Blog: Recruitment - The growing trend of asking curveball questions

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HR professionals are often swamped by candidates that look similar on paper, with similar work experience, education and qualifications.

When faced with equally qualified candidates, it can be difficult to find a point of differentiation.
 
Obscure interview questions such as ‘how do you fit an elephant into a fridge?’ or ‘why are manhole covers round instead of square?’ are becoming increasingly common in job interviews, giving HR professionals the opportunity to shake up their interview processes in the tight war for talent.
 
Why ask weird questions at an interview?
 
A recent survey that we carried out with 1000 consumers found that two out of three candidates welcome obscure lines of questioning as part of the job interview process.
 
While candidates may not expect this line of questioning, as they may seem unrelated to a job role, they can reveal a lot about a candidate’s ability and personality, allowing you to differentiate between those who have similar qualifications and experience on paper.
 
Such questions can also provide a light-hearted moment in what can be quite a formal situation, giving you a real chance to see how a candidate might fit into the company culture. Asking such questions could also put you in a good light as it shows candidates that you welcome creativity – so don’t shy away from them!

Are candidates put off by them?
 
Our research found that candidates welcome the prospect of being asked weird interview questions so they can demonstrate their ability to think on their feet.
 
Weird interview questions also give interviewees a chance to step outside the traditional boundaries of the interview process and really show off their creativity, ability to apply logic and how they might work under pressure.
 
Two-thirds (66%) of candidates in our survey felt positive about their ability to respond to a weird interview question with 35% stating that they would respond with one clear, confident response, while 31% said they would hedge their bets with a number of possible answers.
 
Incorporating obscure lines of questioning into the interview process
 
Weird interview questions can spark interesting reactions from candidates. However, if used correctly, they can really help you to build a clear picture of a candidate’s potential, so it’s worth exploring how they might fit into your assessment processes.
 
They can sometimes take candidates by surprise though, so make sure you take the time to think carefully about the questions and what kind of response you are hoping to achieve.
 
Here are some top tips if you are considering using weird interview questions to shake up the interview process at your company:
 
  1. Think carefully about the kind of thought process you want to invoke in a candidate. For example, you may want to test a candidate’s ability to respond under pressure, in which case, any number of weird questions could work. However, for more mathematically-minded roles you may want to consider questions that test a candidate’s logical thinking. For example, ‘how many people do you think work in this building?’ or ‘how many light bulbs do you think there are on this floor?’
  2. Consider what your question says about the business and overall brand values. For example, is your organisation creative, scientific, curious or humorous? It’s worth thinking about this as a weird interview question is likely to be one of the most memorable parts of a candidate’s interview experience. They are likely to share them with their friends and family so make sure that any questions, while entertaining, don’t undermine how you would like to be seen as a business.
  3. Think about the timing of your curveball question and how it relates to the rest of the interview – try to avoid bringing them in too early on in the interview as they could prove unnerving for even the most qualified candidate.
  4. It’s important that ‘weird’ interview questions have some relevance to either the role in question or your company culture. Don’t be obscure for the sake of it as this could have the opposite effect of putting off top talent.
  5. Test the questions you might ask within the business to see what common responses may be. A candidate with the same response shows similar thinking to the business but equally, a candidate with a wildly different answer to existing staff could stand out as an innovative problem-solver and therefore make the better hire option.
 
To join in the debate on weird interview questions, please visit Michael Page’s Facebook page.


Dean Ball is regional managing director at recruitment agency, Michael Page.

We welcome any and all contributions from the community, so please feel free to share your views and opinions with us, your colleagues and peers via our blogs section.

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13th Sep 2012 11:09

Just because candidates are expecting them or like them doesn't mean that they're good questions though. How do you know if the questions that were asked really did produce meaningful (and fair) differentiation between candidates?

Also did the survey include unsuccessful candidates? I might expect that unsuccessful candidates would be far less enthusiastic with these questions.

 

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14th Sep 2012 16:40

 @sjbowyer 

In a competitive market where employers are inundated with candidates, our clients are finding that using obscure lines of questioning help them to differentiate between candidates who have similar qualifications and experience on paper.   Employers should not use obscure questions for the sake of it but ensure they take a well considered approach which involves answering the following questions:What does the question say about the company and overall brand values? How does the company want to be portrayed?  Does the role require a candidate to be creative, have an ability to apply logic or work under pressure? If yes, how will the obscure question test these skills?How would existing staff answer the question? At what stage of the interview process should an obscure question be asked? We recommend avoiding bringing them in too early on in the interview as they could prove unnerving for even the most qualified candidate. 

Remember there is no right or wrong answer to these questions. Our clients would generally not ‘fail’ someone for not having an answer. However, include them in interviews primarily to see how creative and innovative someone is, whether they are able to think on their feet and fit into a particular environment. The way they respond is definitely taken into consideration.  Such questions also give candidates a great opportunity to stand out and be remembered. 

The survey was conducted in August 2012 and questioned 1,000 members of the general public aged 16-65 on how they prepare for interviews, what concerns them most ahead of interviews and their experience of ‘weird interview questions’ in particular.  As respondents were selected at random, there is a high probability that it includes unsuccessful candidates; unfortunately this was not the focus of our insights so I cannot confirm factually the percentage of successful vs unsuccessful.  

 

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