.

“After a series of in-person interviews,” says Pratum, “I have someone very new to the company show the interviewee around the office and get to know them.”

Pratum specifically looks at how interviewees treat low-level employees when they think nobody’s watching. If a candidate can remain genial and courteous to their potential underlings after a long and stressful day of interviews, then they have a better shot at getting the job.

“I often find out more about the interviewee’s personality when I talk to that last employee than I do when I talk to the interviewee myself,” says Pratum.

4. Here’s a Current Problem. Solve It.

There’s no better way to test whether or not a candidate will be able to solve the problems your company is currently facing than by asking the person to solve a problem your company is currently facing. Larry Bodine, editor-in-chief for, makes it a point to present candidates with real-world problems that they could be charged with solving if they get the position.

Here’s a question an interviewee might face: “We have five free consumer newsletters, and each has a small subscriber base. What should we do to increase the base up to 10,000 readers?” Another one: “We’re looking for celebrity guest bloggers. Who would be some prominent people that you could approach?”

If an interviewee can provide feasible answers to these open-ended questions, they significantly improve their chances of getting the job.

These creative hiring solutions may all seem to be different on the surface, but they’re means to the same end: they get candidates to reveal their attitudes and aptitudes as quickly as possible. When you’re trying to grow a small business, it’s crucial to learn as much as you can about a candidate as quickly as possible.

If you don’t, you could end up wasting weeks assessing mediocre applicants. So the next time you’re trying to fill a position, try incorporating one or all of these creative hiring solutions into your own employee selection process. If you do, hiring an awesome employee will be easier, faster and a lot more enjoyable.

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