If you think a few tough questions are the worst things you can encounter in interviews, think again.
According to a new study from Sausalito, Calif.-based workplace culture website Glassdoor.com, a tough interview can entail anything from a series of formal tests to on-the-spot case analyses. Job seekers rate tech and consulting companies among the toughest for interviews.
How many people would use a drug that prevents baldness?”
Tech companies held 12 of the 25 spots on Glassdoor's 2012 list of the toughest companies to interview with. While Google and Facebook were notably absent from last year's list of 20, both made appearances this year, landing at ninth and 24th, respectively. Other notable tech firms on the list were ThoughtWorks (6), Unisys (10), Rackspace (11), Juniper Networks (18) and Amazon (25).
The rankings are calculated by analyzing anonymous user reviews of companies and their interview processes on Glassdoor.com.
While the interview processes at tech firms are intense, they're shorter than those at other firms and range between one and three weeks, said Scott Dobroski, a Glassdoor spokesman. Questions are technical, even for nontechnical positions on the business side. "'What would you change with our product?' and 'How would you push our product forward?'," are typical, he said.
One software engineering candidate at Facebook said he was asked "'Why Facebook?'" by all seven of his interviewers. "'Be ready to give great answers,'" the applicant said in his review. "'It's really important to them.'"
Facebook didn't respond to a request for comment.
Landing an interview at a high profile tech company is a coup in itself. Some applicants for jobs at Google, Facebook and Rackspace said they were "discovered" by the company, said Dobroski. "Many were found by recruiters on LinkedIn, which shows the power of updating your professional profile and keeping your brand active," he said. Others said they were interviewed after being referred to the organization.
Consulting firms are even tougher on job candidates during interviews., the Glassdoor survey suggested. McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Oliver Wyman, AT Kearney and ZS Associates took the top five spots on the list. McKinsey held steady in the top spot this year, while Oliver Wyman, AT Kearney and ZS moved into the top 5 after being ranked 15th, eighth and 11th in last year's installment of the survey. Several other consulting firms made the list, including Bain & Company (7) and LEK Consulting (17).
Consulting interviews typically include rigorous testing and case-study analyses, said Dobroski. "Some of these interview processes take two to four weeks and include a phone screen, a specific company test before you even come into the office in some cases, interviews with multiple people, some present you with case studies that you're asked to analyze on the spot, and then others require a written test on top of that," said Dobroski.
At McKinsey, Dobroski said, a "speed-dating" tactic is sometimes employed, where five different applicants are put together to meet with five different executives from the company for about a minute each. In this type of situation, it's particularly helpful to have an elevator pitch prepared, Dobroski suggested. "You should say who you are, what you have to offer the company, and if you have done your research, how you are going to solve their problems and how you are going to hit the floor running and tackle these problems."
McKinsey declined to comment on its recruiting process.
One job candidate said McKinsey asked him, "'There are three products: tomatoes, luxury cars, T-shirts. What value-added tax is applied to each product type?'" A BCG candidate said he was asked, "'How many people would use a drug that prevents baldness?'"
BCG wasn't available for comment.
Bain and McKinsey landed the top two spots in Glassdoor's annual "Best Companies to Work For" list, despite their notoriety for long work hours and demanding job responsibilities. Other companies that made both lists were Facebook, Google, General Mills, Rackspace and Procter & Gamble.
In general, candidates should be aware that the tough economy means a larger pool of applicants, which in turn leads employers to step up their selectivity in the interview process.
Candidates should also be prepared to handle unwelcome surprises with grace, such as scenarios like McKinsey's speed-dating, strange questions or behavior from interviewers and marathon interview days. In some cases, they might just be looking to see how you handle tough situations, so keep your wits about you rather than letting a surprise get the better of you.
Glassdoor's Top 25 Most Difficult Companies to Interview:
1. McKinsey & Company (Consulting)
2. Boston Consulting Group (Consulting)
3. Oliver Wyman (Consulting)
4. AT Kearney (Consulting)
5. ZS Associates (Consulting)
6. ThoughtWorks (Technology)
7. Bain & Company (Consulting)
8. Shell (Energy)
9. Google (Technology)
10. Unisys (Technology)
11. Rackspace Hosting (Technology)
12. Cypress Semiconductor (Technology)
13. SIG Susquehanna (Finance)
14. Bazaar Voice (Technology)
15. Procter & Gamble (Consumer Goods)
16. Teach For America (Education)
17. LEK Consulting (Consulting)
18. Juniper Networks (Technology)
19. Sapient Corp. (Technology)
20. Stryker (Technology)
21. General Mills (Consumer Goods)
22. Progressive (Finance)
23. Headstrong (Technology)
24. Facebook (Technology)
25. Amazon (Technology)
Write to Kelly Eggers at firstname.lastname@example.org