Think you've heard 'em all?
Your handwriting could mean the difference between being employed by Pilot Pen Corp. of America or not.
The company announced late last month that it had hired its first Chief Graphology Officer. Graphology, for those us who only type these days, is the study of handwriting. Sheila Kurtz was hired to help the company make a final decision on Pilot Pen's applicants based on their handwriting. And, of course, any attendant media attention doesn't hurt the company a bit.
"We are really going to use her to have her analyze handwritings of all new applicants," said Ronald Shaw, president and chief executive. Sure, he's a believer, he said. Particularly after Kurtz told him she had analyzed his handwriting years ago, which showed her he was sincere and intelligent and had a lot of integrity. "All the things we would want to hear," he said.
But that's not the primary reason Shaw hired Kurtz. He truly thinks it can mean the difference between the right job candidate and one who is just putting on a good face in an interview.
"I personally interviewed people and hired people . . . and after a week or so of having that person on the job, I wonder what happened to that person I interviewed," Shaw said. "We're just looking to avoid . . . making errors."
Although Shaw said he would not define the handwriting analysis as a publicity stunt, it is good PR, he acknowledged.
He also said he used to put handwriting analysis in the same league as palm reading. But he began to read books about it and thinks differently now. "This is not a carnival act. It's kind of, for us, getting back to the basics in terms of, What do we really do? We make pens. What do you do with pens? That's where the handwriting comes in."
I'll check back with Shaw in a few months to see how he thinks the handwriting analysis has worked out, and whether he thinks it helped him avoid hiring the wrong people.
But in the meantime, I thought I'd look at the odd things other people have experienced in interviews, or the questions interviewers ask that they think have helped them find the right employees.
A local director of sales told me she asks interviewees what their favorite Pepperidge Farm cookie is. "My department is very fast-paced and unpredictable, and I ask that question to find out how well they think on their feet."
And maybe what sort of cookie she might receive as a gift if she hires them.
"If there's just a blank stare, then stammering -- or worse, they think I'm joking -- then that tells me quick thinking might not be a strong suit, and I'll pursue that with other questioning," she said. "I find those responses a lot with recent grads. They're so by-the-book prepared that my question isn't on their mental checklists, so they get thrown."
Of course, no one is going to be prepared for the question, so she expects a bit of hesitation. The best interviewees are those who then either come up with an actual Pepperidge Farm cookie or, better yet, someone who says that isn't their favorite brand, but they name what is. "That tells me that they are actually thinking about the question and aren't afraid to assert an alternative," the director of sales said. It also doesn't hurt, she added, if they have a sense of humor.
Which, in some of the cases described to me, is the only way to deal with many interview situations.
One person told me that when she interviewed for a marketing job at a music company four years ago, she was asked how she would feel if "co-workers hated and resented me because they felt they should have gotten the job."
Needless to say, Kris, the job seeker, was a bit taken aback. "The question so stunned me, I couldn't help but ask why weren't they considered for the job. I didn't get an answer," she said. She also didn't get a callback but was not too disappointed about that.
There are a lot of "tests" out there for interviewees. One was asked to write out instructions for a robot on how to wash a car. Another was asked to explain to the interviewer as if he were an alien how to make toast.
And another was told to calculate the difference between the length of a rope that would go around the earth at the surface and one that would do the same six inches above the surface. "A simple enough geometry question for a high schooler, but I'd been out of college for about five years and was far removed from my math class days," the interviewee said.
(Actually, I would not have known that answer in high school or five years out of college.)
The interview was for an internal promotion at her employer, and she knew it had no relevance to the job. "It caught me so off-guard and just blew my confidence to bits," she said. "My interviewer . . . sat there and let me sweat it out on my notepad. I eventually got it but was so flustered I couldn't wait to get out of his office. I didn't get the position, and I've always thought that was why."
And finally, here's a stunt an interviewee did to her interviewer, just as a test:
She needed a summer job, but this one -- selling knives -- did not seem like a very important step toward a career. So she thought she would do a little experiment. She had been reading a book about body language. According to the book, when you mimic the person to whom you are speaking, that shows the person you are in agreement. So when the interviewer leaned back, the interviewee did the same. When he crossed his legs, she crossed hers. When he clasped his hands, she clasped her hands. "Whatever gesture he did, I did the same thing. It took a lot of control not to burst out laughing," she said. But surprise, surprise: She got the job.
"I did it more for the interview experience," she said.
So the lesson here? Stop boning up on communication skills and start practicing your handwriting and cookie-eating. That, in the end, might win you a job. We'll try anything these days, right?
Join Amy Joyce from 11 a.m. to noon Tuesday at www.washingtonpost.com to discuss your life at work. Have a column idea? E-mail her at email@example.com.