Could that Offbeat Interview Question Reveal the Right Candidate for your Small Business?

You’re interviewing applicants for a key position. Asking all the expected questions, where do you see yourself in 5 years, what are your strengths, what attracted you to our small business, etc.  Sitting across from you, the potential candidate becomes more relaxed, more confident and self-assured with each answer. It’s then, that you decide to pitch that classic, oddball question that either leaves them stammering or leaves a long uncomfortable silence that stretches to eternity in the mind of every potential employee who has ever sat where that candidate now sits. But what does the oddball interview question reveal about a candidate? Will the question you’re asking really disclose the information you seek in your next employee? Well, that all depends on why you chose that particular question in the first place.

Typically, most applicants come to an interview with prepared, scripted answers to the usual questions; what was the biggest challenge in your last position or what was the biggest mistake you made on the job and how did you correct it. But as a small business owner, if you want to dig deeper to really understand how an applicant might behave on the job, you have to leave the scripts behind and go where no other interview has gone before.

Weird, silly, or nonsense questions are often asked by companies like Trader Joe’s and Walgreens. But if you’re a small business owner or hiring manager, what can you learn when asking potential candidates these same questions?

At Trader’s Joe’s, the question “What do you think of Garden gnomes?” is certainly silly, but it serves a purpose. It may be a silly question, but it’s meant to relax applicants, yet challenge their ability to respond to unusual circumstances and reveal whether they are a good fit for their business.

Still, any chosen silly or weird question may be influenced by the position or role. When Forbes surveyed 7065 leaders around the globe, they asked them “If you were given a choice of two special powers, which would you prefer? A: Ability to fly or B: Power to be invisible.” When they looked at the data to this specific question by job role, they found that Sales, Product Development, General Management, and Legal leaders were more inclined to choose the ability to fly over the ability to be invisible. Leaders in Safety or Administrative and Clerical groups chose invisibility. In the article, Forbes found it to be a benchmark to measure the potential for leadership ability. Conversely, some interview questions may tend to reveal information about family or marital status, which could get an organization in a lot of trouble. But if you read between the lines, it’s also a clue into an applicant’s personality. Do they care to share the spotlight or remain in the shadows? The answer uncovers a bit of their personality, and where within an organization, they are most likely to shine. If the candidate has the right attitude but not the aptitude for a particular position then another role within the organization may be a better fit.

When you think about it none of these questions have a right or wrong answer. These oddball and offbeat interview questions simply clarify the type of applicant applying for the position. But, as a small business owner, if you wanted to reveal how they would logically handle difficult situations or how adept they are at prioritizing tasks, nothing may reveal that faster than the ‘shipwrecked on a deserted island’ question. 

It’s the type of question you may have been asked. Maybe you’ve heard it at a party, or from friends or just about anywhere, really. If you were shipwrecked on an island with substantial food and water, what two items would you take with you and why?

You may have a candidate who says they want a shipping container for shelter and a machete or something with a generous blade to cut bamboo or ward off dangerous island animals. But another applicant may delve deeper and ask questions, like where is the island located? Is there electricity on the island? What kind of security is available?

If nothing else, the applicant’s answer can reveal their priorities and their values while demonstrating how creative and innovative they can be when they’re over their head.

By all accounts, unusual interview questions are not necessary for the candidate selection process. However, as long as the interviewees know why they’re asking the question, and it’s not asked in an intimidating way, it can be a tactic to relax your candidate and see just how creative they can be on the job.

As you prepare for your next hire, consider reaching out to Susan Word. Her decades of practicing and educating on hiring techniques can help you engage in a compliant but culturally-appropriate onboarding system.


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