The 20 Best Job Interview Questions to Help You Find ‘Out-Of-The-Box’ Talent

job interview questionsThis guest post is from Shrad Rao, the CEO of Wagepoint.

Over the past few years, employees that embody skills such as thinking out-of-the-box have become the basis for a distinct competitive advantage.

These are the people you want interacting with your customers. In fact, they help create incredibly unique experiences for anyone that comes in contact with your company. They also tend to be stalwarts of your company’s culture. But more on that in a later post.

Organizations like Zappos and Starbucks hire people who exemplify these traits and then create work environments where these individuals can thrive and react to rapidly changing situations.

For example, at Zappos, the customer support agents do not use scripts when speaking with customers. Unlike most call centers, they don’t measure ‘average call time’ because they don’t want clock-watching to impede the quality of the call. As a result, they are able to react to each situation uniquely – see the pizza story.

Another great example is the interaction between a Barista at Starbucks and a customer where they communicated for 4 months via messages on the customer’s coffee cup. Now, that is customer experience gold.

So, how do you hire this type of talent? How do you structure an interview to find the people who think on their feet?

The answer is simple: Judge their ability to think and not their ability to answer.

Startups, like ours, are pretty good at finding this kind of talent because more often than not, we use EQ in our decision making vs. a highly formalized process. And startup hires are typically the very definition of creative thinkers because they have to wear many hats at their jobs – most of which they have never done before.

Before we get to our list of the 20 best interview questions to uncover ‘out-of-the-box’ thinkers, here are some reasons why we shun the traditional interview questions at Wagepoint:

1) Interviews are Conversations. Period.

Interviews are really just two people having a conversation about whether there might be a good fit on both sides. I have found that asking the traditional interview questions about strengths & weaknesses etc. saps the energy from the room and frankly, it makes the conversation super boring. You get practiced answers to practiced questions. It signals your company’s mindset to the candidate and they will respond by telling you what they think you want to hear.

2) Helps us get on to the same side of the table

Too often interviews feel like a combative exercise – especially for the candidate. This is because candidates usually feel like they don’t have the same power in the conversation as the interviewer. And asking about the time they had ‘an instance of conflict and how they resolved it’, hardly seems like the right kind of question to level the playing field. Interrogation much? Candidates should not feel like they are are entering the ‘no error’ zone and a simple slip of the tongue can result in their speedy exit from the interview. When you have an off-the-cuff conversation, their true personalities will shine through.

3) Helps us focus on who they are and not just what they have done before.

By the time you are actually at the interview stage, there is a good chance you know a fair bit about their work history. What you really need to know is who they are and not just what they have done before. This is where their answers to unexpected questions really give you a sense of what they are about and if they would pass the ‘airport test’.

So, there you have it. The three main reason why we don’t use traditional interview questions at Wagepoint and why would should consider doing the same.

Now, as a caveat, I am not suggesting that you use these questions to uncover hard or otherwise technical skills. This is simply a way to create a more enjoyable experience for both parties in an interview and learn a bit more about how your candidate thinks based on their responses.

This list is courtesy Alex Yohn, our CTO, who has hired more than his fair share of employees over his long career and it forms part of the ‘lightning round’, allowing for some answers to be more fleshed out than others. Disclosure: Some of the questions were borrowed from the vast stores of the interwebz.

1. Favorite Movie
2. Favorite Book
3. Favorite Musician/Band
4. Favorite Album
5. Cats or Dogs?
6. Star Wars or Star Trek
7. Manual or Automatic?
8. Fastest you have ever driven a car?
9. Coolest place you have ever been?
10. Coolest place you want to go, but haven’t yet?
11. How many cars have you owned?
12. Favorite Car you owned?
13. There is no 13 (or spoons).
14. If you could only take 1 book to an island and are stuck for the rest of your life, how did you end up on that island?
15. Last live concert you went to?
16. If you could pass on just one piece of advice to your grandchild, what would it be?
18. If there was a movie produced about your life, who would play you and why?
19. If you were a superhero, who would you be and why?
20. Do you have any questions for me?

If you have fun interview questions of your own, feel free to share them in the comments below.

Shrad Rao is the CEO of Wagepoint where they make mind-bogglingly complex payroll software into a simple web-app that is ridiculously easy to use. They are also frequently conduct social experiments within the company to challenge established human resource norms with the purpose of making their employees giddy-happy. You can find more proof here.