Technologist - The FindLaw Legal Technology Blog

Why Asking Applicants Riddles Is a Bad Idea

Imagine walking into an interview and being asked a riddle. That doesn't sound like fun, does it? Or how about instead of a riddle, you're asked, by a mysterious black box, to solve a complex mathematical equation that the company spent months on figuring out ... sounds like something right out of science fiction, right?

Well, like cloned goats and wall-sized interactive television (advertisements at least), the riddle-me-this-impossible-equation-black-box-interviewer science-fiction scenario is no longer a fiction. And if you're wondering who you have to thank (or curse or sue), look no further than Lockheed Martin.

Travelling Interview Contest

Basically, Lockheed Martin set up a black box on the campus of Virginia Tech, and after a student figured it out, they were treated to a laser light show inside some lit-up geometric tube, purporting to be Lockheed Martin's view of the universe.

While Lockheed Martin has generated quite a bit of buzz due to this event, the stunt seems a bit worthless. The student that entered the answer, and many others, presumably, didn't work alone to solve the equation, and it probably doesn't matter as there's no real prize other than the opportunity to interview at Lockheed Martin, which is probably somewhere around the bottom of most science grads' lists of places they actually want to work. Schools aren't really churning out grads that want to be weapons developers, and while scientists may not be known for being religious, they still have ethics, and working for a weapons developer isn't really many peoples' top choice either.

Red Flag

The Lockheed Martin black box interview contest is a major red flag for applicants. Employers that don't respect interviewees and applicants are likely not to respect employees. And Lockheed has a bit of a reputation of cheaping out (based on their dismal AI drone pilot contest payout).

If you're looking to hire top talent, having a contest to see who even gets interviewed is probably the worst way to find that top talent. What rational person (of which all people considered top talent are) is going to say, oh hey, here's a chance for me to get an interview if only I win a contest, when they can just go on any job board and find actual openings that don't require being subject to a test just to interview.

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