If you want to hire a great candidate, you’d better ask the right questions. And sometimes, the questions that tell you the most about a person are the ones that seem the least likely to yield anything relevant.
From hypothetical elephants to athletic experience and more, Inc. has parsed some of the wackier things that employers might ask about in an interview. Here are eight examples of stealth questions that will help you get closer to discovering your candidate’s true character.
1. “What’s Your Favorite Restaurant?”
What does food have to do with fit, you ask? Plenty, according to Refinery29’s Justin Stefano: “It’s a very telling question. Food is a pretty important part of our culture,” he told Inc.’s Diana Ransom in an Inc. Live video session.
Beyond relevant prior experience and skills, the fashion platform wants to know that someone would jive with other employees on a personal level: “You want to bring people in that are going to be really connected to the culture and get it,” Stefano continued.
Refinery29 notices candidates who say they’re passionate about artisanal foods. Does your company have (unique) core values? If so, to determine whether your potential hire shares them, make sure you ask the right questions.
2. “What’s Your Spirit Animal?”
Here you’re looking for a killer sense of imagination.
Ryan Holmes, the CEO of social media management company Hootsuite, gave Inc. columnist Jeff Haden an example of what he considers to be a great response: His executive assistant told him that her spirit animal was a duck, “because ducks are calm on the surface and hustling like crazy getting things done under the surface.”
Holmes said that this was a terrific assessment of the role that an executive assistant performs. The ideal candidate’s spirit animal (bear? kitten? unicorn?) will represent the same character traits that the job in question requires.
Along those lines:
3. “So, (Insert Name Here), What’s Your Story?”
Open-ended questions like these can be intimidating for both managers and job seekers. Once again, you’re looking for someone to showcase his or her creativity.
That’s according to Richard Funess, a managing partner at PR firm Finn Partners, who explained this question to Haden as “an invitation to the candidate to play the game and see where it goes without worrying about the right answer. By playing along, it tells me a lot about the character, imagination, and inventiveness of the person.”
The ideal candidate will also slip in colorful details about himself or herself that didn’t appear on the resume or cover letter.
4. “Tell Me a Joke.”
As Richard Branson wrote in his recent book The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership, it’s important for everyone—from job candidates to business moguls—to have a sense of humor. After all, “Don’t enjoy it? Don’t do it!” he quipped in the book’s prologue.
To that end, Branson likes to break the ice by having the candidate tell him a joke. He readily admits to being “one of the world’s worst tellers of jokes,” but says that this tactic really encourages people to be themselves.
After all, you don’t want to hire someone who doesn’t know how to be authentic.
5. “What Would You Do if You Woke Up and Found an Elephant in Your Backyard?”
Melissa Gordon, a project manager at advertising agency Moxie, emphasized to Inc. columnist Suzanne Lucas that the best candidates show off their innovative chops when answering weird questions: “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,” she said.
The possibilities are endless and will give you a great sense of how quickly (and effectively) applicants can think on their feet.
6. “Have You Ever Played a Sport? If So, Which One and What Position?”
Here’s why she likes to ask them about sports: “I’m looking for people who don’t want to be goalies. I want people who want to be in the action and do everything they can to get in front of the ball,” she said in an Inc. Live video session.
Competitive sports players will often have a great work ethic—a must-have quality for any role, but especially for a position at a startup.
7. “If You Opened Your Own Business, What Type of Company Would it Be and Why?”
Nornberg warns candidates not to say that they’d start up the same type of company as the one they’re applying to. “Then I know that they’re just telling me what I want to hear,” she explained.
Rather, Nornberg wants applicants to give a thoughtful, detailed answer. She cited one candidate who wrote that he wanted to start a bar with pets, because pets help people interact and get to know one another in an otherwise awkward setting.
His was a good example of a creative (and unique) answer that will set a candidate apart from the rest, she said.
8. “I’m Sorry, But I Just Don’t Think This Is the Right Fit for You.”
While not a question, this statement is Tejune Kang’s go-to move when hiring people to work at his company, IT consulting service Six Dimensions.
“The world is full of mediocrity,” Kang told Jeff Haden. “I don’t just want to compete. I want to hire superstars, because I want to win the Super Bowl.”
Telling applicants that they didn’t get the job—even when Kang thinks they are actually a great fit—will motivate superstar employees to go the extra mile and prove that they’re worth it.
The rest, he says, will fold under pressure.
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