Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

30 Interview Questions, Pinched from the World’s Most Successful Businesses 

By James Ball | Sep 8, 2015 | Assessing Applicants

richard branson throwing a baseball really happilyWhat’s the most important asset to your business?

(We’ve discussed this many times before!)

It’s your staff of course!

“A successful business isn’t the product or service it sells, its supply chain or its corporate culture: It is a group of people bound together by a common purpose and vision.” Richard Branson.

But how do you find great staff in the first place?

If you believe the stories, myths and legends then you might be tempted to start asking weird and wonderful interview questions or setting ridiculously difficult interview tasks.

However, if you do a little bit of digging on Glassdoor, it appears that the super-successful businesses really aren’t as wild at interviewing as we’ve been lead to believe!

Behold, 30 genuine interview questions pinched from 10 super-successful businesses, for your inspiration!

1. Virgin

As we’ve already mentioned everyone’s favourite entrepreneur, Richard Branson, let’s get the ball rolling with three interview questions used by different fractions of his very own Virgin Empire…

Question 1: “Describe a time when you were under pressure and how you dealt with it.”

This simple behavioural question is a fairly self-explanatory one, used to suss out whether or not a candidate can handle Virgin’s fast-paced environment!

The best candidates will show that they’re more than willing to go the extra mile for a company but also understand the importance of a work-life balance (to avoid the risk of burnout).

Question 2: “What do you think about our most recent advertising campaign?”

You may think that q2 is irrelevant to non-marketing roles, but there’s more to it than meets the eye…

You’ll learn if the candidate did their research thoroughly and if they’re genuinely interested in the brand (surely they’d have come across some sort of advertising if so).

It’s a great way to root out your higher-tier, more committed and passionate interviewees.

Question 3: “If you could be any cartoon character who would you be and why?”

Of course, you might also want to throw the odd left-field question in for good measure, especially when you’re on the hunt for creative candidates!

Can they show off some of their great personality? Are they able to think creatively, on the spot?

2. Google

I simply couldn’t do a blog post about interview questions without including Google – could I?

Question 4: How do you avoid missing deadlines?

Disappointed? Google are infamous for asking ‘out-there’ questions to confuse their interviewees and this just seems a bit boring… right?

But if you actually take a look at Google’s Glassdoor reviews, there are heaps of job candidates who recall being asked similar, basic things, proving that even Google prefer simple, honest questions at times.

Question 5: What would you change at Google?

I personally think this question is a little bit ruthless – particularly when the company in question is as phenomenally successful as Google.

If you do choose to swipe it, then don’t be surprised or offended by the response you get – you did ask!

As usual, use your initiative! If a candidate is overly negative, then they might clash with others, if they can sensitively bring great ideas to the table then they could be a real asset.

Question 6: How many calories are there in a grocery store?

A real test of confidence (can they hold it together, under the pressure?) creativity and critical reasoning (do they come up with a sound method?) it really isn’t about getting the right answer!

As I mentioned, Google are famous for using weird and wacky brainteasers to assess interviewees, although they recently, publicly renounced this style of interviewing, calling it ‘a complete waste of time.’

Probably not worth it then..?

3. Apple Inc

When you think ‘super-success’ it’s hard not to think of Apple who “totalled $39.5 billion in 2014” according to They probably do know a thing or two about hiring superstar staff!

Question 7: What do you love/like about Apple? What Apple products do you own?

I love this question; it’s a real test of each interviewee’s knowledge and genuine passion for the brand.

Considering that their are millions of accomplished and self-confessed “Applephiles” out there, who’d love nothing more than to work for the corporation, it would be daft to hire someone who wasn’t a genuine fan.

So, can you adapt this question to see what your interviewees know and like about your brand? Genuinely passionate staff members are like gold dust.

Question 8: What can you do for Apple that’s never been done before?

Pretty similar to “what would you change at Google?” this question is bound to catch an interviewee off-guard, whilst assessing their creativity, confidence and critical thinking.

Again, don’t be offended by candidates who offer you great ideas and be careful of those who are arrogant and negative!

Question 9: You reach the end of a treasure quest and you’re faced with two doors. Behind one door you’ll find the treasure, behind the other you’ll find a slow and painful death. Beside the doors stand two people, one always tells the truth, the other always lies. So what question do you ask them to find the right door? What would you do based on what they tell you? (Courtesy of Business Insider)

I’ve always admitted that I’m not a massive fan of brainteasers. Yes, they can assess critical thinking, creativity and mathematical reasoning, but they’re also incredibly off-putting!

Why bother? You want to get the best out of your candidates – right? Why try to put them off?

By the way, in case you’re interested, you can find the answer here.

4. Wells Fargo

Moving swiftly on from the super-techie companies… I wonder whether the banking industry will differ in their approach?

Question 10: Give an example of when you handled a customer conflict, what happened?

The multinational bankers appear to opt out of the high-pressure, critical-reasoning interviews and prefer a more balanced, simplistic approach.

This standard (cliché) interview question is incredibly predictable and could work as a great warm-up… but beware, if you only ask predictable questions, then you’ll have to expect predictable answers!

Question 11: What are your weaknesses?

Another cliché – what are they thinking?

Perhaps they’re aware that, no matter how sickeningly predictable, cliché and expected, job candidates still struggle to answer this one silly question!

Recruiter Pro Tip.

Why the struggle?

Because different interviewers prefer different kinds of answers!

Some might be looking for a dead honest answer like ‘I’m lacking some of the technical knowledge required for the role but I’d be willing to learn,’ whilst others prefer more savvy (cliché) answers like ‘I work TOO hard’ and others prefer something in between.

Regardless, it just seems like a trick question!

If you’re not exactly sure what kind of answer would impress you, then don’t ask. It’s completely pointless and will more than likely put your candidates off.

Question 12: Describe a time when you had to use your creativity to influence someone…

Behavioural questions are arguably the most effective category of interview questions, giving you an opportunity to predict your candidate’s future behaviour from how they’ve behaved in the past

And the more detail an interviewee gives, without faltering, the surer you can be that their answer is genuine.

If you’d like more great examples, check out this blog post: 27 Behavioural Questions You Must Ask Your Interviewees.

5. J.P. Morgan Chase

It’s really not surprising that J.P. Morgan Chase, the largest bank in the US, attracts a whole host of interest from those hoping to break out (and become super-successful) in the banking industry.

But how do they whittle down those job candidates?

Question 13: Describe a recent news article that interested you…

This is a great question for companies who want to hire people who are genuinely interested in the industry; as opposed to those who are just looking for any old job!

Asking about news articles, reading interests and other out-of-work activities that are relevant can separate the good candidates from the superstar passionate ones.

Question 14: Who inspires you?

You can tell a lot about a person by who they’re influenced by, from celebrities and family members to managers and friends…

Do their values fit in with your company’s culture? Are they inspired by any industry professionals? Are they motivated by family?

Question 15: How many street lights are there in NYC?

Unlike Wells Fargo, it seems that this bank ARE a fan of the left-field brainteaser questions!

If the interviewee takes the time to properly consider the question (and doesn’t just pluck a number out of thin air) the interviewer would be able to assess mental arithmetic and critical reasoning skills.

Both pretty essential to a financial position… but certainly not relevant for every role.

6. Exxon Mobil Corp

They may have been subject to controversy over the years, but ExxonMobil are still the largest refiner and 5th largest company by revenue in the world. Impressive!

Question 16: Give an example of a time you had to make a decision without having all of the relevant information?

For me, alarm bells would immediately be ringing – is this a trick question?

Of course, the interviewer is looking for a balanced answer.

You don’t want an employee who rushes into decisions without seeking all of the relevant information, but you also don’t want an employee who isn’t willing to take a risk, if needs must.

Question 17: Give us an example of a time when you’ve been under pressure to change a course of action but you persevered regardless.

Again, this question is all about balance…

You don’t really want an employee who would disregard their manager’s advice or instruction, but you also don’t want an employee who’s not willing to fight their corner.

A good answer would demonstrate a willingness to liaise with superiors, advising them if a certain course of action doesn’t seem appropriate, but also an understanding that, at the end of the day, they must accept their manager’s decision.

Question 18: How many tennis balls could you fit in Wimbledon?

You’ve probably heard this one before, in fact, it seems to be a favourite, as far as brainteasers go.

Could you answer it?

7. Chevron.

Sticking to the refinery theme, Chevron haven’t quite made it into the top 10 on the Fortune 500 list, but they’re closing in at number 12! (Doing better than Apple at 15!)

Question 19: What three words would your friends use to describe you?

A twist on the old ‘tell me about yourself’ this quirky question will reveal what a candidate is really like, giving them a chance to reveal something a little more natural about themselves (are they a good listener? The joker of the group? A calming presence?)

We talk about the benefit of personality interview questions in more detail HERE.

Question 20: What would be the deciding factor in accepting an offer from Chevron?

Translated, Chevron are basically asking their candidates ‘what motivates you?’

Great candidates will demonstrate that they’re passionate about the company, industry, job etc.

Not-so-great candidates will reveal money, perks and more fickle aspects as motivators.

That’s not always necessarily a bad thing – but let’s be honest, most hiring managers would prefer candidates who are motivated by passion for the specific job, not just the cash.

Question 21: What is the best thing in your life? What is the worst thing about your life?

Another great question to assess a candidate’s personality… are they an inherently negative or positive person?

Using your initiative, you’ll probably going to be able to tell (do they more easily answer one question or another? How do they react to the question?)

Beware of over-sharers and those who are overly negative – they clearly don’t understand professional boundaries.

8. General Motors

From the master of motors who brought you the Buick, Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet…

Question 22: Tell us about a time when you had to challenge your supervisor?

Sometimes, managers do get it wrong (shock!) and it’s important that their staff feel comfortable to question their decisions.

We’re not talking about people who constantly undermine co-workers and bosses, but being able to proactively (and sensitively) approach others is a fantastic characteristic to have on your team.

In our recent blog 14 Tell-Tale Signs You’re A Bad Boss we discussed the ‘it’s my way or the highway mentality’ and how it disrupts the success of a business.

If this is the way YOU think… it’s time to reassess!

Question 23: Explain a situation when you were the first person to take action.

I like this question because it’s really open to interpretation.

An interviewee’s answer could be anything from a First-Aid emergency, sports triumph or workplace grand idea.

It’ll show off how well they can think on their feet and whether they’re a doer or a thinker. You want someone who can seize the day!

Question 24: If a lily pad doubles in size every day and fills a lake in 50 days, how long will it take to fill half the lake?

We posted an alternative to this brainteaser in our Friday Funny blog: The 10 Most Difficult Interview Brainteasers Ever Asked (see no. 1) and the truth is… it’s SO easy, if you just listen to the question!

They really won’t have to think that hard, and there’s no mathematical skill required – it will merely assess a candidate’s listening skills and ability to cope under pressure. (Don’t be surprised if their mind goes blank!)

If you really can’t get it this explanation might just help…

9. Ford Motor Company.

It’s pretty hard to believe that Ford found itself on the edge of bankruptcy at the start of the 21st century… now, number 9 in the Fortune 500, their revenue for 2014 was a whopping $144077 million.

Question 25: What challenges does an automotive industry company such as Ford face in the near future?

Translation: does the candidate actually know their stuff?

This interview question will be more relevant for higher-level roles and good candidates will have to show off their commercial savvy and understanding of the automotive industry (and the business world in general).

If they’ve not prepared, then this question is bound to catch them out!

Question 26: Are you a leader?

Leadership skills really are a sought-after (and hard to find) commodity in business – so why not just cut the crap and ask them straight?

Great candidates will be able to easily relay concrete and genuine examples.

Do beware of stories that sound generic or fabricated though; job candidates may have prepared for this one.

Question 27: Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult boss.

This is a standard left-field question, aimed at tripping up candidates and revealing any problems they may have had with past bosses.

They’ll feel uncomfortable not answering at all (it’s against the interview rules) and might just reveal a little too much!

10. AT&T

Last, but certainly not least, 3 tricky questions from the telecommunications giant AT&T – (the 23rd largest company in the world).

Question 28: What does AT&T stand for?

So simple, but so revealing!

If ANY candidate shows up, without knowing the answer to this question, they’ve clearly not done their research and should be shown the door immediately!

You can adapt this question for your own business – just use an easily accessible fact that any good candidate would have come across during their pre-interview research.

Question 29: Sell me something in this room?

This interview question (although more of a task) crops up time and time again during sales interviews.

However, it can be adapted for any kind of position, for example, AT&T also often ask candidates to teach them how to do something.

It’s a great way to test candidates on (relevant) skills there and then and will demonstrate their ability to handle pressure.

(However, there are some businesses who take it too far! Check out our blog: The 10 Weirdest Interview Tasks, Set by Cruel Interviewers to find out what NOT to ask!)

Question 30: Describe yourself to me with one word.

The worst way a candidate can respond is by using a recruitment ‘buzzword‘ like ‘dynamic,’ ‘hard-working’ or ‘self-motivated’.

What you really want to know is how they perceive themselves, whether that perception matches the impression you have of them and whether they’d fit into your company culture!

Savvy, confident and friendly candidates will give away something personal and endearing, yet professionally appealing!


From super-successful bankers to oil and gas giants… it appears that a mixture of standard clichés, more inventive left-field questions and ridiculous brainteasers, crop up in most industries.

So what does that mean for you?

If you want to successfully attract, assess and hire fantastic, superstar staff, then you need to utilise a variety of interview questions! Simple.

Recruiter Pro Tip. 

Having interviewed heaps of candidates in our time, we’ve found that a mixture of the following questions work most successfully…

Click on the links above to swipe some examples!

If you’d like to find out more about conducting the perfect interview – and you haven’t already – then click here and sign up to our blog!

We’ll send over a weekly email revealing insider secrets and example interview questions, guaranteed to streamline your recruitment process.

Good luck interviewing!

- James Ball

James Ball

James is the founder and owner of Coburg Banks and a recruitment expert from Sutton Coldfield in the UK.  He regularly advises companies on how to improve and get the maximum ROI from their recruitment processes.

> More blog posts by James Ball

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