“What’s Your Favorite Breakfast Cereal?” How Non-Traditional Interview Questions Can Help You Learn About Candidates’ Personalities

You have to be careful of what you ask in a job interview, of course. To avoid asking anything illegal, most interviewers avoid asking anything too personal. However, challenging applicants with unusual questions can reap unexpected rewards.

Asking non-traditional interview questions allows you to observe a few things about your candidate pool: How comfortable are they with unexpected questions – can they think on their feet and not get rattled or flustered? Are they creative? Can they roll with the punches and maybe have a bit of fun in a stressful situation? All of these are good qualities for an employee to have.

Also, some of the questions might give you an insight into their attitudes and insights, although you want to be careful not to overanalyze. If you ask someone which historical figure they would most want to meet, and they answer “Adolf Hitler,” don’t assume the worst. It may be just that he was the first significant person they could think of.

Here are 5 non-traditional interview questions and the reasons behind asking them.

• What do you do for fun? This open-ended question is noteworthy because job seekers are usually advised not to mention hobbies or personal pursuits on their resumes. However, many hiring managers like to see whether a candidate is well-rounded. Also, the hobby or personal interest might come in handy on the job: An interviewee that loves to write may be a good candidate for a position that requires lots of document drafting, for example.

• What’s the most adventurous or risky thing you’ve ever done? While this may seem like a loaded question, it’s actually a good way to identify candidates who enjoy getting the most out of life outside the office as well as in it. Those who lead active lives are most likely to be proactive at work.

• If you could be any superhero for a day, who would you be? While this question may seem to come completely out of left field, it can help you see a clear division between great and so-so candidates. The best candidates will be able to logically explain why being a superhero would be beneficial to mankind. And the stronger the powers of the superhero, the more powerful the job candidate’s self-image.

• What kinds of people bother you? If the candidate responds that no one does, that’s a red flag. There isn’t a single person who isn’t bothered by some personality trait or communication style. On the other hand, you don’t want to hire someone who is bothered by almost everyone. The answer to this question can be very telling, so listen carefully to how the interviewee responds – and pay attention to their body language, too.

• If you had six months with no obligations or financial constraints, what would you do with your time? Let’s face it, a candidate who says she would devote those six months of freedom to her job wouldn’t be truthful. However, a grounded individual will realize she would have to return to the real world after those magical six months were over. Responses that focus solely on hedonistic pursuits may indicate that the candidate is immature or doesn’t have her feet firmly planted on the ground.

All right, so asking a candidate about their favorite kind of cereal probably won’t give you any startling insights into their personalities or psyches. But by doing a little research, you can find the right nontraditional questions to draw out the extra information you seek.

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