Favorite Job Interview Questions

Hiring. It’s a skill. One gets better at it the more you do it. I’ve hired around 20 people over the past 3 years. And just slowly but surely I keep getting a sense what works and what doesn’t.

I have realized that sitting down at a table for the interview is just plain awkward and so I’ve started going for ‘coffee run interviews’. I pay attention on how the candidate treats the barista, if he/she offers me the sugar etc. The little things. Also, when walking side by side, a conversation flows more naturally.

While I have the setting figured out, I am still working on my list of ideal interview questions. One of my all-time favorite one is “What’s your secret superpower?”

What’s your favorite interview question? If you’re not someone that is hiring, can you remember a question that made an impression?

77 Comments leave a comment below

  1. Most random interview question I’ve been asked:
    “If you were working in the office late at night alone and
    there was one chocolate biscuit left in the team biscuit box
    what would you do?”

    It was a long time ago. Interview for a design role at a small design studio. I didn’t get the job.
    But I’ve no idea what the right answer was
    or whether my answer was wrong. I know I’d answer it differently now.
    (If anyone knows the ‘right’ answer please share.)

  2. “What’s something you’re bad at that you really wish you were good at.” When someone can answer this readily, they’ve usually reached a place of accepting their limitations without stifling their innate desires. This is key to creative, team-based problem solving.

  3. @Kathryn Grace – I would totally had the biscuit! and just replace them in the morning!

  4. Very good question, although I’m already imagining someone answering with some really awkward thing, like being able to lick their elbow.

    Apart from that, I agree with you that, once you’ve cleared the technical aspect, the very difficult thing to assess is the “human factor”. All those little things you said are very important, and I’ve learnt to listen to them before finding out your new colleague is a psycho.

    Question wise I’d tend to ask what they’re doing when they’re not working, like how do they spend their free-time in a valuable and non-valuable way.
    If they’re able to keep work and life separate, how much interested are in the actual work they’re doing.

  5. Most challenging question raised in a conversation with a prospective client/funder… “What do you want?”
    I finally had client engagement for a great product service idea after 6 months of conversations/promotion. I was quite blown away and was so locked in sales mode I stalled and was in shock. :)
    It’s a very good question… that I need to be able to answer.

  6. @Liz – Yes that was my answer at the time. Nowadays I’d answer… why am I working on my own late in the studio? (Thinking of team support, safety and work/life balance.)

  7. “What’s a product you use everyday despite the fact that you don’t like the design of it? Why?”

  8. @Kathryn oooh thats a good answer! thinking outside the box!

  9. I’ve been hiring a lot for different web agencies and the most important question for me is “What is your own personal contribution to the medium”. It is a good way to measure their passion but above all the sens they give to their work and the respect they have for the audience.

  10. I was once asked “which Simpsons character are you?” which made me smile ear-to-ear because I’m a huge fan. Naturally, I’m a Lisa.

    I’ve also been asked “what kitchen appliance are you most like?”

    But the question I stumble on most is “tell me about yourself.” which isn’t even a question, technically. Some bosses want this to be a purely professional answer, others want personal stuff, others want a concise life story in three sentences — both personal and professional. I almost want to answer this question with another question: “how much do you know about me already?”

  11. “Maybe one day in the near future, your friends have already bought houses and expensive cars; but you are still living in the rent apt and cycling to work. Will it be ok for you?”

  12. Asking something really difficult or impossible to answer to see if the candidate says a simple : I don’t know.

    So many people just don’t have the ability to say those words and waste time with a BS answer.

  13. “How many traffic lights are there in Tokyo?”

  14. I read in an article about Warby Parker’s office culture that they ask their interviewees “When was the last time you wore a costume?”

    Totally random, but a great opportunity for an interviewee to get anecdotal.

  15. While participating in a group interview, a colleague asked the applicant “If you were a donut, what kind would you be?”

    The applicant replied, “Are you serious?”

    We posed the same question to the next applicant. Without skipping a beat she said, “Maple-glazed cruller with rainbow sprinkles.”

    We hired her.

  16. @glia, that’s basically asking “Do you like New York?” Standard fare for City-dwellers — no laundry, no dishwasher, no car, no closets, no space.

  17. The question that was 100% for me (and stayed 100% when I asked the people I had hired before I started using it) was:

    “What do you like least about public transit?”

    People who snort and say, “The Loser Cruiser?” are not my kind of people. People who say it smells bad, or it is full of different kinds of people. Or poor people. None of those answers would get you hired.

    People who say that being on time is important to them and the buses are too erratic–that is a good answer!

  18. I always look at body language, you can see how a person deals with certain questions in a non verbal manner it can give you some insight on how they will be or how they deal with stress.

    The questions don’t necessarily have to be about design or how/what/why type of questions, which everyone asks.

    But the most memorable question I have been ever asked, was a negative question. I was so surprised they asked it that I burst out laughing in the interview as I thought it was a joke. They were serious, it was an interview for a Sr. AD position in a small ad agency and the interview was conducted by the 2 partners. The question was “Was I capable of being a c**t in the studio.” (yes the C word) For the rest of the interview I could not keep a straight face, at the very end I told them that I’m not the guy for the job. That I don’t believe you have to be like that in order to get things done.

  19. When I was in college and being interviewed for internships, I loved getting asked what my favorite class was, and if I’m ever in a hiring position, I plan to ask that, regardless of what the applicant is applying for. I think it’s a great way to get beyond a person’s resume and into hir way of thinking in a serious and substantive manner–plus, I’ve often found that people’s favorite courses were outside of their majors, which means you get an insight into what the person just flat-out *likes*.

  20. I always ask prospective hires (and new students) what they’re currently obsessed with. If they don’t have an answer, my experience is they’re not up to the creative, committed things I expect of them.

  21. @Clara There are 15,154 lights in Tokyo. Just in case they ask you in the next interview.

  22. “What part of the position do you think you will get most excited about?”

  23. Two of my favorite interview questions are:

    “Who [in our industry] do you find interesting or influential?”

    “What are you reading/watching/listening to that helps you with your work?”

    I find that these are a couple of questions that candidates don’t have canned answers for. I also need to know that potential hires aren’t done learning, that they’re paying attention to what’s going on beyond what gets them through the workday.

  24. I don’t like scenario questions because they set the stage for right and wrong answers, which force people to think strategically rather honestly. (See Kathryn’s biscuit question in the 2nd comment above).

    I’d rather ask someone to describe how they handled a situation in the past. As they’re focused on building an accurate account, you gain more insight to their personality traits and intentions from not only the content of the story, but in how they tell the story.

  25. 1. What’s your biggest strength and weakness in your professional life and how to you apply or deal with it?
    2. Fav vacation they ever went on – I think how you plan your vacations is pretty close how you plan your most committed fun fav project ….

  26. “I’m going to give you 5 minutes. Teach me something new. Anything”

  27. Q: If i was to ask your FRIENDS 3 words to describe you what would they be?

    You can tell who has listened to the question – if they answer ‘Punctual’ ,’Reliable”…they didn’t listen and i usually say, really, your friends would describe you as punctual??? Shame..

    My favourite answer was ‘Chinese. Whirlwind. Rascal’

  28. Thanks, Tina! Related to Randy J. Hunt’s comment, in this business-school talk –

    (approximately 33 minutes in) – Jason Fried, who co-founded 37signals, gave this sample question of what he typically asks: “Why did you buy that bag?” To him, it separates who is curious and who is not.

  29. I have asked the biggest strength and weakness questions in interviews. After some thought, most people do have an answer, though I did have a person state that she had “no weaknesses”. Needless to say, I didn’t hire her.

  30. What’s your favorite part of the day?

  31. “What email lists do you subscribe to/what do you read on a regular basis?” It wasn’t something I’d been expecting to answer at all after preparing for the usual set of interview questions.

  32. I had an interview with a consulting firm at graduation back in the days. The moment I sat down, they asked me: “Do you have any questions?” right at the beginning. I was shocked and confused. They wanted to see if I had the skills to potentially ask the right questions to clients.

  33. “What is 32 times 27?”

    I was so stunned by this that after the interview I asked the interviewer why he asked what seemed like a random question. He explained that it was supposed to assess the applicant’s response to being put on the spot and was in fact the most important question. Disqualify anybody who laughs or assumes it’s a joke, consider anyone that asks for a piece of paper and pen, shortlist anyone that asks to use the calculator on the desk (his logic was he wanted to hire the person who takes any task seriously and solves it the most efficiently).

    I tried it a couple of times as an employer years later, and I must say it’s quite revealing…

  34. How do you think they get the coating on M&M’s?

    Pretty good test of a persons immediate ability to invent a solution to a problem.

  35. “What’s the question I should be asking you but don’t know to ask?”

  36. I like the question: “What’s the worst thing you ever did to your sibling?” Many people will tell me the worst thing that was done to them instead. Only a few people will fess up to the less than self-aggrandizing stories of stabbing one’s brother in the forehead with a pencil.

    You can see a lot in the response to this question. Really. Honesty, chutzpah, conversation ability. Much more than what’s your favorite hobby or some such flat question.

    I’ve also asked how far the candidate can spit, but that’s for specialty work…

  37. My secret super power is doing the dishes (also falls under the ethos to leave everywhere better than how you found it). Offering to help is nice, but slipping away to do them is a sweet surprise.

    @Clara – there are at least 24 traffic lights in Tokyo – 1 pair for each road at an intersection = 4 pairs, and 6 lights on each pair = 24 lights.

  38. Favorite question: why do you want to work here?

  39. “What’s the most useful criticism you’ve ever received?”

  40. I like asking this at the end of the interview as a segue into opening it up to them for questions:

    “What is one question that I didn’t ask, that you wish I had? And how would you answer it?”

  41. What do you do in the free time?

  42. I was once asked “what is more interactive, Star Wars or Star Trek?” This question felt like a trap, especially since I’ve never really watched star trek. I prefer the biscuit question!

  43. We at Nicework ahve a long and intricate approach. We have a standard set of questions that are linked to our values. I have a set of random questions I throw in to test peoples personality and culture fit.

    * Say the worst word you know (Best one so far is Hokum)
    * 10 songs to listen to forever.
    * Best band of time?
    * Where will you be in 5 years time?
    * Been overseas?
    * Define yourself in 3 words
    * Do you have any alternative Perks (You dad owns a plane, etc…)
    * Latest book you read
    * What is the weirdest thing you have seen online recently

  44. I like HONY’s questions (http://www.humansofnewyork.com/)

    eg: “If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”

    “what is the happiest moment of your life?”

    “what’s your largest remaining goal in your life?”

  45. Imagine that you’ve all the sudden been put in charge of a third world country. Go through your process of recovering the country, including items such as government, judicial system, police, transportation systems, etc.

    Key point: Do all of your thinking out loud.

  46. A job interview is quite an awkward situation. You mostly hire when you urgently need someone to do the job and applicants apply when they urgently need money to pay their bills. Then both sides will tell you anything it takes to make them seem the right fit.

    Because of my job, I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I simply believe that there must be a better solution. When people say what they want, it will most certainly get to them. I call it the #RooftopTheory. Then even a job interview won’t be a cold call anymore.

    Maybe it’s time we start hiring people who have the same vision and who say it, without us asking. Is this too abstract?

  47. What is your favorite movie and why?

  48. When hiring, I’m less interested in hypothetical scenarios and more interest in proven behavior through demonstrated accomplishment. My hands down favorite question (tedious as it sounds up front) is: Tell me about every job you have had, why you took it, and why you left it. The pattern revealed in this question (thanks to HR talent Dani Rodenbough, Trouble at Work), tells you what behavior you might expect from the candidate. This post on my blog, One Question, [http://www.dodiejacobi.com/2013/04/23/one-question/]; and this one Hire the Best Human Standing [http://www.dodiejacobi.com/2013/02/28/hire-the-best-human-standing/] might inspire your “Questions I ask every prospective employee List.”

  49. “What motivates you?”

  50. I like to ask people to write an epitaph for whatever product/company/service they are hoping to join.

    I ask them to explain:
    – what has the world lost?
    – what will it be remembered for?

    They draw it on a little post-it note. So now I have hundreds of post-its with amazing epitaphs.

    Its a great way to drill into someone’s emotional connection with your organization and see their creative thinking skills.

  51. I like to ask: what is the last big mistake you made? It’s quite revealing to see what an applicant chooses to tell and how he brings it across.
    Some tell a story of something that went wrong and how it was not their fault…

  52. “Sell me this {pen, book, ring: whatever}.”

  53. When I worked at an athletic footwear and apparel company and interviewed for a job in the baseball and football division, this huge ex-linebacker asked me in my interview, “How tough are you?” (I’m a woman and theirs was a majority male category). It took me a second, but then I said, “Truly tough people don’t talk about it, they just are.” I got the job and loved it.

  54. My brother was asked this one once:

    “What is one question that I didn’t ask, that you wish I had?”

    and replied:

    “When can you start?”

    I LOVE that. I’m completely in awe and never would have been so quick on my feet.

  55. “What’s your favorite adobe shortcut?”

    – meaning for illustrator/photoshop.

    “Give me a single sentence to tell our CEO about you when I see her later today.”

  56. I always liked the interviews that turned into a conversation. If the interview is too rehearsed, and the interviewer comes in with a list of crazy complex questions, I always feel like I’m not really being myself. Like I’m thinking too hard to give the “right” answer, and not acting like a really would in a work place. I like questions that everybody knows the answer, and that end up making the person open up and be more natural.
    Things like what are the biggest values you think your parents taught you, why did you major in (…), what was your favorite subject and why, do you have any hobbies, tell me a person you admire, what did you like about your last job, why did you leave…
    Stuff that comes naturally but still reveales a lot about a persons caracter.

  57. “When is the last time you went out of your way to do something nice for someone?”

    It was really hard. I didn’t get the job.

  58. For a job in healthcare, I was once asked to describe the last time I broke a hospital policy. Considering the fact that you’re not supposed to break policy, it was hard coming up with something (that also was legal). I found out that it’s the hospital’s break-or-make question, did a little research and got the job. I found out later most people answer ‘I never broke policy’ when I fessed up about a time I had.

  59. What’s your ideal supervisor like? Reveals how they want to be manager.
    What’s your ideal coworker like? Reveals how they will work for you and with your group.

  60. I have a friend who works at Trader Joe’s and isn’t allowed to conduct interviews, but does offer questions to the managers that do. A favorite is “What were your chores/household duties as a child?” I like it as a gauge of what their work ethic was/is. An interview I actually enjoyed, though I forget the question, wound up with the interviewer and I trading travel stories. I’d spent six months out-of-country the year before and she’d lived in Greece some years before. Travel questions are great, I believe, because you get a sense of how adventurous or open people are.
    I like a lot of these: What’s your biggest mistake; tell me about every job you’ve ever had, etc. But as an interviewee and not an interviewer, the strengths and weaknesses question is a least favorite.

  61. @Prescot Q: “Tell me about yourself.” A: “How much do you know about me already?” is brilliant and going on my list of favorite turn the tables responses. Along with @Kathryn’s “Why am I working on my own late in the studio?” biscuit answer.

  62. The first thing to remember here, for all you folks out there wondering how to interview job candidates, is this: do not hire someone until you are 100% certain they’re the right person (or as close as a human being can get to being 100% certain). You are much better off hiring nobody than hiring someone who’s only partially right (or worse).

    The second thing to remember is this: the normal 4-step process of hiring doesn’t produce consistent results. 1) Listing the job, 2) collecting resumes, 3) doing interviews, and 4) then deciding who, if anyone, from among the interviewees you should hire, rarely provides enough information on which to base a hiring decision. Hiring someone with the usual approach is like going Acapulco cliff diving (http://youtu.be/jMU-j1rBChQ) after just a couple of lessons on the 1-meter board. It’s – excuse the pun – too big of a leap.

    Here’s the secret. There’s a fifth step.

    Once you’ve found the person you feel great about, hire them – as a CONSULTANT – to do a real, finite, but substantial project with you. Have them interact with the people they’d be working with at the permanent job. Have them tackle an important problem. Take them out to lunch (or dinner, if they’re still working at another job during the vetting process) with your company colleagues. If you’re not sure afterward whether to hire them, don’t. It’s not worth the risk.

    This approach has never failed me. 37signals talks about virtually the same thing in Getting Real: http://goo.gl/qUSHu

  63. I find the most interesting question to ask is tell me about a time you were frustrated with someone and What did you do to deal with the frustration. It still shocks me when people tell me in a formal interview that they yell or swear, often even reinacting it for me!

  64. The key to answering “Tell me about yourself” is to come up with a positioning statement. What are you? A builder, storyteller, creator, etc. How are you this person? Why are you this person? Come up with this positioning statement (2-3 sentences), and rehearse it when asked this question. Employers will remember you.

  65. I answer “Do you have any questions for me?” with, “What are you looking for in a candidate that you are having difficulty finding?” If the interviewer opens up, they’ll reveal the exact things to do in your new job. If they balk, they probably already have someone else in mind.

  66. These are all great questions; I’m a big fan of the HONY ones. Just want to point out that the interpretation of their answers, as everything, is probably filtered through the interviewer’s set of personality preferences.

    Hiring isn’t easy (assuming you don’t just want to clone yourself), because it’s just so tempting to add or subtract marks compared to what you would have said. It’s helpful to remember to stay open to the answer and not have a “correct” one in mind. That would be setting them up for failure, I think.

    If you can see the candidate’s answers in the context of the skills you’re looking for, all questions work. To get to know them as a person, taking them out of the usual interview environment is a great idea. With whoever’s on the shortlist I might add interviews with team mates and a day of trial-on-the-job if they’re up for it. :-)

  67. The best interview question I’ve been asked…

    If you could establish a trust to fund research in any area, what would it be and why?

    It allowed me to share something I really care about, as well as opened up conversation on the topic.

  68. I used to work overseas quite a bit. I knew that much of language is tied to culture. So, no matter how well I or someone tried to explain an idea, a project, a direction or an intent, something was always lost when more than one culture was involved (regional cultures are distinctly different too). I found that drawing helps. I would ask them to explain something that they cared about in their last job and how it may be relevant in this job. Then I would ask them to use drawings to explain what they had just used words to do. It let me evaluate if (1) they really understood what they just explained or they were just telling me what they thought I wanted to hear, (2) they are able to think in different ways, and (3) they are able to communicate to different types of people. If they were able to do this well, I knew that they would be a great addition to any team.

    The second test would be a Rubik’s cube. I would bring in a Rubik’s Cube and ask them to solve as much of as they could in 5 minutes and talk me through what they were doing. It’s a pretty daunting task. No one expects a Rubik’s Cube. Nor is anyone ever been prepared for it. I didn’t expect them to solve it or get very far. But it allowed me to understand (1) how they thought about solving problems (in this case a Rubik’s Cube), (2) how they handled the unexpected and (3) how they handled stress. Some got so flustered, just got up and walked out of the interview. The range of emotions were interesting, unexpected and revealing. They included anger, embarrassment, dismissiveness, among others. It gave me a pretty good understanding of what kinds of situations and types of people under which with they would do well and not do well. Managing people is not always fun or easy. These two tests gave me a good sense of each person’s strengths and weaknesses.

  69. A number of years ago, I interviewed at Apple for a fairly high-level engineering position. It was a demanding process – 11 or 12 different interviewers when all was said and done. Around the third or fourth interviewer, I was getting into my groove.

    After a cordial introduction, he started the interview, with a simple statement: Tell me something interesting.

    I queried: About Engineering?

    With a smile, he returned: Sure – why not?

    We both laughed, and off I went.

    PS – I got the job.

  70. Those questions are very impressive for interview. Basically confidence consider during interview. I am very happy to reach here and get latest information about interview questions.

  71. I know lots of employers, especially cool start ups, are using cool questions like the superpower one mentioned in the post or the donut one mentioned in the comments. I think those questions are good ones to help break the ice and make the other person start to feel more comfortable in the interview. Having a whole interview based on these questions, however, is a bad idea. You can have the most interesting personality and creative ideas and be shitty to work with, and that has happened on more than one occasion at my place of employment. A less-than-ideal culture fit can be remedied more easily than an incompetent worker. When we moved to questions that required candidates to talk about specific examples of demonstrated experience, we were able to find better employees…the fun questions we threw in just to give them (and us) a break from the stress.

  72. @Renato what does that mean for people who can solve it in their head? It’s 864.

  73. I was once asked on a interview how do you think they get the caramel in the cars milk bar. Kind of odd I did get the job but to this day I’ve no clue why that was asked.

  74. I always ask what is their favorite part of the job they have now. You’d be surprised how many people start complaining about their current job- and those are not the ones I’m interested in.

  75. What’s one question you suggest we ask the remaining interview candidates?