5 Curveball Interview Questions To Ask Final-Round Job Candidates


Jennifer Richard and Amy Zimmerman

August 31, 2016

As you narrow down your top candidates, it’s likely to come down to temperament over hard skills.

The best job applicants have qualifications that are more than skills-deep, but it isn’t always easy uncovering them. As hiring managers identify their top candidates, the challenge becomes finding out the less-obvious qualities that may put one ahead.

We might ask, for instance, “What’s three-quarters plus one-half?”

Here at Kabbage, we’ve created a series of questions that we save for our final panel interview, which are designed to help us understand how job candidates think about themselves, others, and the toughest types of problems they’re likely to face on the inside. Here are five of them.

1. Name Three Negative Qualities Someone Close To You Would Say You Possess

This question can tell you a lot about a candidate’s self-awareness, and it’s useful for any company that really prizes transparency. By asking this, we’re looking for candidates who not only understand what their true negatives are, but also those that are willing to admit them.

So there are actually a number of unacceptable answers here. We don’t allow answers like, “I’m a perfectionist” or “workaholic” or other positives-disguised-as-negatives. In fact, when we get answers like that, we actually buzz candidates using actual (harmless) buzzers! Then we ask them to try again. If they have trouble coming up with three personal drawbacks on their own, there have even been occasions where we’ve had candidates “phone a friend.”

2. Add These Two Fractions

We might ask, for instance, “What’s three-quarters plus one-half?”

This simple arithmetic question elicits some of the best responses. The point is to determine how a candidate handles being put on the spot unexpectedly. This isn’t really about math skills, of course—we’re fine with them grabbing their phone to use the calculator or just Googling the answer.

But if the typical workday at your company is pretty unpredictable, it’s worth finding out how a prospective hire deals with curveballs. Do they panic? Blurt out a lot of wrong answers? Do they freeze and get stuck? Do they give up? You want to hire someone who’s resourceful, capable of thinking outside of the box, and quick on their feet.

3. How Would You Rate Your Abilities On A Scale Of 1–10?

It’s sometimes worth seeing how candidates believe they stack up once you define “10” as the absolute best in the world at their current role, and then finding out what they think separates them from it.

The only answer that’s off limits is “interesting,” because it really doesn’t say anything.

Like the first question, this also helps suss out a candidate’s self-awareness, but it also leads to discussions about growth and ambition. Promising hires may not rate themselves as 10s across the board—there’s nothing wrong with humble confidence—but that’s not the point: You want to know why and what they’re doing to get there.

4. Finish This Sentence: “Most People I Meet Are _______.”

We want employees who care deeply about their work, its impact, and other people, so this is one way to see how they relate to others. The only answer that’s off limits is “interesting,” because it really doesn’t say anything. At worst, “interesting” may be a codeword for something negative in disguise, and at best, it’s just too vague a way to characterize other people.

5. Could You Share The First Name Of Someone You Work With Closely?

This, too, ties into caring deeply. If a candidate answers this question quickly and can easily handle several follow-ups about that working relationship, it’s probably a safe bet that they’re good at building and maintaining them. This question can also help you understand whether they’ll be committed to your community.

You want to hire people who can take ownership—not only of the products you create and offer, but also the environment and culture in which they work. And that’s all about genuine, interpersonal connections around the office. If a job candidate has trouble talking specifically about those, it may be a red flag.

You may meet with plenty of candidates in the earlier rounds of your hiring process who’ve got the skills and qualifications you’re looking for, but only a few will be the right fit in the end. So as you narrow down the top contenders throughout the interview process, zero in on your company’s values and focus on finding the personality types who seem most likely to share and thrive under them. To do that, it’s sometimes the curveball questions that work the best.

Amy Zimmerman is head of global people operations, and Jen Richard is the head of learning and development, both at Kabbage, an Atlanta, Georgia–based financial services data and technology platform.


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This article was written by Jennifer Richard and Amy Zimmerman from Fast Company and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

There are 4 comments

  • Job Stuff 57 | The Arts Mechanical - 10/24/2016 05:08
    […] http://s22333.p146.sites.pressdns.com/5-curveball-interview-questions-to-ask-final-round-job-candidates/ […]

  • Colin Dudley - 10/18/2016 15:58
    Of course the obvious answer to 3 is to list 3 minor things and give examples of how you overcame them and made them into strengths. by the way the answer to the maths question is 1.25

  • Justin Krueger - 10/13/2016 23:10
    if you ask someone to share 3 negative things someone close to them might say, I sure hope you lead by sharing 3 negative things about yourself. Yes it is an interview, but if you are a transparent company, you should lead. In what other situation would you trust someone with that kind of personal thought without first having a reason to confide in them? When interviewers ask me this type of question without first setting the example, it tells me a lot about how they view their position and self in relation to those they work with/over.

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