Recruiting and Staffing

Killer Ninja Interview Questions: Why They’re Deceptively Revealing

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To say that the job interview is a pretty important part of the employee selection process is like saying that denial is a pretty big reason why Donald Trump wears that mangled fur he calls hair.

The interview is the most important part of the employee selection process. It’s the only chance you get to speak with a candidate one-on-one before you’ve got to lock yourself in your office and decide which lucky dog gets the job offer.

Unfortunately, it’s kind of hard to get to know someone during the few minutes that you have during an interview. That’s why it’s key to use this teensy amount of time wisely.

Easy to answer but deceptively revealing

Interview Ninjas ask questions that are easy to answer yet deceptively revealing, and if you want to be one, you can. With just a few creative queries, you’ll gain penetrating insight into a candidate’s hopes, dreams and darkest secrets.

Here are some killer ninja-style questions to get you started.

The Question: If you were given control of this company for a year, what would you do and why?

Why Ask It: This question doesn’t just tell you whether or not a candidate has bothered to research your company – it gives you powerful insight into his or her values and professional ambitions. A response like “I would give everyone a raise” is of course unacceptable.

But a candidate who says, “I would begin a new project to do [X] because I’ve noticed a need for that in the marketplace, and I think this company has the resources to make it happen” shows a lot of potential.

Throwing a curve in the interview

The Question: What’s something weird about you that you’re secretly proud of?

Why Ask It: To make truly informed hiring decisions, it’s a good idea to throw your candidates a curve every once in a while. This fun question will catch them off guard and force them to think creatively, and how they respond should give you an idea of how well they would fit into the company culture. People who have a good sense of humor should be able to come up with something amusing.

The Question: What was the biggest failure of your career? If you had a second chance, what would you do differently?

Why Ask It: As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Judge a man on how he reacts to failure, not success.” Everyone screws up once in a while, but that shouldn’t disqualify the person from the employee selection process.

Good candidates should be able to take responsibility for what went wrong in their careers, and they should be able to discuss what they learned from their experiences. Take a closer look at applicants who demonstrate that they’ve grown as people and as professionals.

Testing problem-solving ability

The QuestionYou can telepathically communicate with animals. How would you command the animal kingdom to overthrow society?

Why Ask It: This is another curveball question, but this time you’re testing a candidate’s problem-solving ability. Humanity has weapons of mass destruction. The animal kingdom has swarms of bugs and a few sharp teeth. Applicants will need to think outside the box for this one.

Would your candidate send whales to disrupt trade routes? Would she order squirrels to chew away at the power lines in Manhattan? Or would he just give everyone a puppy and ask them politely to surrender? The person’s response should give you some interesting things to discuss during the hiring assessment.

These ninja-style inquiries can’t tell you everything you need to know about your field of candidates to make good hiring decisions, but they tell you a lot. By catching your interviewees off guard and making them think on their feet, you’ll have the chance to evaluate their creativity, their adaptability, their attitude and their ambitions.

Even though you’ll only talk to a candidate for a few minutes, it’ll seem like you’ve known them forever by the end of the conversation. And that can do nothing but help when it comes time to pick out one that’s right for you.

This article originally appeared on The Resumator Blog.

Eric Gaydos is the former Buzz Marketing Manager at The Resumator, a SaaS applicant tracking system and recruiting platform trusted by many of the fastest-growing companies in the world. You can also connect with The Resumator on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theresumator.
  • Jon Hall

    I am sorry, but I must disagree with the idea that these questions will give a true picture of the candidate.  I feel all you are measuring is how wild an imagination or how much creative storytelling ability that the candidate has.  I feel there will be very little correlation with the presumed answers and on the job performance.  A structured behavioral interview designed to measure the candidate’s strengths in critical requirements is the best bet to get an accurate picture from an interview instead of a distorted impression of who the candidate really is.  Questions like these have a very low validity and are not reliable.  Every question should be constructed with a corresponding rubric that can be scored reliably. 

    • Chad

      I have to disagree, John…most candidates, myself included when I was looking for work, already know what questions they are going to be asked, and research and rehearse the answers for days ahead of time.  If you give me a week, I can be your perfect candidate every time, but if you throw me something I don’t expect, you might see through a crack in the polished armour I’m showing you.  The idea behind these questions is to see who the person is, not hear the perfectly formed answers they have prepared.  I also prefer to give candidates a very short time to prepare.  Although it isn’t very fair to them, having them come in same day or next morning for an interview restricts the rehearsal time and forces more raw honesty, and that’s what I want to see as a hiring professional.  As long as each question has a purpose, and you can articulate a goal in asking it, this kind of question is hard to beat for revealing the real person.

  • http://twitter.com/sparkhire Spark Hire

    A fun read! The comments, too, are very interesting. As Chad said, savvy job seekers research likely interview questions, then rehearse perfect answers, which doesn’t give the hiring manager a true sense of how the candidate will perform on the job. Asking questions like those in the article during a video interview or in-person interview will throw a job seeker off guard, allowing his body language and quick answer to truly reveal if he’d be the right fit at the company.

  • Carl

    Jon, I’m with you. This type of interview question very little to help understand future on the job performance. The key is to first define what on-the-job success looks like, then interview with as the foundation. All it takes is two types of starter questions along with an in-depth ‘drill down’ technique that is ties to what the job requires. The animal is a real ‘dooo zeee.’ If you want to test for creative thinking, do so in the context a real, on-the-job problem that is typical and/or one that needs solving. Hint; this is question #2 starter question.

    I’ve been at this business for 45 years and currently the individual that certifies recruiting teams from many of the Fortune 1000 and smaller companies in Performance Based Hiring…and it’s hands-down a better recruiting process than these questions.