Expert Panel, Forbes Coaches Council
There are legions of off-the-walls interview questions reportedly asked by some of the biggest companies in the U.S. From Microsoft’s “How would you move Mt. Fuji?” to Nestle’s “If you were a brick in a wall, which brick would you be and why?” there are plenty of examples where the interviewer was trying to assess a trait or skill of the candidate, while the candidate may have had no clue what they were talking about.
Often, it is isn’t so much about the question as the way in which the candidate responds and connects the underlying idea to their own relevant experience and talents. It's about being able to connect the dots between the seemingly off-the-wall question and what the interviewer is really trying to find out. So, what are some examples of those questions and what are they trying to find out?
Below, we asked 15 members of Forbes Coaches Council to share their favorite off-the-wall questions and what the candidates’ responses indicate to them.
1. What Was Your Biggest Success At Work?
Asking a candidate to describe what they consider their biggest success at work can provide deep insights, way beyond their actual achievement. What is it that they value? How do they define success? Do they describe a team effort or do they laser-focus on their individual performance? A candidate's answer to this question thus typically reveals invaluable information. - Tim Windhof, Windhof Career Services
2. What Was Your Greatest Failure?
I like to ask candidates "what was your greatest failure?" The answer requires a candidate to be honest and humble. It shows what they learned from adversity and more importantly how they reacted or how it changed their life. If a candidate tells me there was no failure in their life I know they are not being honest. We have all failed at something and hopefully it taught us a great life lesson. - Randee Lehrer, Energrowth Coaching LLC
3. What Was The Worst Job You Ever Held?
"What was the worst job you ever held?" Why is this a great interview question? First of all, it can be fun, since we've all had a terrible job at one point. Secondly, the interviewer learns a lot -- like how tough is this candidate? What will they put up with? If the interviewer models their worst job, the candidate will also, and some chemistry should result as well. - John Hittler, Evoking Genius
4. When Are You Happiest In Your Career?
When employees are happy, companies will thrive. People achieve career happiness when they can use their unique gifts, love their work, feel fulfilled and have their top personal values realized in a company's culture. Asking that question helps an employer not only understand the key drivers for but also predict a candidate's engagement level and even gain retention ideas before they start. - Amy Nguyen, Happiness Infinity LLC
5. What's Your Ideal Job Description?
I love to ask candidates if they could write their own job description, what would it look like? What are their ideal tasks and areas of responsibilities? It is immediately telling if the role they are interviewing for will be a good match with transferable skills and interests or not! - Dina Simon, Simon Says Lead
6. When Have You Not Been Reliable?
Reliability is the best ability. The organization will always get better when the people get better. One sure way to get better people is to find reliable people. The question that I ask is "when have you not been reliable?" This is an integrity and insightful question that reveals the character of the one being interviewed. It communicates the importance of reliability in this new position. - Ken Gosnell, CEO Experience
7. Would You Rather Be Invisible Or Able To Fly?
"If you had a choice between two superpowers -- being invisible or flying -- which would you choose? And why?" The hidden meaning behind the question is are you a follower or a leader? The answer "flying" has been correlated with leadership traits and comfort with confidence, while "invisible" is often aligned with people who prefer to be hidden. - Joanne Markow, GreenMason
8. If You Could Focus On Only One Thing, What Would It Be?
My favorite off-the-wall interview question is “If you could focus on only one thing, what is it and why?” This question reveals a candidate’s top priority and provides insight into their decision-making capabilities and ability to prioritize on the spot. The types of answers to this question will differ depending on a candidate’s life or career stage. - Lillian Gregory, The Institute for Human and Leadership Excellence
9. Who Has Your Ideal Job?
They often talk about their perception of a friend, an acquaintance, a neighbor or someone they once knew. Listening to candidates here helps you find out about perceptions, the myths they might hold for work and the reality of what "ideal" means to them. This helps you understand what they want in a job, what they expect from their boss and teams and you learn what they think is ideal about work. - John M. O'Connor, Career Pro Inc.
10. Would You Take The Money And Run?
My favorite off-the-wall interview question would be to ask a candidate what they would do if they worked for me and won the lottery. Their answer would tell me not only about their motivation for working, but also about their character in general. For someone who loves their work, the money would be a bonus, but if they would quit right away, that speaks of their work ethic and sense of loyalty. - Shelley Hastings, Synergy Empowerment Coaching, LLC
11. What Else Should I Have Asked You About?
The one question that almost always trips candidates is: What else should I have asked you about? This is usually asked at the end of the interview. From experience, most applicants are either shocked or outright speechless. Those who are able to quickly and calmly point to some of their strengths that were not brought up during the interview will leave the interviewer with a lasting impact. - Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group
12. Tell Me About Your Last Vacation
This question tells me how often the person takes time for self-care, gives insight into how they like to spend their downtime (passive activities, adrenaline junkies, etc.) and their ability to share personal experiences without getting too personal. It is not a question that many interviewees prepare for so their answers are likely to be more candid. - LaKesha Womack, Womack Consulting Group
13. What Are The Three Apps You Use The Most?
What are the three apps you use the most on your mobile device and why? On average, we check our phones over 300 times per day. Understanding the applications to which we devote our attention reveals our true focus on building a network, improving knowledge or just connecting candies. This question usually takes interviewees out of their comfort zone and yields an honest, unprepared answer. - Chris Stricklin, Afterburner
14. How Would You Describe Your Nightmare Boss?
Asking a candidate to talk about the type of environment, interaction and work style they don't like is exceptionally revealing. It's a great, tactful way to gauge tolerance. Follow up questions should target their coping skills. This unexpected approach also provides insight into a potential team member's ability to think on their feet, their level of transparency and their sense of humor! - Robin Hendricks, LogicPlay
15. What's The Closest Thing To A Lie?
When interviewing, I always ask the same 25 or so really difficult (can't rehearse for) questions. The first one is always, "I'm looking at your resume here, tell me, what's the closest thing to a lie?" Some will tell you; some will squirm; some will become incredulous claiming that nothing is a lie. Push the latter and say, "yes, of course, but the closest thing?" You will get some amazing answers. - Antonio Garrido, Absolute Sales Development
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