How to Screen Job Applicants, Act Your Age, and Get Your Brain Off Autopilot (Ep. 172)

Listen now:

Think-Like-a-Freak 3D smallThis week’s episode is the first installment of our Think Like a Freak Book Club (we plan to do three). It’s called “How to Screen Job Applicants, Act Your Age, and Get Your Brain Off Autopilot.” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above. You can also read the transcript, which includes credits for the music you’ll hear in the episode.)

Here’s how the Think Like a Freak Book Club works: readers and listeners send in their questions about specific chapters of the book, and Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt answer them on the podcast. This episode covers chapters 1-3: “What Does It Mean to Think Like a Freak?”; “The Three Hardest Words in the English Language”; “What’s Your Problem?” You all sent in some really great questions. Among the ones that Dubner and Levitt take on in the podcast:

  • How can I get my brain off auto-pilot?
  • Why are most companies so resistant to change?
  • Has there ever been a society that succeeded in putting the collective above the individual?

And this one: “What kind of question should you ask job candidates to see if they’re too prone to b.s.-ing?” As you’ll hear in the podcast:

LEVITT: I would say what the interviewer’s going to have for lunch that day. Because it’s completely stupid.

DUBNER: That’s pretty good. And totally unanswerable.

Thanks to everyone for the questions. If yours was used in the podcast, we’ll send you your choice of an autographed copy of Think Like a Freak or a limited edition Think Like a Freak t-shirt.

And now it’s time to send in your questions for the next Book Club episode. You can either leave them in the comments section below or e-mail them to radio (at) The next episode will cover chapters 4-6: “Like a Bad Dye Job, the Truth Is in the Roots”; “Think Like a Child”; and “Like Giving Candy to a Baby.” Thanks in advance.


I was just listening to the part of the podcast where you're talking about corporations and the fact that data is so impossible to gather. As someone whose job is at least 75% compiling and working with reports (I'm not IT, but I call them an awful lot) I can DEFINITELY confirm this. Data is pulled from various systems and compiled in various other systems, and when you try to get it out in a comprehensible and accurate might as well try to divine the results with rune stones. It'll be faster, and probably more accurate.

John Coffin

some evidence of a society that might, punish people who get too self interested. or as they say north of the border cut down all the tall trees.

Julia Eccles

I know it was just an example, but the question, "What will I have for lunch?" seems to invite a creative, spontaneous answer. I would answer something like, "a jam sufflé," or, "roasted jelly beans." If you say "I don't know" it shows a lack of initiative. What the employer is looking for is someone who has both initiative and confidence, rather than to test their honesty or lack thereof – that sounds like it should be a separate test.