How Well Do You Scrutinize Candidates Pre-Hire?

Some prominent companies in the United States rely on atypical — even borderline bizarre — interview questions to determine a candidate’s problem solving skills. Consider these examples:

• “How many people are using Facebook in San Francisco at 2:30 p.m. on a Friday?” — Google Inc.
• “If Germans were the tallest people in the world, how would you prove it?” — Hewlett-Packard Co.

Others take a more global approach:

• “How would you cure world hunger?” — Inc.
• “How many different ways can you get water from a lake at the foot of a mountain, up to the top of the mountain?” — Walt Disney Co.

Even if candidates aren’t able to solve the problem right away, employers can learn a lot through their responses: How quickly can they think on their feet? How do they approach difficult situations? Can they remain positive in the face of a challenge? To determine candidates’ cultural fit within an organization, they need to reveal to employers who they really are beyond just their resume and qualifications.

Steve Jobs, the late Apple Inc. CEO, has said, “Recruiting is hard. It’s just finding the needles in the haystack. You can’t know enough in a one-hour interview. So, in the end, it’s ultimately based on your gut. How do I feel about this person? What are they like when they’re challenged? I ask everybody that: ‘Why are you here?’ The answers themselves are not what you’re looking for. It’s the meta-data.”

In addition to confirming that a candidate has the skills necessary to succeed in the position, managers must determine whether a candidate has a similar set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes the organization, or if the candidate is a cultural fit.

Finding a Cultural Fit
As job seekers become better educated on the interview process — and on what questions they should be prepared to answer — employers are finding that standard questions are met with rehearsed responses.

Instead, they need to ask questions that elicit passionate and unscripted answers from job seekers that can help determine how a candidate fits in with the shared belief system of the entire organization.

Here are sample questions that can help get to the “meta-data” of a candidate — in person or via video screening:

Why should we hire you? Look for candidates to show without a doubt why they must occupy the vacant chair come Monday morning.

How would you spend your first day of work here? More than likely candidates have played out this scenario in their head. This is their chance to show the employer how they would hit the ground running, and why they are a great cultural fit.

If you could have chosen another career, what would it be and why? This question sounds arbitrary, but in reality it helps build a three-dimensional view of the candidate. More often than not, the answer will be surprising and the exact opposite of what they’re doing currently.

How do you define success? Success may be something as small as getting a nod of approval from the boss or fixing the copy machine. But some people have much bigger ideas of success. For companies looking to recruit very ambitious people, this answer will play an important role in the decision to hire.

If you caught your boss doing something illegal, what would you do? This question will divulge a lot about candidates — including their views on loyalty, trust, honesty, business ethics and responsibility.

Tell me an appropriate joke. A reputable financial investment firm uses this question during the interview process because it puts people at ease. It can also help employers determine if the potential employee has a similar sense of humor — a great indicator of a lasting partnership.

Is there intelligent life in outer space? Everyone has an opinion on this. The surprising nature of the question will help employers judge the emotional maturity of candidates based on how well they handle it.

Suki Shah is the CEO and co-founder of, a video-based social recruiting platform and job board. He can be reached at