An ad agency recently used brain scans to find the right interns. Should we expect to face a brain scan when we apply for our next job?
Trendspotter: The brain-scan job interview
A few years back, it became fashionable to test yourself against the questions that candidates are asked at interview when they go for a job at Google. “How many piano tuners are there in the world?” “How many golf balls can fit into a jumbo jet?” “How would you weigh your own head?”
These kind of questions became synonymous with the legendarily tough Google hiring process. The idea is to see a candidate’s problem-solving skills in action, but in June Google’s senior vice-president of people operations, Laszlo Block, told The New York Times that the company no longer uses brainteasers at interview, saying they had proved ineffective: “They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart,” said Block.
For most of us, job interviews are a necessary, if unpleasant, fact of life. And these days, thanks to a far more fluid job market, we can expect to sit through more than our parents did: the average worker in the US, for example, stays in their job just 4.4 years. Meanwhile, for businesses getting job interviews right is crucial for medium and long-term success. After all, a company is only as strong as the people who make it up.
Now, technology is offering a new solution. Get ready for the brain-scan job interview.
This summer, the advertising agency TWBA/Istanbul used brain scans to help it select five summer interns from 503 applications. As part of the hiring process it used an EEG headset to monitor the electrical activity of candidates’ brains while they watched legendary advertising. TWBA claims it could make inferences about the passion of the candidates by examining their emotional reactions.
It’s not a grave disservice to TWBA/Istanbul to say that all this is about generating headlines as much as it was really about identifying the best applicants. Nevertheless, it points to a new and transformative way of assessing candidates for employment – and one that credible people are taking seriously. Professor Willem Verbeke is the head of neuro-economics at Erasmus University in Rotterdam; he says advances in MRI scan interpretation is enabling scientists to predict how individuals make decisions and can also help them spot psychopaths. MRI scans could become a common part of the interview process for top jobs in business within five years, says Verbeke.
The brain-scan job interview raises difficult questions about human nature, free will and the way we should come to conclusions about other people. If we are to embrace the brain-scan job interview, we’d better think carefully about it.
Are our brainwaves more important than what we say and believe, when it comes to assessing our suitability for a certain set of tasks? If so, what does that tell us about the agency that we have in our own lives? Are we really only slaves to our brain activity, without the ability to take real control of ourselves or our destiny? You can ruminate on those questions in your own time: this is not an interview.
David Mattin is the lead strategist at trendwatching.com
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