Recently, I wrote about some of the best interview questions that Inc.com has featured over the years. And I asked readers who had other suggestions to let me know about them.

Wow, did you ever deliver. Today, we'll begin sharing some of the replies, starting with nine of the more unusual interview questions -- creative ideas that elicit insights, while being offbeat enough that applicants probably won't show up for job interviews with stock answers. 

Feel free to use these questions as they are. But perhaps even better, use them as a jumping-off point to come up with your own creative questions.

1.    "If you could kick one state out of the United States, which one would you pick and why?"

For pure curiosity's sake, you might be interested to know if an applicant really thinks we'd be better off without North Dakota or Alabama. But the point of course is to see how the applicant thinks, and sometimes even what he or she believes.

"I've heard applicants respond with fiscal perspectives, instinctual perspectives, experiential perspectives, and sometimes even downright nasty perspectives," said Taylor Kerby, founder of Something Great Marketing, who suggested this question. "In the end, it can let you know if the candidate would be a good fit for the role and, sometimes more important, a good fit for your company's culture."

2.    "A screwdriver and a screw together cost $2.20. The screwdriver costs $2 more than the screw. How much does the screw cost?" 

Oddball question, sure. It seems like it should be easy. But most people will come to a quick and incorrect answer: 20 cents.

The correct answer is actually 10 cents, and Mark Anderson, CEO of Complete Express Foods, said he'll explain the math behind it. (If you're having trouble with that math, here's an explanation.)

"This question has ... everything to do with listening, reading, and whether the new hire will challenge basic facts and directions," Anderson explained. "Those that still argue [after it's been explained], you immediately end the interview and wish them success at another company."

3.    "What do you do if the internet goes out at the office?"

I'm betting the preferred answer here is not something like, "Just call it quits for the day."

Of course, you're trying to figure out if the applicant can solve problems, go past a job description, and even bring lessons learned elsewhere to the office. 

And, said Corri Smith, owner of a consulting and events firm in Charlotte, North Carolina, called Black Wednesday, the question "has truly tripped people up. One time a girl sat for a whole minute and then said, 'I don't know. I just don't know. I don't have an answer.' It really shows the capacity to ... create a solution and can also demonstrate how interested they are in getting their work done."

4.    "If you were a box of cereal, what cereal would you be and why?" (Alternative: "What's your favorite board game?") 

These are two bizarre questions, and you're probably not all that interested in the ultimate answers. What you care about instead is the thought process and attitude.

"While this is an extremely weird question to ask, it's a great way to get a more personal view of the potential candidate," said Lewis Thomas, owner of Host Sorter, who suggested the cereal box question. "It also doubles as an icebreaker."

"It's a rather whimsical and unexpected question, and shows me how quickly they can think on their feet," said Michael Pearce, a recruiter at Addison Group, who suggested the board game idea.

5.    "Do you like to win or hate to lose?"

OK, I guess I'm about to ruin this question, at least if you're interviewing at HR tech company  Paycor, because Todd Rimer, senior manager in talent acquisition there, told me there actually is a right answer in his mind.

"Those that like to win, you can't fault them. Who doesn't like to win? When you win, you are on top," Rimer suggested. "But, when you hate to lose, you are more inclined to learn from mistakes, learn from past experiences, and use these experiences in the future, whether it's your next project or your next sale." 

6.    "What do you suck at?"

This question isn't all that different from the timeworn, "What's your greatest weakness?" However, I think it's more direct -- and less expected.

"It allows me to understand where they see their shortcomings, but also gives me insights into where they want to avoid [spending] their time," said Peter Sullivan, founder and CEO of Jackpocket. "If that's in conflict with where we need attention, I learn a lot." 

7.     "What was the best day at work you've had in the past three months?" 

I think this is the opposite of the question above: It's a way to get an unguarded insight into a classic question.

"Instead of hitting your candidates with the same old, 'What are your strengths?' question," said Darren Bounds, CEO of Breezy HR, "this is a more organic way to uncover their strengths." 

8.    "Tell me about a project you worked on that failed. What did you learn?"

Failure is probably the last thing that most job applicants want to dwell on seriously, and with good reason.

But pushing in this direction, with a broad, open-ended question like this, tells you a lot more than the applicant's strengths and weaknesses, said Matt Erickson, managing director at National Positions.

You're trying to find out things like, "Is this candidate driven? How do they communicate with teams?" Erickson explained. "Do they take responsibility? Can they learn and adapt, etc.?"

9.    Tell us about a time when you've had to deal with rejection.

I'm including this question here because it's similar, but not quite the same, as the question about failure. It's especially interesting when you're interviewing people for a sales-related role.

"Recruitment is a predominantly sales-based environment," said Ian Clark, head of Americas at recruiting firm Mason Frank International, "so being able to handle rejection is essential to a candidate's success in the role. ... What I'm looking for is a candidate to demonstrate their resilience in this situation, and provide evidence of their drive and tenacity to bounce back."

Published on: Aug 5, 2019
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