How Job Candidates Now Resemble Reality TV Contestants

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Want a job? Then get ready to perform. The days in which a good education, a solid resume filled with relevant skills and work experience, and straightforward, professional answers to interview questions were enough to warrant a job offer are disappearing. It’s now in vogue for companies to put job applicants through a process not unlike sorority or fraternity rush, or the embarrassing challenges in a wacky reality TV show.

A recent Los Angeles Times story explores the trend it refers to as “extreme interviewing,” in which candidates are subjected to shenanigans that wouldn’t seem out of place on a reality TV program like “The Apprentice” or “Survivor.” College students applying for an internship with one company were asked to make the case why they should be selected solely via 13 different 140-character messages on Twitter. In some situations, a handful of job candidates are gathered in a bar or restaurant, just to see how everyone will react to the tension of facing off against their competition in person.

Job candidates are also increasingly lobbed outside-the-box questions like “If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?” and “On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?” Usually, there are not necessarily any correct answers. There are incorrect answers, though, in the form of any response that would reveal you as a moron or thoroughly unlikeable.

Google has a long, storied history of messing with job candidates’ heads in order to reveal how smart they are (or not), and how good they are thinking on their feet. Hiring managers like to asked offbeat questions such as “How would you weigh your head?”

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The brain teasers and quirky challenges aren’t limited to high-end jobs with major corporations, though. Even Walmart has been tossing in strange questions during interviews for low-level jobs.

The LA Times story notes that the Pinkberry chain has been known to make job applicants jump through an odd array of hoops before getting hired in entry-level gigs scooping frozen yogurt. In the past, to get a minimum-wage job, not much was required beyond a resume, the absence of a criminal record, and perhaps a urine sample. But today, in one exercise would-be Pinkberry hires are asked to improv fake commercials for the chain and think up marketing plans on the spot for hypothetical new products.

These exercises don’t exist simply to embarrass job candidates, to prove which is most desperate for work, or to amuse bored hiring managers. There is a point, Pinkberry explained in a statement, in that such exercises “allow us to see immediate impact on team connectedness, demonstrate service and leadership skills and unveil entrepreneurial spirit.”

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That’s valid enough, I suppose. Even so, if you’re interviewing for a job and Joe Rogan, the guy from “Fear Factor,” suddenly appears carrying a bucket full of live cockroaches, my advice is to make a run for it. That might not demonstrate entrepreneurial skills. But at least it’d show you have common sense.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.