The “science” part deals with the fundamentals of the position – experience, education, the ability to actually perform the task(s) associated with the position. The “art” shows up in more subtle ways – one way is the development of questions that are specifically designed to elicit a truly telling response about the candidate and their fit. This week, I asked readers to share their “favorite” interview question.
As usual, there were some great responses – and readers (even those who didn’t have a favorite to commend for the survey) were almost universally positive in anticipation of the result. However, as one wisely observed, “What do you hope to get out of this survey? This will be a harder survey to analyze as there is no (choice a), (choice b), etc. Good luck.”
Still, as I pondered the responses, I was able to group most (not all) into one of three categories: “How would other people describe you?” “Tell me something about you/your interests that have nothing to do with this job,” and what I suppose is best described as the “bizarre questions designed to see how you respond to pressure/how creative you are.”
Now, in the first category, “other people” was frequently drawing on the perspective of co-workers or family members, sometimes (soon-to-be-former?) bosses. The second grouping tended to probe for insights with questions like “What’s in your CD player?” “What book are you reading now (and why)?” and “What do you do for fun outside of work?” As for the third categoryâ€¦well, do YOU know how many ping pong balls will fit in a telephone booth? How many gas stations there are in the US? Why manhole covers are round? Do you know why you should care?
Along with this week’s responses, I got some interesting interview insights. One noted that she was “old enough to say that on my first interview, every question asked of me is illegal to ask today. They asked if I was pregnant, was I planning to start a family soon, what did my husband do, would my husband be transferring somewhere else, etc., etc., ad nauseam. The interviewer never asked me one single question about me! I guess they hired me because I wasn’t pregnant, and my husband wasn’t planning to move.”
Another cited some interesting responses to his favorite: “If I were to ask any of your co-workers – past or present – what it is like to work with you, what do you think they would tell me?” Some unexpected responses included: “I do have a reputation for ripping people’s heads off when I get upset.”â€¦”Well, if you ask the one who busted me for surfing p*rn, you won’t hear that I used my time well.”â€¦”I make it a point to not interact with others, so probably nothing.”â€¦”You’d hear that I can be a screamer when I’m stressed!”
Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites:
“Would you rather design and develop or implement and maintain? Why?”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your interest in working for our company.”
“What did you do to prepare for today’s interview?”
“Tell me about a time you made a mistake on the job, and what you did to rectify the situation.”
“If this company were an automobile, what make and model would it be?”
“Describe yourself in three words.”
“Assume you are a police officer called to the scene of a bank robbery. After arriving at the bank, you realize you are the first officer on the scene. You contact dispatch and are told not to approach the suspect until backup arrives. Immediately, the suspect leaves the bank and is ready to get in the get-away car. Do you wait for backup or attempt to apprehend the suspect?”
“What would you say if I told you that you are not ready for this job?”
“How many really close friends do you have?”
Readers also offered the perspective of being on the OTHER side of the interview question. One of my favorites from this week’s responses was the reader who was asked, “What’s your favorite drink?” They then went on to note that, “After the shock of the question wore off, I responded ‘beer or liquor?'”
But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who offered up this experience:
“During a lunch interview about 10 years ago (which was going pretty well), I was asked by this very dapper, very serious HR guy, ‘How would you describe yourself as a manager?’ Not being a big fan of canned interview questions, I immediately responded: ‘Subjectively.'”
Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!
My favorite interview question is, "How are you at making coffee?"
On the surface this seems like a silly question, but if you watch carefully for their reaction, you will know a lot about that person's perception of themselves and their ability to be a team player. If they have a problem with making coffee they will probably have a problem with a lot of other tasks that they might find "beneath them". For a team to function, the tasks need to be completed. Will we have to assign the task or will people recognize what needs to be done and just do it?
Depends upon the position and the interview--phone, initial, final....
I try to find questions that are unusual, because so many interviewees now know the questions and "correct" answers to give. A new one I heard: "If you were on a football team, and could play any position, which would you be--kicker, tackle, receiver or quarterback? Any why?"
One of my favorite questions: "Would you rather design and develop or implement and maintain? Why?"
I always ask prospective interns (mostly college sophomores and juniors) about their course load and specifically the course they liked best during the current semester. The answers give me a clue as to whether they will like the research and writing they will mostly be involved in or if they'd be happier in a different department or elsewhere!
A few weeks ago the question began a great discussion on political philosophy and that interviewee is now our summer (and next academic year) intern.
During a lunch interview about 10 years ago (which was going pretty well), I was asked by this very dapper, very serious HR guy "How would you describe yourself as a manager?".
Not being a big fan of canned interview questions, I immediately responded: "Subjectively."
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence...then the guy laughed and said "that's the best answer I've ever heard to that question.".
(I got the offer, but turned it down)
Definitely not a "favorite," but my most *memorable* question was for an entry-level position: "On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your interest in working for our company." I had practiced lots of questions in college but had never seen that before.
Stupidly, or maybe insightfully, I responded, "Well, I'm interested but I'm still learning more about the company. I'd say...Seven." I thought that was fairly high and also didn't want them to think I was desperate.
Needless to say, I didn't get a second interview.
In retrospect, I'm much happier at my 30-person firm than I would have been at the 160,000-person company.
What do you expect to get from this position?
What do you hope to get out if this survey? This will be a harder survey to analyze as there is no (choice a), (choice b) etc. Good luck.
My favorite interview question is "What did you do to prepare for today's interview?" If the candidate didn't care enough to do good completed staff work in researching something about our business, I assume that same laziness is brought with them to the job.
As a final question, I will often ask what kind of music is in their CD player right now or what the last book they read was.
What was the worse boss you ever had? You can learn a lot about people from their answer to that question.
Here are two -- each has two parts.
1a. What book did you most recently read just for fun?
1b. Who was the author?
2a. How many really close friends do you have?
2b. If I asked them to tell me about you, what would they say?
Question 1 gives you a chance to see if they are inclined to make things up to try to impress you.
Question 2 gives the person a chance to tell you some things about themself that they might not otherwise say.
"Tell me what you would change about your current job."
"Tell me about a time when you were angry"
Tell me about a time you made a mistake on the job, and what you did to rectify the situation.
(I've actually had candidates describe a mistake, pause, and then say, contemplatively, "I didn't really do anything about it . . . I guess I probably should have . . . )!
"Who was your favorite boss and why were they your favorite boss?"
"Who was your least favorite boss and why were they your least favorite boss?"
The answers are very enlightening...if someone says their favorite boss is very laid back and didn't care what they did...well then, my guess is the interviewee is lazy.
- ANY RECORD OF DETERMINATION & ACCOMPLISHMENTS ?
- ANY SIGNIFICANT AREAS OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS ?
- DETERMINATION / SACRIFICES TO ACHIEVE FORMAL EDUCATION ?
- UNDERTAND MANAGEMENT ROLES & RESPONSIBILITIES ?
- STABLE & LOGICAL EMPLOYMENT PATTERN ?
"Why do you want this job?"
Most unusual answer in 28-years......"I don't really want this job, actually I want to be your bosses (the company president) secretary and I've noticed your secretary always fills in for your bosses secretary when she is absent, so I figured........" (She got the job, and several years later achieved her goal!)
If I met your best friend on the street and asked why he/she maintained the relationship what would be their answer?
I was once asked, "How hard do you want to work?" Great question, but one of those that is unlikely to elicit a truthful statement. Although my answer was, "As hard as I have to to get the job done right." And I got the job :o)
My favorite interview question which was asked of me during an interview in the financial services industry is, "Why is a manhole cover round?" I actually knew the answer which shocked my interviewers. The answer is that a manhole cover is round so that it does not fall into the hole injuring those working down below since the circumference of the hole is slighly smaller than the actual manhole cover. I have no idea how that question relates to the financial services industry but many interview questions just seem to be for the fun of it.
When I'm a candidate interviewing at a company, I like to ask 'if this company were an automobile, what make and model would it be?' Odds are very good they've never had this question before, so they can't have a canned answer ready to go, and the reply can be very revealing. If the company is cheap, they'll say 'Ford Escort' or 'Geo Metro' or something like that. If the company spends a lot of money on things, they might say 'Cadillac El Dorado' or 'Rolls Royce' etc. If the company is growing like mad and it's a crazy place, then they might answer a Corvette or Trans Am. A family-friendly place without super long hours might say a minivan of some sort. You get the idea. This question is designed to get at what the company's personality and corporate culture are - how stodgy or racy, tradition-bound or open to change, etc. How arrogant are they? Do they have a sense of humor?
I wish I could come up with a question that might measure a company's honesty - are they open communicators with employees or are they another Enron? Not every company can be run by Warren Buffett, unfortunately.
Where do you see yourself in five years?"
I pose this to people in various stages of life and in their careers. Most people provide me with a very focused answer, leading me to question a person's flexibility. One of the best answers I've ever received was directed more to being content with a career and a work/life balance.
My favorite interview question (directed to me) is When can you start? !
Twenty years ago, the local branch of the property casualty insurance company for which I was a claims adjuster was closing, and I was asked to interview for the position of benefits administrator by one of our self-insured workers' compensation clients. However, before I even was invited to sit down, the director of HR asked me the very pointed question - why did I settle a controversial claim just before it went to court. My response apparently was satisfactory and got me the job, and a change in my career.
I heard that interviewees at one company (I think it was Microsoft) were asked how they thought M&Ms were made. Imagine being hit with that question out of the blue. The purpose of the question was to gauge how well a candidate could quickly analyze a situation, and come up with a possible solution. (As I understand it, the chocolate center is created in a mold. The coating is then sprayed on in a tumbling cylinder. The "M" is then gently painted on.)
I like to ask, "If I were to ask any of your co-workers - past or present - what it is like to work with you, what do you think they would tell me?" This usually generates neutral to positive responses. However, answers I have actually received include:
"I do have a reputation for ripping people's heads off when I get upset." (This was said with pride!)
"Well, if you ask the one who busted me for surfing p*rn, you won't hear that I used my time well."
"I make it a point to not interact with others, so probably nothing."
"You'd hear that I can be a screamer when I'm stressed!"
I wish those who provide that kind of feedback the best of luck in their job search!
"Describe yourself in three words".....the interviewer said most people can't.
Favorite Interview Questions: Why are you leaving your current post and how can you bring value to this new position?
My favorite interview question came when I obtained my current job. I had good interviews with the person who is now my boss and another manager. They asked if I would stay to meet the VP of HR. This intimidating man came walking in, said he did not expect to interview me today, did I mind if he read my resume? I said of course not, and he read for a minute. He said, "A bachelor's degree from Notre Dame and a Master's from Boston University. These are good schools. Did you actually learn anything or did you just screw around the whole time?" I knew then it was a personality match interview and I became less intimidated and was given the job the next day. And I count my blessings each and every day for it.
Here is an employment interview question for your survey.
Assume you are a police officer called to the scene of a bank robbery. After arriving at the bank, you realize you are the first officer on the scene. You contact dispatch and are told not to approach the suspect until backup arrives. Immediately the suspect leaves the bank and is ready to get in the get away car. Do you wait for backup or attempt to apprehend the suspect?
Not really a question, this was posed to me by a member of a 5 person interview panel.
"Tell me about the last book you read."
State your career goals and expand on your past work experiences and the future work experiences you will need in order to achieve them.
Do you really expect to get this job at your age???????????
I heard of someone being asked, "What would you do if you were given an elephant?" After thinking about this question, I realized an employer can find out how you respond to something unexpected, how creative you are, how quick you are to respond and possibly your thought process. Thank goodness I didn't have to answer the question!
There is one that I heard of - it wasn't used on me - but I liked it - to see how someone thinks on his/her feet.
"How many ping-pong balls can fit in a phone booth?" (The person is given a calculator, pencil and paper.)
It's for quant types, of course. The answer is trivial - a PPB is about an inch across; the candidate has to estimate how wide and tall a phone booth is, calculate the volume, then estimate the size of the phone, shelf, whatever and deduct that.
I was hiring someone at The Bank, we asked it of four candidates. Three pretty much said 'you must be kidding', in particular the one we hired; the fourth must have heard of it before, he tried to appear to struggle with it but got it quickly.
So, in my view trick questions are probably unfair and don't tell you much.
My all-time favorite interview question occurred at an interview for a summer clerkship at a law firm..." What's your favorite drink?" After the shock of the question wore off, I responded "beer or liquor?" I got an offer 2 days later.
Well, I can tell you my least favorite interview question.
"Where do you see yourself in 5 (10, 15) years?" I always want to say "Who knows! If you treat me right, maybe here. But actually, I hopefully will be retired and on a beach somewhere." But we all know that is not what they want to hear. However, if you answer with "I would like to be in this position." You look like a unmotivated slump. But if you answer, "I want to move up," it can also backfire, since the Company may not want you around that long. Once I sat in an interview trying to figure out what to say because telling the interviewer that I wanted to move up meant that I would have the interviewer's job. I did not want to be viewed as possible competition.
In spite of the legal ramifications, I have also been asked if I have kids and if I have any personality disorders. However, the personality disorder question gave me enough insight not to work for that company.
My favorite interview question is, "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" It was a question posed to me at my first interview and I liked it so much that I started using it when I had to do interviewing for my company.
My favorite interview question is this:
"Tell us about a situation where you lost your temper at work and why? Also, what did you do to rectify the situation?"
Any responses that include physical violence obviously stops the selection process in it's tracks. You would be amazed at how many applicants actually tell you the truth!
My favorite interview question is: "How many gas stations are in the US?"
Obviously nobody knows the answer, but I want to see how they react when asked an inane and completely irrelevant question. I like to see if they can think quickly on their feet and see if they actually try to respond rather than look at me like I'm a complete moron. Things like this tell you alot about how a person acts when they are caught off-guard.
Tell me about a situation that you wish you had handled differently based on the outcome. What was the situation? What would you change when faced with a similar situation?
The one interview question that I was asked that I will never forget was "what would you say if I told you that you are not ready for this job?". It really caught me of guard because it comes out more as a statement than a question. My answer must have been sufficient because I am still working with the employer.
I love this survey! I am old enough to say that on my first interview, every question asked of me is illegal to ask today. They asked if I was pregnant, was I planning to start a family soon, what did my husband do, would my husband be transferring somewhere else, etc., etc., ad nauseam. The interviewer never asked me one single question about me! I guess they hired me because I wasn't pregnant, and my husband wasn't planning to move.