9 Unexpected Interview Questions That Reveal a Lot About Candidates

January 31, 2017

Whether you’re screening a candidate over the phone or sitting down with them for their in person interview, you know there are some questions that you will definitely ask - questions that you ask just about every candidate. These include…

  • “What’s one of your greatest accomplishments?”
  • “Why do you want to work at our company?”

Sounds familiar, right? The problem is, candidates are expecting these questions...so they’ve had ample time to prep canned answers. And, that means it’s harder for you to get a clear understanding of who they really are.

The real test comes when you ask unexpected questions. No, we aren’t saying you need to stump candidates with extremely difficult questions (like these). But, if you want to determine whether or not a candidate is the right fit, you need to ask questions that dig deeper and reveal how they think, their workstyle, values, and what motivates them.

That said, here are nine questions that recruiters and leaders across different industries like to ask to reveal if a candidate has the qualities they are looking for.

1. “It’s 12 p.m. one year from now. What are you doing?”

Shared by: Angela Bortolussi, Partner at Social Recruiting

The goal of this question is to determine confidence. In Bortulussi’s opinion, if a candidate can answer this question quickly and assuredly, it signals that they know themselves and are confident in who they are.

“I’m looking for someone to answer with confidence, especially in roles that require confidence in decision making,” says Bortolussi. “This provides insight if they have the ability to think quickly on their feet.”

And it’s not just about having the confidence to make decisions - people who have a healthy level of self-assurance aren’t shy about trying out new ideas, asking questions, stretching the limits, and believing in themselves. All of which are traits that will help drive a company forward.

2. “What is the one thing you like most about your current manager, and what is one thing you would change?”

Shared by: Allison Hernandez, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Lotus823

Asking this question “helps me better understand the type of work environment they excel in and how they best communicate and learn in that environment,” says Hernandez.

If the candidate’s answer indicates they wouldn’t work well on the team they are being hired for or with their potential manager, that’s a clear signal that they aren’t right for the role.

3. “How would your manager describe you? Now tell me, how would your best friend describe you?”

Shared by: Krista Williams, Talent Acquisition Manager, North America at Swarovski

With employee engagement being a major challenge for many organizations, it’s important to identify people who are passionate about the work that your company needs done. But, passion can be challenging to assess in an interview, which is why Williams asks this particular question.

“The similarities and variances between the answers to these two questions can tell you a lot. I find that those who describe themselves fairly similarly in both instances tend to enjoy the work they are doing more than just as a job,” says Williams.

Look for candidates who are equally enthusiastic about their work and personal lives — a sign that they will find happiness within your organization too.

4. “Give me an example of someone that you coached and developed and were able to promote. What did you work on with them to make it happen?"

Shared by: Nickolaus Bushman, Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist at Staples

“This question shows how passionate they are about coaching others, and what their approach is to keeping and developing their team,” says Bushman.

Understanding this is especially important if you are hiring for a managerial role, as you want to bring people into the company who will help others grow and succeed - ultimately helping your company succeed.

5. “Can you share a story (about anything) that speaks to who you are from a values perspective?”

Shared by: Sharon Hulce, President/CEO of Employment Resource Group Inc.

Skills are only part of the hiring equation. It’s equally — if not more — important to find candidates who share your company values. By asking candidates to share a personal experience or story, you’ll start to learn more about how this person thinks, acts, and feels. As Hulce points out, however, recruiters should be cognizant to steer the conversation back to careers:

“The key is to be prepared and only discuss personal situations or characteristics as they relate to the candidate’s work ethic and the value that they would provide to the prospective employer,” says Hulce.

There is no ‘right way’ to approach this question. Instead, look for discussion points that shed insight into the person’s passions and values.

6. “What is your perfect job?”  

Shared by: Paige Carratturo, CEO and Founder at Enertech Search Partners

The goal of this question is understanding a candidate's motivations. Look for signs that tell you whether the candidate cares about his or her career trajectory...not just getting a raise or promotion.

“What’s critical is finding out what drives people in their careers. Most people aren’t looking for a job, they are looking for a love affair,” says Carratturo. Look for people who are willing to work hard to pursue that ‘next step’ in their careers.

7. “How would you describe yourself in one word?”

Shared by: Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of YWCA

The best candidates are “the ones who know exactly who they are,” says Heron. It’s not about which word they use, either, she says, but about the way they define themselves.

Watch carefully how candidates react to this question. Are they thoughtful and confident in their answer? According to Heron, the best candidates don’t just blurt something out - they are the ones who take some time to reflect before answering.

8. “Give me an example of a time that you lost your temper. Tell me what happened. What was the outcome?

Shared by: Annette Matthies, Human Resources Consultant

Asking this question can help you understand a candidate’s emotional intelligence, as emotionally intelligent people are self-aware and will own up to their mistakes.

“Emotional intelligence is about being aware of self and others as well as interacting with others,” says Matthies. “Answers to these questions will tell you how their interactions will be, how much conflict there will be on the job and how the mood of the organization will be.”

Look for people who make amends and focus on problem solving and conflict resolution.

9. “How long are you willing to fail at this job before you succeed?”

Shared by: Jon Sterling, CEO at Interview Circuit

This question is good because it throws people off - they often can’t just come up with something obvious that will instantly satisfy the interviewer.

Sterling says a good candidate will express that they’re willing to stick with the job for as long as it takes to succeed. Weaker prospects will dodge the question, by changing the topic or sidestepping the question in some other way.

Try one or more of these questions in your next interview and see if it helps you learn a bit more about your candidate than the typical questions would allow.

But, the hiring process isn’t just about the interview - check out our new 2017 Ultimate Hiring Toolbox for 16 recruitment checklists, interactive forms, hiring templates and more that will make your hiring process easier.

*Image from Death to the Stock Photo

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