Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

8 Trick Interview Questions to Trip Up Your Candidates

By James Ball | Nov 10, 2015 | Assessing Applicants

Interviewer looking scary - with red devil hornsSavvy jobseekers will rigorously prepare themselves before interviewing.

Showing up with a list of rehearsed, seemingly great answers, these candidates have disguised themselves in a web of lies…

…OK that’s a little far, but the truth remains: in 99% of cases, you’re not going to get an accurate and natural representation of your candidate.

In fact, we recently wrote two blogs about this very problem: the 10 most common lies candidates tell and 5 Ways to Tell if Someone is Lying to You.

So, if you ever feel that an interview is going a little too well and you’re hearing answers that are a little too rehearsed, then why not chuck in a couple of bizarre curve ball questions?

Mixing things up a bit and catching your candidates off guard will yield a truer response and reveal more about the ‘true them.’

1.  How honest are you?

It’s an intriguing question thrown out to candidates at Allied Telesis in the United States and has since been adopted throughout the world.

Good signs:

The question appears too good to be true so most candidates will confess to a little white lie here or there while maintaining high standards of personal integrity.

The perfect answer of course is “completely.”

Bad signs:

Watch out for squirming candidates who take a little too long to answer this question (and those of course, who admit to being compulsive liars!)

Recruiter Pro Tip.

This question may seem a little pointless but remember, it’s all about asking your candidate something unexpected and getting them off-script for a while.

Their response will reveal a lot more than just whether they are an honest person: how do they handle the pressure? Do they lose their temper? Do they have a sense of humour?

Follow up questions are likely to yield more, truthful responses.

2. If you were a cereal, which would you be & why?

This random interview question, something you’d expect to be asked in discussion with friends, has been credited to Bed Bath & Beyond.

Good signs:

There is absolutely no correct answer, so you must decide exactly what you’re looking for in advance:

  • A clever so-and-so who draws a complex business analogy through the medium of Cheerios.
  • A simple and honest answer that cites the benefits of the candidate’s favourite cereal.
  • An ultra-focused candidate, confident enough to question your method: ‘why is that relevant?’

Bad signs:

If a candidate says ‘I don’t like cereal’ or gets visibly angry with the question, they’re clearly not willing to play the game which could forecast management trouble in the future.

3. 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?

This interview question is attributed to General Motors and you might just recognise it from our recent blog post: 30 Interview Questions, Pinched from the World’s Most Successful Businesses.

Good signs:

This little cheeky brainteaser depends on a tendency to over-think the question.

You really don’t need to consider the ins and outs of a lily pad and its growth cycle; you just need to work backwards and use a little bit of common sense. Click here to find out the answer to a very similar puzzle.

Anyone who answers correctly shows great critical thinking and listening skills!

Bad signs:

It is a little bit harsh to completely write off a candidate who gets this question wrong. Under pressure to impress, our brains can shut down and make it extremely difficult to think straight.

What is a bad sign however, is a candidate who visibly seems angry at such questions and clearly isn’t willing to play the game.

It’s an interview after all and you make the rules.

If you’d like to check out more brainteasers to assess critical thinking, click here.

4.  How many sq ft of pizza are eaten every year?

This nightmare of a question appears during Goldman-Sachs’ interviews.

It helps to demonstrate mental arithmetic ability, essential to investment banking and other financial services.

Good signs:

Even if the candidate is so far off the mark that it’s laughable, if they clearly consider the question and show a sound thought-process as they go along, this reveals great initiative and problem-solving ability.

Bad signs:

If they pluck a figure out of thin air, then it would imply one of two things; they’re either too lazy to even attempt to consider the question or they’ve been asked the same thing before!

Recruiter Pro Tip:

My personal advice is to not ask this question unless you’re interviewing for a position where having a talent for maths is essential.

If you do, whilst you might be able to locate someone for your Marketing Manager position with excellent problem solving skills, you may actually alienate the perfect candidate for the position who didn’t pass their GCSE maths.

You have been warned…

I’m not going to lie, I’m not sure I’d get this question right under the pressure of an interview… for more ridiculous brainteasers, click here.

5.  Are you a lucky person?  With examples…

AirBnB sneak this question into their interviews and if you examine it more closely, it’s easy to see why!

The question actually assesses whether an interviewee has a positive or negative outlook on life and it will show you a little something about their personality too; are they superstitious?

Good signs:

A candidate who says yes and humbly counts their blessings has a positive outlook, but also appears to understand that you have to work hard to make ‘good luck’ happen.

Bad signs:

Some candidates will say that they’ve never been lucky in their life and may even recant the terrible, personal things that have affected them in the past.

Does your business really need an over-sharer?

These candidates will inherently have a more negative view of the world and might not be the right staff members for you.

6. What is unusual about the following words…

…revive, banana, grammar, voodoo, assess, potato, dresser, uneven?

Another tricky little brainteaser to catch your candidates out.

Good signs:

Any candidate who gets this one right at interview clearly has great critical skills and the ability to perform under pressure too.

Of course, as we said earlier, it would be unfair to completely write someone off just because they couldn’t find the answer – but this question could help you suss out your superstar candidates!

Bad signs:

Again, this question could be a source of frustration or even anger for candidates who don’t have a great temper and aren’t willing to play the game.

Recruiter Pro Tip.

If I’m 100% honest, I’m not a major fan of brainteasers.

They’re really tricky and put an awful amount of pressure onto candidates who are probably already really nervous.

If you MUST use them, only do so with confident interviewees and use sparingly.

By the way (just in case) the answer is… if you place the first letter of each word at the end of it instead, it makes the same word backwards (does that make sense?)

7.  What is your least favourite thing about humanity?

Ok, hands up – who wouldn’t be completely thrown by this one?

This interview question, cribbed from ZocDoc, a US-based healthcare website, wouldn’t be out of place in the pub after your 5th pint of Guinness with a few mates.

It’s a very clever way to entirely change the pace of the interview and make a well-prepared candidate really think twice, revealing insightful little characteristics of the candidate.

Good signs:

There’s nothing wrong with having a strong opinion, as long as you are sensitive to the views of others.

A candidate who clearly has an understanding of the world and doesn’t attempt to push their opinion on you, illustrates great communication and interpersonal skills.

Bad signs:

If the candidate goes into a heated tirade about the state of the world and its inhabitants, then you might want to assess how this will translate into the working environment.

Recruiter Pro Tip.

Whilst not on the same level as a psychometric test, this question will provide some really useful character insights and potentially demonstrate their political convictions.

Once you know that, you might get an idea how they’ll fit into your corporate culture.

Once again, there is no right answer, just be aware of the kind of answers that would impress you.

8.  What was the last gift you gave someone?

This question will break down some of the emotional barriers heightened during the interview and reveal something about the candidate’s personal character.

Much softer than the others, it should illicit a positive, warm response.

Listen carefully to the answer and see if the candidate is a good fit for your team and culture.

Good signs:

You should be able to read an emotional response from the candidate, hopefully of happiness and love.

An open candidate will take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about their social life, rather than rattling off a snappy three-word answer.

Bad signs:

Of course if you get a dry, starchy response informing you that they gave a gift voucher to their young niece, move on, you learned nothing…

A Word Of Warning…

Trick questions like the 8 we’ve outlined above really can reveal a lot about a candidate.

If you feel comfortable enough to shoehorn some of these questions into an interview, you’ll be surprised how, in the right context, the candidate’s answers will support your decision making process, particularly by reflecting their values and personality.

However, don’t ask all of them!

You’re going to look a little daft and it will be off-putting for the candidate.

Remember, recruitment is a two-way street!

If you’d like to receive a weekly dose of insider secrets on how to recruit the best staff for your business, click here to sign up to this blog.

- 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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