10 of the Most Unexpected Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

You've written the job postings, you've combed through the resumes and you've selected the best candidates – on paper. But it's the face-to-face meeting that will either seal the deal or send them packing. Get the answers you want and make the most of your time (and theirs) by shaking up the standard interview. Skip the generic questions and you won't get mundane answers. Don't be afraid to dig a little deeper. This is the time for BOTH of you to shine.

1. Why are you here?

Cut to the chase. Set the stage. You get the point. You’ll likely learn a lot about how the candidate reacts to being put on the spot. While some may welcome the informal nature of the question and handle it with ease, others may be put off and uncomfortable. Pay attention to body language.

2. Describe a situation – either work or personal – where you faced a major obstacle in your path to accomplishing a goal or commitment. How did you handle it and what was the ultimate outcome?

 The candidate's reponse should give you a decent read on how she deals with conflict. Expect to hear a positive outcome, but pay particular attention to the emotion with which she describes the process. You might gain some insight on her problem solving ability and get a sense of whether stress fuels (or finishes) her.  

3. If I hired you, tell me how you would help me get a 5 star review with MY boss.  

Let the candidate expound about how completely invaluable he will be to you and the company. Just as he is basking in his glory, follow up with "How could you lose money for me?" If he is more detailed and enthusastic about the latter question, you may want to wrap up early.

4. If we hired you, what are the first three things you would do on the job?

Find out if the candidate has a plan. Just as a president lays out a number of things to be accomplished in the first 60 days, you can get a sense of what the candidate plans to bring to the table on day one. This will also give you an idea of how well he knows the company and to what degree he may have researched the position. 

5. Describe your ideal co-worker. And one that you dread.

Is your candidate a team player or does he do his best work while solo? This question may give you an idea of whether peers generally inspire or irritate your interviewee. Knowing these pet peeves can be valuable since YOU know the environment in which the candidate will spend her time. 

6. Pitch [name of company or product] to me as if I were a prospective buyer.

While this question might best suit candidates who are interviewing for a sales position, it's still worth asking in most situations. You'll likely get a grasp on the candidate's speaking style, use of grammar, and perhaps most imporantly – the way in which he may interact with current and potential clients. 

7. Describe the boss who would get your very best work out of you.

Find out what motivates the candidate. While some employees thrive under pressure, others cannot stand being micromanaged. Write down the answer(s). Should the candidate become an employee, you may need to use the info to fuel the inspirational fire from time to time.  

8. What's your greatest fear about this opportunity?

 You may have covered why they want the job, but find out what scares them about it too. Look for honesty and don't judge. If you discern that the learning curve (in terms of the position they're seeking) is way too steep or their confidence level is concerningly low, better to figure that out now. But more than likely, they'll cite fear of failure or of the unknown – which is normal and can be rectified through time and training.  

9. What's your definition of hard work?

Hard work is subjective. What do you want out of the candidate? Does working longer indicate working harder? Or is working smarter – in less time – more appealing? Find out the candidate's definition and decide if it aligns with the position, the company and your expectations as the employer. 

10. Is there anything I haven't asked you that I should?

This is a more clever (and not so typical) spin on "Do you have any questions for me?". Plus it turns the tables and lets you know how you're doing as an interviewer. This might be the forum for the candidate to reiterate why he's a perfect fit for the company. Or maybe an opportunity to share a personal and relatable story. Either way, you're almost guaranteed some originality in repsonses. Unless it's a "No." ... in which case your next thought should probably be "Next."


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