The weirdest but most informative interview questions

April 30, 2006

The weirdest but most informative interview questions
you could ever ask an interviewee, and what they mean?

There are as many opinions and methods of conducting prospective employee interviews as there are shareholders in Telstra.

You could go “mano e mano” and take them on yourself, you could go panel style and invite a number of work colleagues to sit in and grill the applicant. You could get all the candidates together in a room and mass evaluate them. You could interview all the candidates once and then short list the best one or two and then re-interview those.

My personal favourite for senior vacancies is to bring the best candidate(s) in three times for three different interviews in three different places using three different interview styles. I find this gives you a true sense of the person you’re interviewing, their abilities and their commitment.

As to interview length, for a junior role you might allow between 30 – 45 minutes and for a more senior management role a two to three hour interview is not unusual.

Whatever interview style and method you choose, make it relevant to the position and your company. Run it on a pre-conceived agenda and evaluate it according to pre- defined criteria. This allows you to objectively compare “apples with apples” and ensure each candidate has had equal fair treatment.

During the interview mix up the questions, warm up by asking some straight forward questions to verify their qualifications, credentials and memberships.

Follow up by asking some probing questions to test their ability to problem solve and some open ended questions to see how they respond.

Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions and never fear silence. Give the candidate plenty of time to think, frame and present their answers – you can learn just as much from their silence and thinking process as you can from their spoken words.

I am often asked about the sorts of questions you should ask and my answer is it depends on what answers you’re looking for, but here are some I prepared earlier:

If you wanted to test their ability to analyse, you might ask the candidate for an example of a difficult situation they managed to resolve. Was it resolved to the satisfaction of their boss? Did they see it coming and what skills did they use to overcome any obstacles in the way to its resolution. My analysis of this answer is to look for whether they have a reliance on fact or intuition and whether this aligns with the clients working style and needs.

To discover their leadership style, I might ask about an event that caused the candidate to re-evaluate how they led or managed their team, was it a permanent change or a one off. My take would be to look at whether the candidate understands their own management style, whether they are able to flex to other situation-appropriate styles and of course if that style is going to advance my client’s company.

Planning and organisation is huge part of any prospective job and questions like: Describe a re-organisation that has significantly affected your job and what was your part in it? This gives me insights into their ability to forward think, map out and manage situations and time.

Process and continuous improvement is the ability to follow the preset company methodology, but also just as importantly is their ability to innovate within the process where necessary. Questions like: “Tell me about a good process that you made even better”, or “tell me about a time when an existing process just didn’t work ”, will give you the clues you need to see whether they can “think outside the square”.

Getting to know how they react to personal objections can be elicited by asking: “What aspects of your work are you most often criticised for?” or “Tell me about a time you felt it necessary to act on an unpopular decision?”

I love to know what they know about the company they are interviewing with, so I’ll usually throw in a hand grenade like “What would you do differently if you ran this company?” and watch the sweat start pouring off their brow. If they’ve done their homework they’ll know enough about the company to venture an opinion. If they venture an opinion I can see how they frame answers to difficult and curly questions and the amount of squirming they do in responding to it, tells me how competent they are in awkward positions and at making difficult on the spot decisions.

One of the keys for me is to find commitment to their career path, so asking “If you could start all over again, what career direction would you take” would have me looking for reasoned arguments for sticking with their career choice and clear indicators of their past success and future triumphs.

Skills are also important, but in interviewing I take skills almost for granted. If they have applied, you have telephone interviewed them and short listed them, you need only confirm their skill set with questions like “Compared to others with a similar background in this area, how would you assess your technical skills” and wait for a list of key strengths and talents and the confidence with which they present these to you.

Interviewing is a blend of art and science. There are no golden rules, but remember you are not looking for a new drinking buddy; hopefully you’ve got friends for that.

You are looking for the person with the best skills, attitude and aptitude to do the job you need. You also want someone who is a few steps ahead of what you currently need, so that they can drive the position and the company forward, and not rely on you to do it for them, after all that’s what you’re going to pay them the big bucks for.

If you’d like a free copy of the complete e-book: “Forty (40) of the weirdest but most informative interview questions you can ever ask an interviewee, and what they mean”, email me at