By Seth Oster
In what seems to be a lifetime ago, as I transitioned from Construction Management into IT Project Management, I was asked the most peculiar question during an interview that I have gone on to use throughout my career:
“Describe to me how you would create a Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich.”
At first glance this seems like a silly question, and when I was first asked the question I chuckled. Even today when I ask the question there is usually a similar reaction. But after I didn’t get past that interview, I followed up with the hiring manager to ask the relevance of the question.
His explanation opened my eyes to a perspective that I had not realized I lacked at the time.
Most candidates have refined their resumes to contain keywords and catch phrases intended to outline their experience. Many candidates prepare for an interview by looking at a sample of textbook interview questions that we have all asked and answered. Candidates may even go as far as researching the company they are applying with, and sometimes even the role.
All of this leads to a fairly stagnant, check-the-box type of interview. I have found that some of this is relevant, but there is additional information about the candidate, and how they think, that I need to know before being able to truly evaluate them for a role.
When I am interviewing a potential candidate for a role, at any level, I treat it as a conversation with questions and answers going both ways. When it feels like the conversation has progressed successfully through the “check-the-box” type questions and it is time to hear more, I throw the question out there.
But Why Ask Potential Rulesware Employees About Creating a Sandwich?
- It is a question that most people would not even think to prepare for unless they have heard it in the past.
- The question breaks the monotony of any previous questions and most people begin to loosen up.
- You’ll see how a candidate reacts to something that they are unprepared for.
- As the candidate begins the explanation, you start to really see how the candidate thinks.
From this one simple question, there are numerous things you can ascertain without asking specific questions, including:
- Communication style
- Critical thinking
- Attention to detail
As an interviewer, you can then further explore any of these elements with other examples or details—especially if red flags start to present themselves. For example, if the candidate takes a long time to answer the question because they are overly detailed, do they struggle getting work done on time? Or do they struggle with explaining things simply?
There is no right answer to the PB&J question, and the question can be asked for virtually any type of position, because it provides insight into the thinking of a candidate as part of the interview conversation.
Hiring resources is expensive. And hiring the wrong resource can be catastrophic—especially at Rulesware, since our strong teams are the product we sell.
Trying to evaluate a candidate across many levels of criteria is a difficult task, and the more information you can capture in your conversation, the better prepared you will be to provide an accurate assessment.
BIO: SETH OSTER
Seth Oster is a Senior Account Delivery Manager at Rulesware.
Rulesware is hiring! Get your PB&J answer prepared.