Login or signup
36
HUMAN RESOURCES

11 Interview Questions You Wouldn't Think to Ask--But Should
 

Does an out of the box question help you make better hires? These companies think so.

Advertisement

Everyone wants to make better hiring decisions. Most people focus on how well candidates perform in the interview: In theory, if you ask the right questions, you'll get answers that will give you insight into what the candidates really bring to the table.

The following companies use questions that aren't exactly the standard, "where do you see yourself in 5 years?" question, but they swear they work. The explanations below the questions comes from the businesses. Read through them and then tell me what you think and what works in your business--either in the comments or by sending me an email at EvilHRLady@gmail.com.

"I'm not sure you're a fit for the role..." -Mitchell Harper, Co-CEO, Bigcommerce

This is a comment rather than a question, and it works best when you're hiring people with strong personalities who need to push through constant "no's", like sales reps or sales leaders. They then will do one of three things:

They may ignore you and skip over the comment. They may agree and try to move on. Or, they may try to sell you on the benefits of bringing them into your business, specifically bringing up the main reasons why you can't afford not to hire them. That's the kind of person you want in your business, right?

"What was your biggest failure and who was responsible for it?" -Shashi Upadhyay, CEOLattice Engines

This is an enlightening question because naturally people don't want to talk about their failures during an interview. However, this question forces a person to be reflective and honest about a past experience. What they say usually reveals a lot about their personality.

"Who's your favorite author? Why? What's the last book you read? What's the next book you want to read? Do you travel? What's your favorite city? Why? What's your favorite country? Why? -Rapid fire questioning-Jeremy Lopez, Marketing DirectorZeroTurnaround

Fast, snappy questions help determine a candidate's knowledge and opinion on certain topics, and also gauge their ability to handle the stress of a fast pace. By asking rapid-fire questions, ZeroTurnaround gains a better idea of whether the interviewer is telling the truth (and what they genuinely believe) or instead telling them what they want to hear (stock answers).

"If you were building a website, how would you design a forgotten password authentication process?" -Dave Messinger, CTO, CloudSpokes

This is a question that we ask certain candidates in the interview process because their answer provides us a solid understanding of how they troubleshoot and problem solve, especially for our technical job applicants. We are looking for candidates that think of how they can use existing, pre-packaged technologies and skills to solve problems, instead of starting from scratch every time, a skill that is practiced on the job every day. We're more interested in hearing about their thought process than the viability of their answer.

"You've seen the office. What would you change?" -Nancy Devine, Vice President of HRAxceler

The reasons we ask this question are twofold. First, it gives us the insight into the candidate's ability to fit into our already defined sales culture, one that is also quite quirky. Second, candidates' answers show us if they have the ability and bravado to express an opinion on the spot, a skill which is essential to the 'insight selling' process. Not only does this help us eliminate candidates who can't think on their feet, we sometimes get some cool ideas about how to change the office!

"What traffic sign would you be and why?" Or "What would you do if you woke up and found an elephant in your backyard?"-Melissa Gordon, Project ManagerEngauge

Their answer provides an interesting insight as to how they view themselves within seemingly safe parameters and gives you an idea of how creative they are. This question gives hiring managers a chance to see how candidates think on their feet and ensures that we hire innovative problem solvers--innovation and creativity are at the heart of what Engauge does, so it's vital to the success of the agency.

"Tell me a joke" -Kelly Madden, Vice President of Human Resources, Mimecast

We ask this question for a few reasons--to see how the candidate engages, quickly thinks on his or her feet and fits into our overall company culture based on the answer. Even if the joke doesn't make any sense, it's about the presentation and ability to adapt to a curve ball that we're looking for. A silly question, such as asking candidates what fruit or vegetable they would be and why or what kind of animal they would be and why can help us find superior candidates that best fit our culture.

"Can you make a function that determines whether a string is a palindrome or not?" -Ian Eyberg, Sr. Member of Technical Staff, Appthority

Example:

"aba"

"abba"

"abc"

I always ask this question first to see if they know what a palindrome is (I explain what it is before having them solve it). If the candidate can't whip this out immediately I pretty much cancel the rest of the interview as it's fairly straightforward.

"Can you put this deck of cards in order?" -Christopher Penn, Vice President Marketing Technology, SHIFT Communications

In in-person interviews, I have been known to hand the candidate a shuffled deck of cards and ask them to put it in order. Then I listen for what questions they ask, and use that to determine how they think about solving a very ambiguous problem. Usually everyone asks what I consider order to be, and I usually say, "Whatever you want it to be." People I pass on are people who don't ask any questions or who outright panic under the stress, since neither is a good trait.

"This is a completely new and untried direction for our company. If we hire you and, through your efforts, nothing happens, the doors get locked, the plant is swallowed up by a sinkhole and no one here is ever heard from again, how would you deal with that kind of responsibility and what might you do to prevent that from happening?" -David McCall, VP Sales & Marketing, Updesk

The response by the young man who got the job was, "I've been the blog voice for several music stars. If I can make the public believe that I'm a 22-year old female singing sensation, then I believe I can keep UpDesk out of a sinkhole."

We asked this question to help tell us a few things about the candidate: if they have leadership skills, versatility and if they can and will contribute to the growth of our company. We look for candidates who are ready and able to push our company forward and can give us a thoughtful and confident answer to this question, without hesitation.

"Why do you want to work here?" -Jacob Jaber, CEO, Philz Coffee

We ask this question before we bring any candidate into the office for an in-person interview. It's a simple question, but it never fails to indicate whether or not someone is worth meeting in person. One of our core values is company culture and people and this question is the simplest way to tell whether or not the person is the right fit for our company.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jun 20, 2013

SUZANNE LUCAS spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.
@RealEvilHRLady




Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Comment and share features
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: