Interviewing is a difficult task, and most hiring managers don’t do it very often – so they don’t have time to get good at it. But, asking unique interview questions can help you better evaluate candidates to land someone with the proper knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Why you should ask candidates unique interview questions
Usually, by the time people get to the interview stage, you know that –at least on paper – they meet the qualifications for the job. But, resumes and cover letters can be deceiving. When someone writes “developed new system for X,” the truth might be; “I was in the same room as the people who developed the new system for X.” That’s the type of stuff you want to tease out. That’s what you can do in the face-to-face interview.
If you simply keep to the same template for all positions, you won’t find the answers you need. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ask similar questions to candidates for the same position – you should, in fact, to ensure a standardized process – but questions need to be uniquely tailored to the individual candidate.
This requires a bit more work from the hiring manager – you have to pay closer attention to the resume and cover letter – but it can pay off handsomely when you now know the candidate you’re hiring is the perfect fit for the job. Increased engagement, lower turnover, better productivity – there are numerous payoffs in a higher-quality hire.
Examples of unique interview questions
1. Tell me about the moment you came up with the idea for X.
When someone lists their accomplishments on their resumes, asking this question helps tease out if they really did what they said they did. Were they the ‘idea’ person or simply someone who implemented someone else’s idea? (It’s not bad to be an implementation person! It’s just a different skill set.)
Someone who developed the idea will almost always have a moment they can describe. “I was in my car on the way home, listening to a podcast, when the person said, ‘plastics.’ I was like, ‘Woah, plastics. That’s what I need to do.’”
When you ask a candidate about an accomplishment on their resume, you find out their level of involvement with the achievement, and you find out how their mind works. It’s a great question for anyone in a leadership or creative role.
2. Tell me about some of the most difficult problems you worked on and how you solved them.
This question is stolen from Elon Musk, so you may argue that it’s not unique. What makes this a unique interview question is that you get to find out strengths and weaknesses that directly pertain to the job.
If you ask, “What is your biggest weakness?” you’ll get some drivel that won’t help you find the right candidate. If you ask this, the candidate can give you a tailored answer.
3. What made you go into this field of work?
This unique interview question helps you ascertain a cultural fit. You need to know what you are looking for in the answer to this. Is the candidate excited about their field of work? It gets you the background information you want and (often) insight into where they want to go in the future? Is this a stepping stone? A stop-gap measure? Or a job the person really wants?
“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is one of the more popular questions to get that information, but it’s reviled in these times of uncertainty and shorter tenures. The above question will give you better insight into the candidate’s longer-term objectives.
4. Here’s a description of a problem we’re working on. Can you give me a five-minute idea of where and how you’d begin solving this?
This puts your candidate uniquely into the job and not on general principles around the role. Note: this isn’t an assignment to create a three-hour presentation, and it’s not an attempt to get free consulting out of a candidate. It’s a five-minute look at where they would start.
From this, you learn their background, problem-solving approach, and ability to comprehend the situations they will face in the job.
How to incorporate unique questions during your interview
The point of these unique interview questions is to target them specifically to the job and the company. By the time you conduct an interview, all the candidates have already been determined that they can likely do the job. Through these questions, you get to learn a lot more about the individual and how they would fit into your department and team.
So many canned interview questions have the candidate thinking, “What does the hiring manager want to hear?” rather than “Here is what I have to offer.” These questions directly engage the candidate’s unique experiences and the unique struggles of the business. You’ll have a better understanding of the candidate with this type of questioning.
Use these questions as part of your general process. Depending on the role, you may want technical questions, hypothetical situations, and questions about their career progression. But, with everyone, you want to know how well they’d do in the job. These questions help.
Want to learn more? Check out our all-inclusive guide to interviewing best practices.