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“How Would You Decorate Your Cubicle?”

by Sep 21, 2012, 6:48 am ET

The other day, in my HR Management class, we had a discussion on how you would prep a candidate to answer the question: “Tell me about yourself.” One of the MBA students in the class said that you should have two different answers prepared: one tailored for one type of culture and another answer tailored for another type of culture. This really bothered me. As recruiters, we shouldn’t be forcing candidates into positions in which they cannot be their true selves.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh once said: “Our whole belief is that everyone is a little weird somehow. We really recognize and celebrate each person’s individuality, and we want their true personalities to shine in the workplace environment, whether it’s with co-workers or when talking with customers.”

I really hold true to this philosophy when building my organization. When I hire recruiters and recruiting coordinators, one of the first interview questions I ask is: “How would you decorate your cubicle?” Seriously! People are taking a little by surprised with this question, but it ends up being a terrific icebreaker, as this allows people to know that:

  1. We are an “outside the box” kind of organization (a little “weird”).
  2. We really want to get to know YOU — not words on a resume.
At the core, in any organization, you need “good people”: people who can thrive in the environment.  You can teach “technical” skills to anyone; you cannot, however, change people’s core values. Like Tony Hsieh said, it’s about the individual. I really challenge recruiters and hiring managers to not force people into roles just for the sake of filling a need. We should be honest career coaches and work on ways in which we can guide people for their best fit.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  • Jim Doherty

    Candidates trying to ‘game’ the process do no one any favors – most importantly themselves. An experienced interviewer will recognize a ‘canned’ or ‘rehearsed’ response and that will put the candidate at a disadvantage.
    Many interviewers will want genuine responses and that is one reason interviewers will pose seemingly off the wall questions – how many gasoline stations are there in the US?
    As a candidate be prepared for a wide range of questions and answer with your head and heart NOT what you think the interviewer wants to hear. You will be better off in the long run.

  • Ken Schmitt

    Hmmm… I have to say that I disagree about candidates having different responses to the “who are you” question. The truth is, as the people at Zappos stated, each person is a quirky mix of many different things, and one of the biggest life lessons we all need to learn as we interact more and more in the world is this: Know you’re audience.

    As the owner of my own firm, I have a strong business side. I am a good project manager and leader (at least I hope so). However, personally, I love to joke around and sarcasm is my second language. However, I can not use both parts of my personality in all situations. That’s a lesson I’ve learned over and over. This is true when interviewing. First, candidates should be seeking employment within companies that they feel passionately about. It is something they are interested in or have a natural gift for. It may be a more structured environment that has a culture of “hunker down and get work done” or it might be a place with a more lax culture that encourages collaboration and teamwork. Neither is right or wrong- it’s all about fit. If you are someone who is strong in both those areas, you’re going to have to show the side of yourself that fits the specific culture you’re seeking to join. That is not a case of “not being your true self”. It’s a case of knowing your audience/environment. If the culture is not one that supports your personality or emphasizes the qualities you are less interested in focusing on, it’s not the place for you. Be yourself, but know your audience. Be authentic.
    Ken Schmitt
    http://www.turningpointsearch.net

  • Keith Halperin

    Hmmm. IMHO, candidates who want the job SHOULD game the system. Why? Despite what they say. most employers (I’ve run across) don’t want to know (let alone work with) the “real” person, unless that “real” person is “a self-starting, hard-charging, team-player who eats their own dog food, boils their own ocean, but doesn’t get lost in the weeds”. They should “go for the brass ring and not just the low hanging fruit” because thy “have fire in their belly and a song in their heart.” Finally, they need to have “a will of iron and nerves of steel” but not “feet of clay”. All kidding aside, most employers want to have people that they feel an affinity with, and that may or may not be who the candidate happens to be. If I accepted only work where they delighted in my fundamental nature and “interesting” personality, i would have largely been unemployed.

    As far as looking for a job with “passion”:
    You want “passion”? Get yourself a lover, a partner, or a spouse. I need something that will pay me well and on time and won’t leave me at the end of the day feeling like I’ve been steam-rollered or stabbed in the back multiple times.

    Fundamentally, go for the best place for you that you can, and recognize that you may need to make compromises and sacrifices to keep body and soul together.

    Keith “Hopefully Wiser Than I Used to Be” Halperin