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Five Non-Traditional Interview Questions that Help Select the Best Candidates

On the surface, the interview process can seem like a polite, straightforward conversation in which a manager gains a sense of a candidate’s abilities and the candidate gains greater insight into a position before making the decision to join a company. But in reality, the interview can be a complex exchange with high stakes on both sides. Hiring is expensive; managers want to make sure they’re making the most informed choice between all of the final contenders. And applicants want to find out all they can about the nature of the workplace, the position, and the company before they sign on for a long term commitment. In both cases, volumes of vital information need to be exchanged before either party can confidently move forward, and all of this usually happens during the course of one or two thirty minute sessions.

How can your managers make the most of this brief opportunity? A successful interview starts with a list of meaningful and appropriate questions. There are no substitutes for standard, indispensable questions like the following:

Tell me about your last position.

Now that we’ve spoken about the nature of the company and this job, how do you think your skills and background will contribute to our success?

What are your long term professional goals?

It’s important for a manager to inquire clearly and directly into these three areas. But once these issues have been addressed, a few non-traditional questions can help the manager understand the applicant on a personal level. Unexpected questions can test an applicant’s wit and candor, and may reveal her ability to think critically and articulate her insights. Try these five questions to gain a more complex picture of interviewees:

Have you ever failed to meet a goal or deadline while working with a team? If so, what happened and what did you learn?

Describe your worst interpersonal conflict in the workplace. How did you work to overcome this challenge?

This job may involve (insert the most challenging or unpleasant aspect of the position at hand). How do you see yourself handling this?

Have you ever faced a situation in which your supervisor expected something from you that conflicted with the best interests of the company? How did you respond?

Describe your proudest professional moment.

Remember that non-traditional interview questions should always stay professional and relevant. Never ask silly questions that may insult the candidate or undermine her impression of your company, and never bait candidates, ask trick questions, or expect them to grovel for the job. But within these limits, feel free to exercise your creativity. For help and inspiration, contact the experts at PSU.