Your resume looks great, but how’s your Jenga game?

How do you uncover a person’s true character in a job interview? When people know they’re being evaluated, they of course put on their best behavior and play nice. But are they really? You can ask them what they’re like, but will they tell the truth?

Here’s a fun way to uncover an applicant’s character that I found in a comment thread over on It involves a serious game of Jenga:

Where I work, we do our best to weed out the unhappy and cynical employees before they even get hired. Coworkers who are constantly cynical and unhappy are absolutely terrible for morale, and we do whatever we can to avoid it both before and after hiring.

After each candidate goes through his/her well-rehearsed and pre-meditated interviews with HR and management, the entire engineering team (small company) comes into the room, closes the door, and starts a game of Jenga like it’s no big deal. Meanwhile, we strike up a casual conversation with the candidate and insist s/he play with us.

Without fail, the candidates true colors are almost immediately revealed. Candidate scoffs at the idea of playing a game in an interview? Obviously too uptight for our group and not capable of handling rapidly changing situations. Focusing on Jenga also takes the candidate’s mind off of all of the pre-meditated answers and pages of ‘interview tips’ articles that we’ve all read at one point or another. The trick is to treat the game of Jenga like it’s serious business so the candidate follows suit and forgets about the formalities of the interview and whatever persona s/he is trying to craft for the interviewers. If the person can discuss intense technical topics without breaking a sweat while playing Jenga, then s/he likely knows the subject matter pretty well.

Works every time. We end up with engineers who get along, think on their feet, are laid back, and known their stuff.

I like it. It reminds me of this great story from Hal Rosenbluth’s book The Customer Comes Second:

CEO Hal Rosenbluth was once about to hire an executive with all the right skills, the right personality and the perfect CV. His interviews went swimmingly and he’d said all the right things, but something about him still made Rosenbluth nervous, though he couldn’t put his finger on just what it was.

His solution was brilliant: He invited the applicant to a company softball game, and here he showed his true colors. He was competitive to the point of being manic. He abused and yelled at both the opponents and his own team. He cursed the referees and kicked up dirt like a major league player.

And he did not get the job.

I absolutely agree that no workplace should tolerate jerks and the best time to weed them out is before they’re ever hired. Playing games is just one way to make people forget themselves enough to show who they really are.

Your take

What do you think? Does your workplace do something similar? Have you tried something like this in a job interview?

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17 thoughts on “Your resume looks great, but how’s your Jenga game?”

  1. Alexander,

    Thanks again for a useful, happy post. My leadership needs some fun and it’s time I took the bull by the horns! We have a meeting tonight.

    On another note. You posted about getting up every 30 minutes to move around. My timer has 2 minutes before I’m up and out for 2.5 minutes.

    So you can see I took it to heart. Wrote a blog about it and then a follow up blog. You’re influencing me and I’m influencing others. How fun is that?

    If you are interested the blogs begin with “2.5 minutes that changed my day.”

    You’re rocking!

    Leadership Freak
    Dan Rockwell

  2. Love the post!!! I had an interview for a job, and my babysitter didn’t show up, when I called to reschedule the interview I was told to come and bring the kids with me. I interviewed with a 4 year old and 1 1/2 year old….maintained my composure… and got the job!! My new boss said he figured if I could do that I could handle whatever the job would throw my way.

  3. this is a very clever idea, I got a Jenga set once at a holiday party hosted by Pointroll. I brought it in to work the next day and it immediately became “the” lunch activity. You could hear the whole team laughing away in the kitchen every time those pieces came down. Truly an icebreaker game.

  4. great idea of course. Things like this in interviews are super useful. Another one, minus the ‘prop’ of the game, the my boss, and I guess I as well, like to use is conversing with the applicant about their taste in music. That sort of highly opinionated/personal aspect of one’s life tells alot about them (of course, you kind of have to be a big music fan to use this tactic)

    Another note — getting a Jenga set for the office is a great idea — think I’m gonna get on that.

  5. Agree.

    This would struggle in the UK were I am based because people are inherently uptight and reserved but nevertheless it is something I have always done in all previous projects I have started or business.

    I don’t do uptight. Life is miserable enough as it is and life is too short to now want to sustain a happy atmosphere at work or online.

    I’m starting up a new company and it’s hard trying to communicate this to business advisors who just don’t get that I am making this type of people management theory, intergral to my business model!

    Won’t stop trying though!

  6. I love Jenga!! This is a great idea, throwing a curve ball at an interviewee is going to really cause them to open up and show their true colors.

  7. This is a great idea. It’s very hard to break through someone’s hardened interview shell.

    @Johnnie: love that quote!

  8. Great idea. I used a logic test as part of the hiring process in a past career. Helped me evaluate if applicants were capable and willing to think on their own which was essential in our office. Some people thought it was weird but those were the people we didn’t want to hire (or be around) anyway.

    Maybe I should buy stock in the company that makes Jenga. I have a feeling they’re about to have a jump in sales.

  9. What a silly manipulative interview technique.

    I hate jenga. It’s a silly game. Every time my turn would come I would deliberately remove a piece to knock the pile over just so I could take solace in the amount of time it took to reset the game, during which perhaps I could get some real interviewing in.

  10. Comment to David Gruber:

    When I was hired at one of GE’s subsidaries, I asked at the interview if they could recommend any prior employees I could talk to – as they wanted references on me why wouldn’t I take references on them. They were taken a bit aback but offered up a couple of names. Having done my homework I had already talked to both of the people suggested, but that they played along told me that they were not afraid of what prior employees said about them. And by the way, I got the job.

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