By Jim Wong, CPA | March 14, 2013

Hiring the right person sometimes means asking an unexpected interview question. The interview, one of the most important parts of the selection process, offers you an opportunity to learn more about the prospective employee’s experience, skills, and personality. However, it can be difficult to get to know someone during the short amount of time allotted for the interview process.

Your objective is to get a sense of who the candidate really is and if they will be a good fit for your organization. The interview provides the opportunity to ask about work experience and skills, but at times you may need to break through a their polished exterior.

What can you do to determine a good culture fit and aligned expectations?

Often an unexpected interview question can reveal a candidate’s soft skills and abilities such as leadership or creative problem-solving. It can also give you a glimpse into who is behind the polished persona.

We’ve talked before about the importance of asking the right questions. However, everyone has their own opinion of what the best questions are, so Inc. asked entrepreneurs from a variety of fields to share their favorite interview question, why it is their favorite, and what it tells them about a candidate.

Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite asks: What’s your superpower, or what’s your spirit animal? He says, “During her interview I asked my current executive assistant what was her favorite animal. She told me it was a duck, because ducks are calm on the surface and hustling like crazy getting things done under the surface. I think this was an amazing response and a perfect description for the role of an EA. For the record, she’s been working with us for more than a year now and is amazing at her job.”

Finn Partners managing partner, Richard Funness, asks “So (insert name), what’s your story?” He says it immediately puts a candidate on the defensive because there isn’t a right or wrong answer. He wants to the candidate to play the game so to speak, and see where it goes. It tells him about their character, imagination, and inventiveness.

He says, “The way they look at me when the question is asked also tells me something about their likeability. If they act defensive, look uncomfortable, and pause longer than a few seconds, it tells me they probably take things too literally and are not broad thinkers. In our business we need broad thinkers.”

Ilya Pozin, Ciplex founder asks, “If you got hired, loved everything about this job, and are paid the salary you asked for, what kind of offer from another company would you consider?” He says it helps him find out how much the candidate is driven by money versus working at a company they love.

ExactTarget co-founder and CEO Scott Dorsey, asks, “What questions do you have for me?” However he asks it early in the interview to see if a candidate can think quickly. The question “also reveals their level of preparation and strategic thinking. I often find you can learn more about a person based on the questions they ask versus the answers they give,” he says.

Clara Shih, Hearsay Social co-founder and CEO, asks, “Who is your role model, and why?” She says this question does a few things: It shows which attributes and behaviors the candidate aspires to and it reveals how introspective a candidate is about their personal and professional development.

Interviews are a part of life, but it can be hard to get a good feeling for the job candidates. These days candidates are interview savvy and have well-rehearsed responses to typical questions. Throw in some of these questions to get a glimpse into the person behind the candidate façade.


This article originally appeared on Clear Focus Financial Search.

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