Job candidates most commonly describe themselves as hardworking and driven. But if a hiring manager asks a candidate to describe a challenging situation he or she had to overcome as a child, the interview instantly has some color. If the candidate is asked to approximate the number of cows there are in Canada, there will probably be some blank stares.
There’s buzz surrounding career site Glassdoor’s annual Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions for 2013. Experts say they can actually be more telling than the straightforward type of interview questions most employers use.
“Nobody expects to be asked questions about their adolescence,” said Vanessa Nornberg, owner of body piercing and jewelry company Metal Mafia. “[But] asking this kind of question allows you to find out about their character.”
Offbeat questions are dynamic in their ability to deduce a job seeker’s personality and key characteristics, but if used incorrectly or without knowing what to look for, they are a waste of time.
Before asking a potential hire to estimate the number of windows there are in New York, as management consultancy Bain & Co. reportedly does, talent managers should remember the real motivation behind the questioning.
“They are designed to uncover how you think, handle unexpected problems and situations, whether you are a good fit for their culture, and how creative you are,” said Susan Ruhl, a managing partner at OI Partners — Innovative Career Consulting Inc.
And although some HR managers prefer to skip the oddball questions, insight interviewing is common.
Ruhl cites four categories that most interview questions fall under: cultural fit, thought process, behavioral and skills.
Cultural fit questions help determine whether a candidate would mesh well with the company’s working environment. An example of a question HR managers can use is: “If you won more than enough money in the lottery to take care of you and your family’s needs for the rest of your lives, what would you do with the rest of it?”
Thought-process questions are used to determine how a candidate thinks. An example of a thought-process question is: “How many trees would you say are in Yellowstone National Park?”
Behavioral interview questions gauge a candidate’s ability to deal with stress. “We do a lot of trainings on what you [hiring managers] should be asking to truly uncover how someone is in their job,” Ruhl said. How does he or she creatively solve problems? A behavioral question typically begins with, “Tell me about a time …,” so the potential hire can tell a story.
Skills questions uncover what tasks a job applicant can perform. Typical skills questions include: “If you only had six months to live, what would you do with the time?” The interviewee’s answer reveals creativity, planning skills, goal setting and time management skills, or lack thereof.
“Companies are spending money to get the right people on the bus, in the right seats. Instead of saying it’s a war for talent, it’s really a war for the right talent, because companies are spending more on getting the right people,” Ruhl said.
Jennifer Kahn is an editorial intern at Talent Management magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.