by Sarah K. White

How to be prepared for unusual interview questions

Aug 25, 2015
CareersIT JobsIT Leadership

You know your strengths, weaknesses and where you see yourself in five years, but then the hiring manager throws you a curve ball. To be ready to hit it out of the park, here are seven questions you probably didnu2019t prepare for -- and why hiring managers ask them. rn

Preparing for unusual interview questions

You’ve prepared for your interview; you know what your strengths and weakness are, you can describe a time you failed and how you turned it into a success, and you know exactly where you see yourself in five years. But then the hiring manager or recruiter asks you, “Why shouldn’t I hire you?”

At least, that’s what Jay Gould, CEO of Yashi asks every potential candidate that comes through his doors. As the last step in the interview process, he’s generally trying to find out if the potential employee will be a good fit for the culture of the company. In his years of interviewing, he’s found this question often takes candidates off guard, and to him, that’s a good thing.

“What I’m really trying to figure out is why I should or shouldn’t hire them,” says Gould, pointing out the main aspect of the interview process is to figure out if someone is a good fit and whether or not the company wants to extend an offer. “So I just started asking people why shouldn’t I hire you, and it was amazing the types of responses I got.” It’s the last question he asks at the end of a 45-minute interview and what he’s really trying to identify is a candidate’s level of self-awareness and transparency.

He wants to know how candidates think on their feet and how honest they can be in answering that question. And he doesn’t want a canned response, like when candidates turn a weakness into a strength, he wants an honest answer from the candidate. He feels it helps assess whether or not they will fit in with the company culture and what they will bring to the company.

Gould isn’t the only person who likes to ask potential candidates questions that catch them off guard. Here are seven other questions you probably didn’t prepare for before your interview.

What’s the most useful criticism you’ve ever received?

1 criticism

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Ed Nathanson, talent advisor at CloudLock, likes to ask potential candidates, “What was the most useful criticism you ever received and what did you learn from it?” The rationale behind this question is to get a feel for how open the candidate is to coaching and feedback.

Showing a hiring manager that you can be honest about past criticisms you have received can also show them you are open to feedback. It’s important for your career to be accepting of honest criticisms and feedback, even if it isn’t what you want to hear. Without feedback, you can’t figure out what areas you need to work on in order to grow within the company.

What happens when you type into the address bar of a browser?

Googling Google

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At Codility, CEO Greg Jakacki, asks tech candidates, “What happens when I type in in the address bar of the browser and press enter?” You might respond that it takes you to the Google homepage, but that’s not really the answer he’s looking for. The answer can range anywhere from a vague explanation of how web pages work to “the atoms of the thin layer of gold on the keybed contact plate get in touch with atoms of gold on another plate; they have different electrical potential, thus an electric current starts flowing,” says Jackacki.

But Jakacki isn’t actually looking for a right or wrong answer. He’s looking to the interviewee for any fear of being wrong or not having the correct answer. What he’s looking for is “any form of smoke and mirrors, buzzword bombing or generalities.” At that point, says Jakacki, “It starts smelling like fear of admitting to lack of competence.” Candidates that say they would need to do a little research before they could answer the question fair better than candidates who try to play it off like they have an answer when they don’t.

What’s important to you in a company, team or boss?

3 important to you

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At SurveyMonkey, Becky Cantieri, vice president of human resources, isn’t looking to catch candidates off-guard, but rather to get a feel for what they want from a company, boss or career. It’s a way of ensuring the candidate is a right fit for the role and the company’s culture. She generally likes to ask candidates, “What is important to them in their next company, team or boss.”

“You can dig in where what they suggest is or is not in alignment with your company culture,” says Cantieri. Being honest about what you want from a company, team or future boss is a great way to ensure that the role you are after is actually a good fit. It’s never a good idea to simply take a job because you need one or want a new one. You want to make sure you’ll actually be happy there once the novelty wears off.

Can you send me a negative reference?

4 negative reference

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Bart Lorang, CEO of FullContact, has an unconventional request for candidates he interviews. He asks candidates to list a “negative reference” that he can contact in addition to other more typical references. “I ask this from a trusting place,” says Lorang. He typically asks candidates if they wouldn’t mind passing along someone who probably wouldn’t give the best reference. He tells candidates, “I hope you feel that I am emotionally aware enough and adult enough to understand relationship dynamics and discern signal from the noise.”

And, surprisingly, those negative references generally turn out to be great references. “Often, the reference actually admits to their own culpability in the relationship failing and takes the blame,” says Lorang. But what he finds most valuable is that compared to positive references, “the strengths and weaknesses of the candidate are amplified even more than on positive reference conversations.”

A large earthquake strikes Portland, what do you do?

5 portland earthquake

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You’re likely to face some type of conflict management in your career, and how you handle a crisis will tell a hiring manager a lot about you as an employee. That’s why AphaCard’s senior ecommerce manager, Amber Hanson, asks interviewees this question: “Portland has been struck by a 9.0 earthquake and you are in charge of safely evacuating the city. What is your first step?”

Hanson says that this question helps her get a better understanding of the potential employee’s crisis management skills and critical-thinking skills. And since you probably won’t expect a question like that in your interview, the lack of time to prepare helps keep your answer honest and genuine.

Who don’t you get along with?

6 get along

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Unless you are an anomaly, you probably haven’t gotten along with every single person you’ve ever met or worked with. But what irritates you about coworkers can be telling about you as an employee. Perhaps you disliked coworkers for trivial reasons, like not filling the coffee pot after taking the last cup, or maybe you’ve disliked people you felt held back your department or team. That’s what Elli Bishop, outreach manager at ClearLink, wants to know when she asks potential future employees what types of people candidates don’t get along with.

“They act stumped for a couple minutes, but when they think a little bit deeper, they end of trying to describe the types of co-workers they haven’t gotten along with in the past,” she says. “It’s a great segue into how they handle and resolve conflict.”

How lucky are you?

7 how lucky

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Chris Miles, CEO of Miles Technologies, has a unique question for his potential new hires: “On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how lucky are you?” It’s based off the idea that behind luck is usually a lot of hard work and willingness to be open to new experiences. And he feels those are important qualities in any IT pro that comes to work for his company.

“I have found over time that candidates who consider themselves lucky are more open and eager to enriching their IT skills because they understand this is the best way to open doors for themselves– to be ‘lucky’,” says Miles.