Most job interviews tend to follow a fairly predictable pattern, and savvy job seekers have learned to prepare for the most commonly asked questions.
This has led to the rise in off-the-wall brain-teaser questions, designed to see how a candidate will respond to the unexpected. “How many golf balls would fit in a taxi cab?” or “If you were an animal, what would you be?” are examples of these.
Questions such as these do provide an demonstration of the job seeker thinking on their feet, as they reason out a response, but I am not a fan of them. They can make the candidate feel uncomfortable and create negative feelings. If you hire them, they’ll be happy to get the job, but there may be some lingering resentment over the smug, vaguely hostile interview questioning.
I prefer an unexpected question that creates empathy and is still revealing about the potential employee and their motivations and goals.
I like to ask candidates, “How will this position help you advance in your career?”
This is actually similar to the classic “where do you see yourself in five years?” question, but it comes across as more conversational and friendly. Also, less of a cliché, so they are more likely to stop and think of a new answer rather than quote something rehearsed.
If the position you’re hiring for can help the candidate advance in their career, they will be motivated to work hard and succeed at it. This is what you want in a new hire.
If the applicant can’t articulate how the role is a good fit for their long-term career ambitions, then they are more likely just looking for a paycheque at the moment. This means they are probably going to be less motivated on the job.
This question, being phrased as about the candidate’s own career goals and ambitions, also creates empathy between interviewer and applicant. You are showing that you care about their success right away in the hiring process.
The job interview is the start of a professional relationship, and you want anyone that you bring onto your team to have had a positive experience and start off on the right foot.