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The Interview Questions You Aren't Asking But Should Be

Catch job candidates off-guard with the right questions and you'll quickly uncover their true colors.
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Two people sit in a quiet conference room. They both know what’s going to happen. It’s a routine that has been followed for decades. “Why do you want to work here? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Why do you think you’re a good fit for this position?”

But the scripted interview process that companies have been following for years has lead to countless poor hiring decisions. It’s time for a revolution.

If you ask the same questions everyone else asks, chances are, the person you are interviewing knows what to expect and more than likely has a practiced response. All you end up seeing is a corporate performance. Your mission as an interviewer is to find a way to separate the performance from the performer and get a glimpse of the real person applying for the job.

Before you Google “good interview questions,” you need to take a close look at your corporate culture and the open position, then match your questions accordingly.

For many startups and small businesses, chances are your people need to be acclimated to a fast-paced environment and react quickly while keeping their cool. Then your interview process should reflect that scenario.

Throw out a few oddball questions. My favorite is after priming interviewees with three or four of the typically bland interview questions, I ask “If you were a superhero, which one would you be an why?”

Their answer doesn’t matter! They won’t be disqualified if they choose Spider-Man over Batman (although, it might be a checkmark against them). The point of the question isn’t to gage their geek IQ. It’s not their answer you should pay attention to, but rather their reaction.

With this one question, I have seen many difference responses. Some people are disgusted by what seems 'unprofessional'. Some completely freeze. But the people who make the cut are the ones who laugh at the unexpected question, play along, have fun with it, and give a response quickly and thoroughly. A sense of humor and being able to make quick adjustments are important qualities in many growing businesses.

One company that really knows their corporate culture is Zappos. One of their core values is “create fun and a little weirdness.” Zappos doesn’t want to have a big boring corporate work environment. However, with weirdness comes responsibility. Zappos needs to know that their people can handle the creative environment without crossing any lines, particularly any legal lines.

So, how does the interviewer determine if the candidate can handle weirdness without getting too inappropriate?

They might ask them, “What’s your favorite swear word?” Naturally, the candidate might be a little thrown off by the question and not quite sure how to respond. This is a good litmus test to see if they can roll with it or if they are too uptight for Zappos’ culture. Once the candidate gives their response, the interviewer will say, “Okay, now use that swear word in the next three answers to my questions.” This is a great way to see if they can walk the line of weird and appropriate.

Lastly, when it comes to interviews, sometimes talk can be cheap.

There is often a big gap between what someone says they do and what they actually do. Look for opportunities to see the candidates in action. If one of your company values is collaboration and teamwork, why not create a teamwork opportunity? Bring in all the candidates at the same time or, if you don’t want candidates meeting each other, bring in a few employee volunteers, and give them a task. Ask the team to identify as many ways they can use a coat hanger to get an insight into their imagination. Give the team a Lego set to build in 15 minutes. Ask them to play a round of Jenga.

Obviously, you’re not interested in the multipurpose use of a coat hanger, the completed Lego set or who wins at Jenga. You want to watch how they interact with the people around them. Are they helpful? Are they competitive? Do they listen to the suggestions of others? Do they think outside the box? Do they enjoy it or take it too seriously? All of this information can be much more telling than asking: “What are your strengths and weakness?”

In order to make your interviews more effective, you must be very clear about your corporate culture and the qualities you are looking for in a new hire. Then, create your interview process accordingly.