22 Unique Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

A hiring manager interviews a chief marketing officer candidate.

We all know that resumes can only tell you so much about a job applicant. But a by-the-numbers interview might not tell you much more. Throwing in a few unexpected or unique interview questions may be the key to unlocking more information about how successful a candidate is likely to be if they’re hired.

Asking questions that job seekers may not be expecting — and cannot necessarily prepare for in advance — can reveal a wide range of soft skills, such as:

  • How well a candidate thinks on their feet.
  • Whether their core values align with your organizational mission.
  • Their ability to self-reflect.
  • Their sense of humor.

Like all elements of the hiring process, curveball questions need to be carefully crafted and reviewed to ensure they don’t violate state or federal labor laws, hinder your DEI efforts, or undermine your employer brand. One carelessly worded question could cost you a top performer, as nearly half of all job seekers say they’ve turned down a job opportunity due to a bad interview experience, including interview questions they find offensive, biased, or overly intrusive.

Conducting effective interviews and asking the right combination of expected and unexpected questions is the best way to find your next right-fit candidate. By following these best practices and employing a combination of the sample queries below, you can improve the interview experience for your applicants and the efficacy of your hiring process.

Interview Best Practices

An effective interviewing process allows candidates to learn enough to determine whether your workplace is the right next move for them and whether they are the right fit for the open position. Your interview procedure should include a sequence of scripted questions and an assessment tool designed to keep the time spent with each applicant focused, efficient, and useful for everyone.

Perfecting your interview process has become even more paramount thanks to social media, since two-thirds of candidates say they are likely to share good or bad interview experience online, and job seekers are particularly harsh on overly long hiring processes. When you include questions candidates aren’t likely to expect in your interviews, their responses tend to be less rehearsed and more candid. This can help you truly get to know candidates in the limited amount of time you have with them.

Icebreaker Questions

At the start of an interview, imaginative icebreaker questions can put interviewees at ease and make interviews feel more conversational, allowing job seekers to provide career details and highlights there’s no room for on a one- or two-page resume.

But icebreakers can be especially tricky to devise. It makes sense to find points of connection by, for example, asking an applicant where they grew up or like to go on vacation but casual chit-chat designed to put an applicant at ease can easily devolve into questions that can feed into unconscious bias or make candidates feel uncomfortable.

Instead, try to ask fanciful questions that tap into a candidate’s interests and professional goals, such as:

  • If you could choose a superpower, what would it be?
  • If you could be any character from literature, any figure from history, inventor or scientist, pop culture artist, etc., who would you most like to meet? (You can tailor this one to your industry.)
  • What book are you reading now?
  • What is your favorite industry-related podcast, social media influencer, or thought leader?
  • What about the job description prompted you to apply?

Questions Designed to Measure Culture Fit

The most useful way to think about company culture is as a set of shared values and work habits. Rather than asking applicants directly and risking them simply crafting an answer they think you want to hear, try to use the following questions to prompt a more reflective, less guarded response:

  • Describe your perfect boss.
  • Who is your work hero?
  • How would your current (or most recent) coworkers describe you?
  • What is the most significant attribute or contribution you bring to a team?
  • What three things would you like to know about your next boss?

Problem-solving Interview Questions

Next, you’ll want to delve more deeply into each candidate’s approach to their role and attitude toward your sector and its role in the marketplace by asking behavioral questions like these:

  • Think of a time when you weren’t sure how to tackle a project. How did you get the information you needed to complete the task?
  • Can you think of an instance when you thought of a better way to complete a work task but held back on telling anyone because it would be too disruptive or unwelcome? What was it?
  • Name an area of needed improvement cited in a past job review that you found particularly helpful in your professional development.
  • What is your “superpower”?
  • Is there any work-related activity that makes you lose track of time?

Questions That Test Industry Knowledge

This next category of questions can help gauge each candidate’s industry expertise and passion for their field.

  • If you had an unlimited budget, what investment would you make to improve our industry?
  • If you could change one thing about the way things are currently done in our industry, what would it be?
  • How do you think our industry will change in the next five years?
  • If you started your own company, what three policies would you enact first?

Unique Interview Questions That Focus on Soft Skills

The next category of unique interview questions are designed to gauge soft skills, such as communication, relationship-building, and sales skills.

  • How would you sell me on the last product you were involved in marketing, creating, or improving?
  • Tell me about a time you interacted with an angry, frustrated, or unsatisfied customer, vendor, or client. How did you resolve the situation?
  • How do you get approval for projects, particular endeavors for which there is not universal stakeholder buy-in?

How a candidate answers these questions can tell you a lot about their working style. Do they take credit or share it? Do they take responsibility for mistakes, or do they blame their former coworkers or bosses for setbacks? Learning how job finalists respond to and negotiate their way through challenges can help you find the candidate most likely to prosper in their next role.

Use Unique Interview Questions to Identify and Hire Your Next Top Performer

Before you can select and interview right-fit applicants, you need to attract their attention. Monster’s job listings can optimize your reach and attract motivated, well-qualified candidates for your most pressing employment needs.