Asking generic job interview questions inevitably leads to generic answers. The best way to learn about an applicant’s personality, capabilities and work ethic is to get them talking, and sometimes the interviewer has to get creative to make that happen.
A candidate’s answers to unusual or surprising interview questions can tell an employer a lot about them. Below, 15 members of a an expert career coaches panel share their favorite off-the-wall interview questions and explain why they like to use them.
1. How Would You Go About Filling A Room With Basketballs?
The best one I’ve heard and now use is, “If I asked you to fill a room with basketballs, how would you go about doing it?” It’s a problem-solving question. Do they ask great questions? Do they think strategically? Do they accomplish the task in a unique way? Or, do they laugh at the question and play it off as a joke? The answers are fascinating! - Teresa Ray, Dr. Teresa Ray
2. What’s A Skill You Have That Others Don’t Know About?
I often ask candidates about a skill they possess that many people in their workplace would not know about. From this, I have learned that people were musicians, singers or had specific interests in very interesting and unique areas. This question also allows me to understand how persistent candidates might be, especially if their skill is one that requires much practice. - Dan Ryan, ryan partners
3. What Is Your Secret Leadership Superpower?
Almost everyone I have interviewed has had some hidden talent that is not always revealed via a talent assessment or performance review. But they carry this superpower from role to role with them along their career journey. In fact, some folks did not realize they had a superpower until they reflected on the question, and then were surprised at their own answer. - Paul N Larsen, The Find Your VOICE as a Leader ™ Institute
4. Describe A Situation Where You Erred Spectacularly
Ask the interviewee to describe a situation where they erred spectacularly. What, specifically, did they do once they recognized the mistake, and what did they learn? Much can be gleaned from their answers in terms of their self-awareness, defensiveness, depth of reflection, willingness to learn, openness, psychological safety, ability to manage fear responses, mindset and emotional intelligence. - Valerio Pascotto, IGEOS
5. Define ‘Failure’ Using A Personal Example
Ask your candidate to define the term “failure” by offering you an example of a situation that challenged them to become more self-aware due to an unexpected outcome from a decision they had made. Humbly taking accountability for our actions by recognizing areas where we require growth and perspective is a leadership trait that aligns with a company’s value proposition and builds insights for developing team camaraderie. - Reena Khullar Sharma, Agilis Executive Consulting
6. What Would You Be Doing If You Weren’t On This Career Path?
One question to ask candidates is, “If you were not pursuing a career in your current field, what would you be doing?” This can uncover additional areas of interest and passion from the interviewee and may help guide the conversation as to how they might fit with the team or organization. - John Lowe, Ty Boyd, Inc.
7. What’s Your Passion Outside Of Work?
One of my favorite questions is, “What’s your passion outside of work?” It’s simple to ask and often throws candidates off, as a lot of interviewers are only asking work-focused questions. This question is important, as it measures cultural fit and builds relationships, which is key if you want to attract the best talent and grow a high-performing team. - Nick Leighton, Exactly Where You Want to Be
8. What Book Have You Read Recently?
My favorite question is, “What book have you read recently?” I ask this because I like people who constantly keep updated with the latest thinking and are intellectually hungry. Also, I love to get good ideas for my weekend reading. - Adrian Choo, Career Agility International
9. What Worked Well In Your Previous Company?
A good question to ask is, “What worked well for you in your previous company?” We are often focused on the negative and why people left their positions, but I feel we can learn a lot from what they appreciated about it. Especially if the “breakup” was somewhat acrimonious, it tells me a lot about whether people can still see the positive aspects or if they are too consumed by bitterness. That’s a red flag. - Rajeev Shroff, Cupela Consulting
10. What Did Your Worst Job Teach You?
This should be a fun one, but it has some nice snares in it for people who do not prepare. They can fall into a negativity trap, provide neutral or boring insights, or not have a good example at all. Everyone who has done work, paid or free, has had a bad job. What did they learn, and how did it influence them in terms of performing a tough job or handling a tough boss or co-workers? - John M. O’Connor, Career Pro Inc.
11. What Is The One Word People Use To Describe You?
Ask candidates, “What is the one word that people use to describe you, and why do you think they use that?” I always enjoy the opportunity to learn a little bit about their personality. Fit matters when a company is trying to determine whether a person will be a good culture match. How others have described a person can give some insight into what it might be like to interact with the candidate over time. - Erica McCurdy, McCurdy Solutions Group LLC
12. What Question Are You Glad I Didn’t Ask?
I like asking a candidate, “What question are you glad I didn’t ask you?” Occasionally, it produces a topic that demonstrates the person’s relationship with the boundaries of their comfort zone. But, interestingly, a recent candidate complimented me on not questioning his personal lifestyle choices, which he acknowledged is often a point of curiosity people have, and felt it was a sign of respect. - Philip Liebman, ALPS Leadership
13. What Would Be Your Best And Worst Glassdoor Reviews?
A good question to ask is, “What is—or what would be—the best review and the worst review about you on Glassdoor.com?” I use this question to check the level of self-awareness, creativity and integrity of leaders. Reviews are often subjective. They are based on how they were perceived by others and the impact they had on employees, so this exercise is less about facts and more about how the person answers the question and the way they react. - Csaba Toth, ICQ Global
14. What Will You Do If You Don’t Get This Role?
Very often interviews focus on getting the role, so a good question to ask is, “What will you do if you don’t get this role?” This allows one to understand the resilience and determination of the candidate when things don’t go as planned. - Rakish Rana, The Clear Coach
15. What Didn’t I Ask That You Thought I Would?
I always ask this last question: “What question didn’t I ask that you thought I surely would that you have the perfect answer for?” From this, I learn what they think is important and how they want to frame their candidacy. - Rebecca Lea Ray, The Conference Board