Odd questions can open up candidate interviews in interesting ways.
As an executive recruiter,”What is the most obvious thing about me?” is just one of the questions I might ask a candidate in an interview. I often ask others equally “off the wall”.
You may well wonder why. What could the candidate’s reply possibly have to do with the job he is interviewing for?
In fact, quite a lot. The interviewer is probing for functional fit, but he or she also wants to understand the mind of the candidate Not only can the single answer be illuminating, but the same answer asked to several candidates gives you a reference point for comparison among those seeking the job.
But what is it that I am really looking for?
Clearly, I am not very interested in the answer as such. I am much more interested in a) the time it takes for the candidate to actually answer the question and b) how he or she reacts emotionally to the question.
Let’s look a little deeper into a).
Length of time between posing the question and the actual answer is an indicator of how quickly the candidate thinks. It also shows how much he or she is actually “there”, or “in the moment”.
One of my favorite questions in this regard is “What do you procrastinate over?” Some (very few) candidates will quickly answer with a specific action or things they put off. Many will hum and haw about an answer.
I can just see their mental machinery at work: what does he want to know? Is he trying to find my weaknesses? What could I say that does not incriminate me too much? Is there a hidden meaning to the question? Note that this question is quite different from the standard “name three weaknesses that you have” (to which most candidates have pat answers).
So back to the answers that candidates give. One candidate tells me, after a long thought process, that he will sometimes procrastinate on administrative things. Well, all right. He spoke. But has he answered the question? No. He has just given me a sweeping generality which tells me absolutely nothing. I had asked him specifically what he procrastinates with.
So I ask again. The clock is ticking. At last he comes out with something (this candidate is a salesman): he procrastinates with his expense reports. Well, good. That is not unusual among salespeople (who tend to hate administrative tasks that – they feel – keep them from selling). But how long did it take between asking the question and getting the actual answer? This tells us a little something about his mental machinery.
How about the candidate who continuously evades the answer? He tells me that there is nothing that he procrastinates with. In his position he has learned that if he procrastinates with things, they just get worse. Therefore he does everything immediately or as close to immediate as possible
Sound plausible? Maybe. Perhaps the candidate is in the logistics field. Leaving things open can cause catastrophe. So do I accept his answer? No. Note, that I asked him a very open question. The question was “What do you procrastinate with?” There is no limitation on where he might procrastinate with what. And there isn’t a human in the world that can convince me that he does not procrastinate with something at some point!
Sometimes you get quite surprising answers. I had one salesman tell me that he procrastinates in cold calling. He hates doing this and I certainly understand the sentiment. But this was a critical response. I was looking for a salesperson to bring a new product into the market; I needed a person who was prepared to knock on some doors!
I have had one candidate reply that he procrastinates with taking out the garbage. Others procrastinate with their income tax returns. These are all perfectly valid answers. They are specific. And if these answers come within a relatively short space of time then you have someone who can think on their feet, who is quick on the uptake.
This is a candidate you might want to consider more closely, regardless of whether he has the experience that you are looking for.