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Digging Deep: 5 Unusual Interview Questions That Help Ensure Culture Fit

Shirley Tan
Shirley Tan

Ensuring that applicants fit or match your company culture is vital during the interview process. Here are some weird questions to ask.

Just because a candidate looks great on paper and they have the talent and experience you’re looking for, doesn’t mean that they’re right for your company.

That’s why making sure that applicants fit or match your company culture is so vital during the interview process.

After all, employees are one of the most important components of your company’s culture fit.

If they don’t mesh with your values, business structure, and with your other employees, then don’t expect a fruitful relationship.

If you want to ensure that a candidate is right for your company, ask the following questions during the interview.

1. “Why Shouldn’t I Hire You?”

"Everything you need to know can be learned in the moment when you look a candidate in the eye and ask them, ‘Why shouldn’t I hire you?’", says Jay Gould, CEO, and co-founder of Yashi. "If they think too long, or can't answer the question at all, they may be hiding something. If their answer is genuine then you have a contender," he says.

More specifically, Gould asks this question, usually at the end of a 45-minute interview, “to gain immediate insight into their self-awareness, integrity, and honesty.”

For example, if the candidate has little eye contact, voice inflections, and crossed arms, they could be lying or are defensive when answering. Because of this you should be familiar with pattern recognition and observe if this candidate has a high emotional intelligence. Gould adds that the, “Why shouldn’t I hire you?” question can help you determine the integrity of the candidate because people are caught off-guard and "It forces people to try and disqualify themselves from the position, which takes them out of the mindset of putting their best foot forward."

2. “What Would You Do if You Found a Penguin in the Freezer?”

This is apparently an actual question that was asked to candidates by Trader Joe’s and was included in the 2016 list of Glassdoor’s ‘Top 10 Oddball Interview Questions.”

While all of the questions listed in the Oddball Interview Questions are interesting to say least, asking the potential candidate about the absurdity of opening your freezer to find a penguin creates not only a bizarre mental image but a million other questions and responses. For example, “is the penguin dead or alive?”, “how did the penguin get in the freezer in the first place?” and “can I keep it if it’s alive?”

But, what’s the point of asking such an oddball question during an interview? Michael Page, a leading professional recruitment consultancy, says that “companies are throwing a curve ball; a seemingly bizarre, unrelated question that can catch you completely off-guard.”

“Often these questions are designed to assess your ability to think on your feet, your analytical thinking skills, and your general way of viewing the world. In most cases, the process of getting to an answer is more important than the actual answer itself.” If you still think that asking this question is pointless, then just review the answers on Glassdoor. You’ll really begin to see the personality, values, and decision-making of people with varied answers like;

  • “Only correct answer: Call animal control. This shows responsibility and respect for the animal and fellow co-workers.”
  • “Use penguin as a marketing tool.”
  • “I will take it as a warning sign and check if my heating system is in place or if there is any dampness or a leakage in my kitchen/house.” 
  • “Ask him if he needed help finding what he was shopping for.”
  • “Adopt him, name him George, and give him lots of hugs! Maybe train him to fetch stuff.”

3. “If I Walk by Your Desk at 5:30 p.m., What Will I See?”

I really like this question from Joseph Campagna III, President, My Virtual HR Director, since it clues you into how they view the workplace and if their work ethic gels with yours.

“Their answer will reveal their view of work and their thoughts on what a workplace should be like. You can evaluate that against your culture,” says Campagna. “Does everyone stay until 9 p.m. to work? Is everyone gone at 4:30 p.m. to beat traffic? Is there a startup feel where everyone works remotely, but all the time?”

Campagna believes if the candidate responds with something like “I’m long gone,” “then you know how they stack against your culture.” However, if they say, “I’m working hard and ordering takeout dinner,” you have a better understanding of “whether they fit in or if they are an outlier.” Campagna says that he’s heard answers ranging from “I’d be organizing my desk for the next morning,” to “You’d see my phone forwarded so I can work from home in the evening.”

4. “What Was the Last Costume You Wore?”

Yes. This is another question that’s actually been asked to interviewees. This question comes to us courtesy of Warby Parker as a way to determine culture fit.

The interview process starts with “behavioral interviewing.” “It’s fairly easy to make up how you would do something, but honing in on past examples tends to be a better predictor of future behavior,” says co-founder and co-CEO David Gilboa. He adds, “if candidates respond with high-level answers, we keep asking questions until we understand exactly what their role was” and the reasons behind their decisions. From there the interview goes from theory to practice, which eventually leads to the last costume that you wore.

“If we hire the most technically skilled person in the world whose work style doesn’t fit here, they won’t be successful,” says Gilboa. “We find that people who are able to make the job environment fun build followership more easily,” which fits the brand’s core value of wanting to “inject fun and quirkiness into work, life and everything we do.”

5. “Fill in the Blank: A Co-Worker in Need Is ____________. “

Regardless if you have employees in-house or working remotely, it should be a safe bet that part of your organization’s culture has some sort of collaboration element to it. After all, fostering a collaborative environment leads to self-awareness, growth, the ability to learn something new, and convert negative energy into positive energy.

That’s why this question can come in handy during the interview process. It gives you an idea of what type of team player the candidate is and if they can play nice with each other. However, Barry S. Saltzman is CEO of Saltzman Enterprise Group and Partner at Culture Measures, says that the “funny thing about these questions is that the answer is generally unimportant.” He adds, “What matters is how they respond to the question.”

“It’ll likely catch them off guard, but can they give an interesting answer?” If you pride yourself on teamwork, then a question like this would definitely determine whether or not the candidate would fit into your company’s culture.

What’s the weirdest question you’ve asked, or been asked, to determine if you’d fit into a company’s culture?

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Shirley Tan
Shirley Tan Member
Shirley Tan works at Aabaco Small Business from Yahoo. Aabaco operates Small Business platform that provide resources for entrepreneurs. As Director of Product Support, she is responsible for growth initiatives & product planning. In 1997, she took a mail order business online. She went on to form several successful ecommerce websites on the Yahoo Small Business Platform. Eventually a publicly traded company acquired her businesses. Shirley is regular speaker at conferences, worked as a consultant on various projects, she also authored an Amazon best rated book on ecommerce called "Ecom Hell" Joining Yahoo brings her full circle with her passion in helping small businesses succeed.