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5 Uncommon Interview Questions to Really Know Who You’re Hiring

Biron Clark
Biron Clark

Most companies ask the same questions in their job interviews. If you’ve ever felt like job seekers were giving you memorized or canned answers, you’re not alone. 

The result? It's hard to tell if somebody is a great fit for your company or just great at answering interview questions.

Fortunately, there's a solution. The five questions below will help you spot the differences between top performers and potential bad hires.

1. What Job Did You Like Least in Your Career?

First, this question will reveal what the candidate does not like. That alone will help you avoid some “bad hires”, or people that seem qualified but will not enjoy the work and therefore will not perform well.

This will also encourage the candidate to open up about how they view their work, their career experiences and lessons they’ve learned along the way. You’ll hear what they took away from the experience of working in a job they disliked, what steps they took to mitigate this, and how they chose to exit the situation.

This question will then open the door for a dialogue about what they like most, what they value in a job, what excites them and what would motivate them to work hard. Think about that in the context of what you offer, and use it to determine if they’d be happy and productive in the role you are discussing.

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2. What Is a Business Opportunity You Think Our Company Should Take a Closer Look Into?

This question is tougher than the typical, “so, what do you know about us?”, and requires some critical thinking. First, if the candidate knows very little about your business and your customers, it’s a red flag about their overall commitment to their career and job search. It means they didn’t do enough to prepare or aren't that interested in working for you.

With this question, you’re also giving the candidate an opportunity to get creative and make a suggestion or an assumption about your business. You’re going to find out their comfort level with taking a risk and going out on a limb with something they’re unsure of. If you ask this often enough, you’ll start to see the differences between the top-notch candidates and the rest of the field in terms of the answers they give.   

3. What Are You Targeting in Your Job Search and Why?

If somebody doesn't know what they want or can't explain it clearly, you're a lot more likely to find yourself in a situation where they're unhappy or looking to leave within the first year. Also, observe whether their job search seems laser-focused or scattered. 

Are they applying to companies within the same industry and the same city as you? That's usually a good sign that they know what they want. Whereas if somebody is looking at many different roles or industries, or applying for jobs in different states, you'd want to dig deeper and make sure your company (and location) really fits what they want.

This question isn't designed just to help you spot red flags and warning signs, though; it can also arm you with information to help you attract better talent. Different job seekers prioritize things very differently. One might care about finding a company that is mission-oriented, while another candidate might be looking for the biggest technical challenge out there to stretch their skills. 

Hearing this directly from them will allow you to tailor the rest of the job interview process to make sure they're getting the information they care about. For this reason, you should ask this question early in the process. 

Related Article: Recruiting the Best Talent: Tips and Tricks for Finding "The One"

4. What Did You Want to Be When You Were a Child?

You’re going to find out what this person was curious and passionate about from a young age. That alone is worth something, and this question can lead to a lot more too.

With the right follow up questions you can also get a sense of how they view their current career in that context. Are they excited and proud of the path they're on? That’s the type of person you should hire, rather than somebody who seems like they would rather be doing something else. 

Sure, not everyone is able to make a living by following their passion, but ideally, you’ll find candidates that have been able to find parallels between passion and work and tie it all together in some way. What you don’t want to do is hire somebody who views their job as an obstacle that is stopping them from enjoying life. That’s a recipe for mediocre performance, or worse.

5. What Motivates You to Get Up and Go to Work Each Day?

This question is tough to answer. Expect some delays and hesitation, and that’s okay. The best candidates will be able to come up with a convincing answer, though. It might be a personal story, or it might be related to the challenges the work provides, or how it makes them feel. For example, an introvert that suffered from anxiety might praise their work for helping them open up and become comfortable communicating successfully.

Whatever the answer, the idea is that candidates who have a specific thing that motivates them, other than money or fear of being fired, will be more resilient and have a better ability to bounce back if things don’t go as planned or if there are unexpected challenges in this new role. 

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How to Use These Questions Moving Forward

The questions above will help you gain insight into how your candidates think, how they view themselves and their careers, and how likely they are to succeed with your team.

With these questions, you can avoid making bad hires while identifying and attracting better talent. The best candidates appreciate when a company asks thought-provoking questions that they haven’t heard before, so don’t just think of this as a screening tool but also a recruiting tool.

As you continue using these questions, you’ll recognize patterns in terms of the answers that the top candidates give. You will become better at judging the answers once you have some history and context, and the questions will become more and more useful as a part of your process.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Biron Clark
Biron Clark Member
Biron is an Executive Recruiter, Career Coach and founder of the blog As a Recruiter he has partnered with Fortune 100 firms down to 6-person startups while helping hundreds of job seekers advance their careers. He’s passionate about business, entrepreneurship, and technology.