- Some interview questions are designed to trick you, while others are fairly straightforward.
- Powerful CEOs such as Elon Musk and Larry Ellison have interviewed countless people by this point in their careers, and therefore have their questions down to a science.
- From “What was the last costume you wore?” to “Do you have any questions for me?” here are some of the most successful executives’ favorite interview questions.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
Many of the most successful people have gotten job interviews down to a science — and they’re not in the habit of wasting time with dumb or irrelevant queries.
In fact, they often have one favorite go-to question they like to ask. This typically reveals everything they need to know about a job candidate. Some prefer brainteasers to see how candidates think logically, while others look for creative answers to storytelling prompts.
Read more: Here are the answers to job interview questions from 20 of America’s top companies, from candidates who know
Previous reporting from Business Insider’s Rachel Premack and Jacquelyn Smith shows that some questions are designed to trick you, while others remain fairly straightforward. Several key CEOs’ favorite question is “Do you have any questions for me?”; this proves that the questions you should ask at the end of every job interview are extremely important.
Here are 53 of questions asked by successful executives.
Jacquelyn Smith, Alison Griswold, and Vivian Giang contributed to previous versions of this article.
SEE ALSO: This ex-Ford and GM executive asks job candidates how they traveled to the interview. Here’s why.
NOW READ: A top C-suite headhunter who’s placed more than 100 execs in major companies shares his favorite job interview questions — and the answers he’s looking for
On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?
One of Zappos’ core values is to “create fun and a little weirdness,” Tony Hsieh, CEO of the company, tells Business Insider.
To make sure he hires candidates with the right fit, Hsieh typically asks the question: “On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?” He says the number isn’t too important, but it’s more about how people answer the question. Nonetheless, if “you’re a one, you probably are a little bit too straight-laced for the Zappos culture,” he says. “If you’re a 10, you might be too psychotic for us.”
Another question Zappos usually asks candidates is: “On a scale of one to 10, how lucky are you in life?” Again, the number doesn’t matter too much, but if you’re a one, you don’t know why bad things happen to you (and probably blame others a lot). And if you’re a 10, you don’t understand why good things always seem to happen to you (and probably lack confidence).
What didn’t you get a chance to include on your résumé?
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson explains in his new book “The Virgin Way: Everything I Know About Leadership,” that he isn’t a fan of the traditional job interview, reports Business Insider’s Richard Feloni.
“Obviously a good CV is important, but if you were going to hire by what they say about themselves on paper, you wouldn’t need to waste time on an interview,” Branson writes. That’s why he likes to ask: “What didn’t you get a chance to include on your résumé?”
How would you describe yourself in one word?
The best candidates are the ones who know exactly who they are. That’s why Dara Richardson-Heron — former CEO of women’s organization YWCA and current Chief Engagement Officer for the National Institutes of Health “All of Us” Research Program — always asks her candidates this question.
Richardson-Heron says she doesn’t judge people on the word they choose, but it does give her insight into how people package themselves. She tells Adam Bryant at The New York Times that she likes when people take time to ponder the question and answer thoughtfully.
If I were to say to a bunch of people who know you, ‘Give me three adjectives that best describe you,’ what would I hear?
Michelle Peluso, current SVP Digital Sales & Chief Marketing Officer at IBM and former CEO of Gilt, tells Adam Bryant of the New York Times that this question is far more telling than, “What are you good at?” — a question she despises.
Here’s what she tells each candidate: “OK, I’ve interviewed an eclectic crowd about you: the guy who delivers your food, the last people you worked with, the person who can’t stand you the most, your best friend from high school, your mother’s neighbor, your kindergarten teacher, your high school math teacher who loved you, and your last boss.” Then she asks: “If I were to say to them, ‘Give me three adjectives that best describe you,’ what would I hear?”
Peluso says if the candidate gives her three glowing adjectives, she’ll remind them that the hypothetical group includes a few people who aren’t particularly fond of them.
Similarly, Quartz reported the Wharton People Analytics Conference, where Mary Barra — the CEO of General Motors — revealed the three related questions she asks during job interviews:
1. How would your peers describe you in three adjectives?
2. How would your supervisor describe you in three adjectives?
3. How would people who’ve worked for you describe you in three adjectives?
“Ideally, you don’t want the adjectives to change much at all,” Barra said. “Because if you’re hiring for integrity, you don’t want people to manage up differently than they manage down. And you want people to work just as well with their peers and superiors as they do with their subordinates. This consistency is the key to empowering teams.”
Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.
Laszlo Bock — formerly Google’s HR boss and currently CEO and cofounder of Humu — says Google ditched its famous brainteaser interview questions in recent years for behavioral ones.
“The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information,” Bock tells The New York Times’s Bryant. “One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable ‘meta’ information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.”
How old were you when you had your first paying job?
Hannah Paramore, founder of Paramore, a Nashville-based interactive advertising agency, told the New York Times’ Adam Bryant that this is one of her favorite questions.
“I’m looking for how deeply instilled their work ethic and independence are versus entitlement,” she tells Business Insider. “If they worked part-time in high school and college because they needed to, especially in jobs that were just hard work, that shows a huge level of personal responsibility. I love people who have to patch success together from a number of different angles.”
What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?
This seems like a ridiculous question to ask, but it’s posed to every prospective employee at Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, a national restaurant franchise. Ashley Morris, the company’s CEO, says it’s the best way to learn how candidates react under pressure.
“There really is no right answer, so it’s interesting to get someone’s opinion and understand how they think on their feet,” Morris explains. “The hope is that for us, we’re going to find out who this person is on the inside and what’s really important to him, what his morals really are, and if he’ll fit on the cultural level.”
What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
In a New York Times interview with Adam Bryant, Brad Jefferson, cofounder and CEO of Animoto, a video slide show service, shared his three favorite interview questions.
He especially loves this one about what motivates people because it helps him understand a candidate’s passions and what makes them tick. “I really try to get in their head about what’s going to keep them going.”
Jefferson tells Business Insider that it’s important to understand what motivates a person at their core because “there will always be ups and downs in any business, and you want to make sure the person will be equally motivated during difficult times, if not more so.”
He says if you “pursue something that you’re passionate about with people who motivate you, then work is really fun, even during the difficult times.”
If we’re sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great 12 months it’s been for you in this role, what did we achieve together?
Randy Garutti, the CEO of Shake Shack, tells writer Jeff Haden that he needs to know candidates have “done their homework, truly understand our company and the role… and really want it.”
Garutti continues: “The candidate should have enough strategic vision to not only talk about how good the year has been but to answer with an eye towards that bigger-picture understanding of the company — and why they want to be here.”
A hammer and a nail cost $1.10, and the hammer costs one dollar more than the nail. How much does the nail cost?
Jeff Zwelling, COO of job search engine ZipRecruiter, says he often turns to tricky questions during job interviews to get a better sense of who the candidate is.
For example, in the middle of the conversation, he often throws in this curveball math question.
“Some candidates will instantly blurt out 10 cents, which is obviously wrong,” he tells Business Insider. “They don’t have to get the exact right answer, which is a nickel, but I want to see them at least have a thought process behind it.”
Zwelling says he understands that math isn’t everyone’s forte, but he wants them to realize that “10 cents is too easy of an answer, and that if it was that easy, I wouldn’t be asking it.”
What would the closest person in your life say if I asked them, ‘What is the one characteristic that they totally dig about you, and the one that drives them insane?’
Kat Cole, group president of FOCUS Brands, tells Adam Bryant in a New York Times interview that before asking questions, she likes to see how job candidates interact with people in the waiting area.
“I’ll ask people to offer the candidate a drink to see if there’s a general gratefulness there, and they’ll send me notes,” she tells Bryant. “Then, when someone walks into my office, I’ll have a big wad of paper on my floor between the door and the table. I want to see if the person picks it up. I don’t make huge judgments around it, but it does give me a sense of how detail-oriented they are.”
After some conversation, she finally says: “Tell me about the closest person in your life who you’re comfortable talking about. What would they say if I asked them, ‘What is the one characteristic that they totally dig about you?'”
Then she’ll say: “What is the one characteristic that drives them insane, and that they would love for you to do just a little bit less?”
“People are pretty comfortable talking about that because I’ve pinpointed a person and a point of view,” she tells the Times.
Galyn Bernard — cofounder and co-CEO of the children’s apparel startup Primary — added that asking what your best friend likes the least about you usually reveals pet peeves that could negatively affect working with the candidate every day.
Tell me something that’s true, that almost nobody agrees with you on.
PayPal cofounder, managing partner of the Founders Fund, and president of Clarium Capital Peter Thiel always looks to hire people who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, reports Business Insider’s Aaron Taube.
To do this, he always gives job candidates and the founders of companies seeking an investment this interview prompt: “Tell me something that’s true, that almost nobody agrees with you on.”‘
In a 2012 interview with Forbes, Thiel said the reason he loves this question is: “It sort of tests for originality of thinking, and to some extent, it tests for your courage in speaking up in a difficult interview context.”
Can you tell me about a time when you almost gave up, how you felt about that, and what you did instead of giving up?
Wayne Jackson, chief executive of the software security firm Sonatype, tells The New York Times’ Adam Bryant that in asking this question, he can learn about what people do outside of work — what drives them, what they think about, what’s important — to determine whether they have “the competitiveness and the drive to get through tough problems and tough times.”
Another reason he loves this question: It helps him figure out if the candidate’s values and mindset are in line with his. “I tend to drift toward things where the stakes are relatively high, the dynamics are really complex, and teamwork matters,” he tells Bryant. And it’s important that his employees do the same.
Are you the smartest person you know?
As Dartmouth business professor Sydney Finkelstein describes in his new book, “Superbosses,” Oracle executive chairman and CTO Larry Ellison makes a point of only hiring exceptionally talented and extremely intelligent employees, and consequently coached his coached his recruiters to ask new college graduates this question.
If the candidate answered “yes,” they’d get hired. If they answered “no,” the recruiter would ask, “Who is?” Then they’d try to hire that other person instead, Business Insider previously reported.
According to Finkelstein, superbosses like Ellison are confident enough in their own abilities that they aren’t worried about employees outshining them, and they aim to hire people who are more intelligent than they are because those employees will challenge them to come up with better ideas and solutions to problems.
On your very best day at work — the day you come home and think you have the best job in the world — what did you do that day?
Business Insider’s Richard Feloni spoke with Miranda Kalinowski, Facebook’s global head of recruiting, about how the social media giant recruits top talent. She said that she and Lori Goler, the vice president of People Operations, ask this question to help them find employees who are a perfect fit.
Feloni reports that “they’re looking to see what the candidate is truly passionate about, and if that innate interest fits into what Facebook is looking for.”
They’re also hoping to see if that candidate’s drive and values align with Facebook’s mission “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Stewart Butterfield, the cofounder of Flickr and chief executive of Slack, likes to ask job candidates this question we’ve been answering for our teachers and parents since we were kids.
“Good answers are usually about areas in which they want to grow, things they want to learn, things that they feel like they haven’t had a chance to accomplish yet but want to accomplish,” he tells Adam Bryant of The New York Times. “A very short answer to that question would be automatically bad.”
What’s your dream job?
Last year, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner told CNBC’s Adam Bryant how valuable he finds the question, “What is your dream job?”
“Once you know what it is that you ultimately want, you are that much more capable of manifesting it,” he told CNBC.
Additionally, some candidates respond to this question by saying their dream job is the one they are currently interviewing for. Weiner noted that this answer often seems ingenuine, and raises red flags.
CNBC also reported that Weiner has been known to ask candidates the related question, “Looking back on your career, what do you want to say you accomplished?”
What would someone who doesn’t like you say about you?
General Stanley McChrystal, founder of management consulting firm the McChrystal Group, tells “The 4-Hour Workweek” author Tim Ferriss on his podcast that this question “puts a person in the position of having to try to articulate what they think the perception of them by others is.”
The response is less important than how it’s delivered, as the question “forces candidates to consider their least attractive qualities and also muster enough courage to share them with someone who holds power over their careers,” reports Business Insider’s Richard Feloni.
Luis Von Ahn — CEO of Duolingo since 2014 — also asks his interviewees this question.
Reader’s Digest reported that Von Ahn thinks one of the worst answers to this question is telling the interviewer that everyone likes you because — with that response — “you’re either lying or you’re clueless.”
Tell me about your failures.
A good answer to this question is important because it means that the candidate isn’t afraid of taking risks and will admit when things don’t work out, says Jenny Ming, president and CEO of clothing store Charlotte Russe and former chief executive of Old Navy.
“It doesn’t even have to be business; it could be life lessons. I think it’s pretty telling. What did they do afterward?” she says. “How did they overcome that? I always look for somebody who’s very comfortable admitting when something didn’t work out.”
People always like to tell you about their successes, she explains, but they don’t always want to tell you what didn’t work out so well for them.
Carly Stein — the founder and CEO of wellness brand Beekeeper’s Naturals — also asks her candidates a similar question: “What have you failed at?”
“Being able to share your shortcomings is critical,” she told Fast Company in July. “This question highlights the ability to rebound and learn.”
Can you tell me about a time you ran with a project from start to finish?
Jess Levin Conroy, the founder and chief executive of Carats & Cake, an online wedding resource that features curated content and information about vendors, says she asks each and every job candidate this question.
“We are in the service of small businesses and are a true startup ourselves so we look for people who get what it means to do big things without a lot of hands,” Levin Conroy tells Business Insider.
She says there is no “one size fits all” answer — but she always looks for an example that “communicates independent drive, proactive problem solving, and humility.”
“For small, nimble teams, like Carats & Cake, it’s so important that everyone shares a desire to be thoughtful and committed to our business and the businesses we work with,” she continues. “A sense of humility signals an ability to truly work together and to be open to learning from mistakes and each other.”
What’s your favorite part of your current job?
Becca Brown, cofounder of Solemates, a brand of women’s shoe care products, says if the candidate is not currently employed, she’ll tweak the question and instead ask about the best part of a previous job.
“I want to know what a candidate enjoys doing because not only does it give me insight into who the person is and their personality, but it shows me where I think they can thrive,” Brown tells Business Insider. “In general, we all excel when we enjoy what we’re doing. If we can harness what a candidate genuinely enjoys doing in their job, it becomes a win-win situation.”
What Brown looks for in a candidate’s answer is honesty.
If you were a consultant what would the sign on your door say?
George E. Michel — former CEO of Boston Market and interim CEO of Friendly’s — tells Business Insider he asks this to “see what their muscle is, what they excel at, and what value they’ll add, or what experience they’ll share.”
He says what he ultimately looks for in every job candidate is passion for the brand and an ability to articulate why. “I also look for candidates who have relevant experience and stability — and they have to be a culture fit.”
What is your favorite quote?
Karen Davis — former senior vice president of Global Philanthropy and Social Impact at Hasbro, the toy and game giant — tells Business Insider her work is focused on giving back, so she’s looking for candidates with “a true sense of passion and purpose.” The quote question, she says, helps her figure out who applicants really are and what they truly care about.
While there’s no right answer, Davis is looking specifically for candidates with an answer, reports Business Insider.
“You think about the great leaders in this world, and the ones that we remember most are the ones who have really put themselves out there, trying to invoke change,” she says. She wants her would-be hires to be following in those footsteps. “I want to see that somebody has been looking for sources of inspiration.”
Davis is currently the CEO of North Star Impact Group.
Who is on your team? Tell me about them.
When Jim Ayres, the managing director of Amway North America, wants to measure a potential leader’s emotional intelligence, he tells Business Insider’s Shana Lebowitz that he aks the candidate about his colleagues’ family, how they work best, and what typically gets in their way.
“It may seem odd,” Ayres says, “but if you’re a leader and you know [the answers], it’s a good indicator that you have emotional intelligence.”
Who is the best in the world at what you do?
Drew Houston, the 33-year-old billionaire founder of Dropbox, tells Adam Bryant of The New York Times that he has five questions he always likes to ask job candidates:
1. Who is the best in the world at what you do?
2. Who are your influences?
3. What have you learned in the last year?
4. If you were able to sit yourself down 10 years ago, what advice would you give your younger self?
5. What are the most important lessons you’ve taken away?
As Business Insider previously reported, Houston explains that these questions help him discern if a candidate is passionate about constantly improving. “I’m drawn to people who really love their craft, and treat it like a craft, and are always trying to be better and are obsessed with what separates great from good,” he tells Bryant.
How would you make money from an ice-cream stand in Central Park?
Yasmin Green, head of research and development at Jigsaw, Alphabet’s tech incubator formerly known as Google Ideas, wants to hire creative, independent thinkers, so she gets candidates to think on their feet by asking them how they’d manage an imaginary ice-cream stand.
“I’m curious to see how people deal with ambiguity and whether they can have fun while thinking on their feet,” she says.
Green says that to land a job at Google, you also need to “be prepared to challenge the premise of the question.”
Can you tell me about four people whose careers you have fundamentally improved?
Jay Parikh, Facebook’s global head of engineering and infrastructure, writes for Harvard Business Review that Facebook screens its candidates for “the ability to calibrate to a team environment,” Business Insider’s Shana Lebowitz reports.
Parikh says asking candidates to talk about people they’ve helped weeds out “empire builders, self-servers, and whiners.”
“Successful candidates should clearly demonstrate that their priorities are company, team, and self — in that order,” he explains.
What’s the biggest impact you had at your past organization?
As Business Insider previously reported, luxury beauty retailer Bluemercury CEO Marla Malcolm Beck’s interviews tend to only take seven to 10 minutes.
She has on query she likes to ask in particular, she previously told Adam Bryant of The New York Times.
Her question for potential hires is: “What’s the biggest impact you had at your past organization?”
“It’s important that someone takes ownership of a project that they did, and you can tell based on how they talk about it whether they did it or whether it was just something that was going on at the organization,” she told Bryant.
What was the last costume you wore?
It doesn’t matter so much what they wore, but why they wore it. If the candidate’s reasoning matches Warby Parker’s core value of injecting “fun and quirkiness into work, life, and everything they do,” they might have a real shot at getting a job there.
“We find that people who are able to make the job environment fun build followership more easily,” the company’s cofounder and co-CEO David Gilboa tells Iris Mansour at Quartz. “If we hire the most technically skilled person in the world whose work style doesn’t fit here, they won’t be successful.”
Additionally, The Ladders reported that Gilboa’s co-CEO Neil Blumenthal told The New York Times that he often asks, “What do you like to do for fun?”
Blumenthal explained, “The answer always speaks volumes of who that person is.”
You are standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?
According to the biography “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future,” the Tesla and SpaceX CEO likes to ask candidates this riddle to test their intelligence.
There are multiple correct answers, and one is the North Pole.
Additionally, The Ladders reported that Musk also asks the question, “Tell me the story of your life and the decisions that you made along the way and why you made them and also tell me about some of the most difficult problems you worked on and how you solved them.”
If you were an animal, which animal would you be?
“The animal kingdom is broad, and everyone can identify with a specific animal they think embodies their own personalities and characteristics,” Stormy Simon, former president of Overstock, tells Business Insider.
“There are so many different human traits, where in the animal kingdom they put themselves, and why, really gives insight to the person answering the question. For example, just because you love dogs doesn’t mean you would identify yourself as a dog,” she explains.
Good answers, she says, are where the candidate picks an animal that they think truly personifies the traits that set them apart. “People have often chosen the same animal as other candidates, but the traits they describe have never been the same,” says Simon. But they’re not all good answers.
“One time an interviewee said they identified with a red panda because everyone thinks they are so cute and approachable, but it turns out they’re just really lazy. We hired the candidate anyway despite that answer, but we parted ways within three weeks. It just goes to show how important the question is.”
HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes also likes to ask candidates, “What’s your spirit animal?”
As he tells writer Jeff Haden, “During her interview, I asked my current executive assistant what was her favorite animal. She told me it was a duck, because ducks are calm on the surface and hustling like crazy getting things done under the surface,” he says.
“I think this was an amazing response and a perfect description for the role of an EA. For the record, she’s been working with us for over a year now and is amazing at her job,” Holmes tells Haden.
Holmes has also been known to ask candidates, “What’s your superpower?”
How did you get to this interview?
Business Insider’s Graham Rapier interviewed Dan Grossman, a “mobility veteran” who previously worked at Zipcar, Ford, and General Motors. Grossman was named Zagster’s CEO in April.
“I ask them how they got to work, or to the interview,” Grossman told Business Insider. “I’m always curious, in a shared mobility kind of world, how people move.”
“It’s a question that makes sense, given Grossman’s deep background in all things mobility and transit,” reported Rapier.
How do you make [product] better?
Business Insider’s Nathan McAlone previously reported a New York Times talk with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, where she revealed her go-to interview question.
“She said she would usually ask about a specific product YouTube had released, or a neutral product — something she knows the interviewee uses — and then ask the person, ‘How do you make it better?’ ” reported McAlone.
“Wojcicki said she had also previously asked, ‘How do you manage your email?’ ” added McAlone. “She said it gave her insight into people’s organizational skill sets and how they schedule their days — it even produced some useful tips.”
What was your best trip?
The Economic Times reported that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi asks his interviewees a series of travel-related questions:
1. What was your best trip?
2. What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you on a vacation, and how did you handle it
3. What is an essential travel packing item or strategy for you
“Khosrowshahi says it gives him the key to their personal stories,” reported The Economic Times.
What questions would you ask yourself, if you were us?
Cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin famously used an interesting tactic when interviewing potential employees for Google.
“I don’t think I’ve ever told this story,” former Google exec Tim Armstrong told Business Insider’s Alyson Shontell. “But when I had my first discussion with them, they basically said at the beginning of the meeting, after a few questions, ‘We’re not really sure what to ask you. Ask yourself the questions.’ “
CNBC added that Armstrong was not alone — Page and Brin used this tactic on a number of interviewees. Additionally, infamous brainteaser questions were sometimes asked, including “How many times a day does a clock’s hands overlap?” and “Estimate how many gas stations there are in Manhattan.”
Why should I decide against hiring you?
Inc. reported, “Yashi’s Jay Gould wants you to play devil’s advocate against yourself.”
“If they think too long, or can’t answer the question at all, they may be hiding something,” Gould told Fast Company in a 2015 interview. “If their answer is genuine then you have a contender.”
Roger Duguay — a managing partner at Boyden — also asks this question in interviews. Business Insider’s Richard Feloni previously reported, “Duguay saves this one for the end, and he said it often stops a candidate cold.”
Duguay also told Feloni he is looking for someone who “can open themselves for a moment of vulnerability.”
What are we doing well, and where is there opportunity to grow?
Gabe Kennedy is a chef and the cofounder of a cannabis wellness startup called Plant People. He asks his interviewees what they think the company is doing well, but also wants to know if they think there is room for improvement (and if so, where).
“I want complete honesty, even if it is uncomfortable,” Kennedy told Fast Company. “What is their perception, who are we as a business? What are we doing well, and where is there opportunity to grow? The more diversity of perspectives, opinions, and inputs we get, the better we become.”
How many degrees separate the minute and the hour hands of a clock at 3:15?
“I want to understand how somebody thinks about a very new problem in a difficult situation, and how they respond to that under pressure,” Scott Cutler, the CEO of StockX, told Fast Company in July.
Can you tell me about a tough day you had at work and how you pushed through it?
Mark Lawrence, the founder and CEO of parking startup SpotHero, asks job candidates to describe a tough day.
Lawrence told Fast Company, “I’m always interested in what people have done to improve themselves or how they’ve expressed vulnerability in a way that helped them grow professionally or personally.”
Evan Maridou, the CEO of pet healthcare startup Milo, asks a similar question about difficult experiences: “Could you tell me about a time you got tough feedback?”
Fast Company reported, “In asking those type of questions, [Maridou] usually shares an example from his own life—when he was almost fired earlier in his career.”
Why are you here?
Business Insider’s Portia Crowe previously reported on Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey speaking to a small audience at a Goldman Sachs event in 2016.
Dorsey explained, “If you have a sense of passion and a sense of purpose … then we can work together, then we can build amazing things together.”
How did you spend the first 90 days of your previous job?
According to CNBC, CEO of defense company Lockheed Martin Marillyn Hewson has a “go-to question.”
How were you treated?
According to The Ladders, the former CEO of Tupperware Rick Goings throws interviewees a curveball by asking how they were treated.
“Goings explains that the best way to understand a job candidate is to ask people how they behaved when it didn’t occur to them that anyone was paying attention,” reported The Ladders.
Goings stepped down from Tupperware last year. He joined the company in 1992.
If you find yourself in situations where they’re not going the way you want them to, what do you do?
According to The Ladders, CEO Lori Dickerson Fouché asks about workplace situations to “tell how a candidate conducts herself under pressure.” Fouché became the CEO of TIAA Financial Solutions last year.
Additional questions Fouché reportedly asks include “What kind of cultures do you like to work in?” followed by “Where do you excel?” and “How do you excel?” Fouché also asks candidates to “describe some difficult leadership situations and how you managed people through them.”
“Why have you had (X) number of jobs in (Y) years?”
Writer Jeff Haden reported that Shama Hyder — founder of The Marketing Zen Group — does not necessarily care about the number of jobs you’ve had, but why you’ve changed positions or companies.
“It may sound snarky at first, but the question helps Hyder get a feel for a candidate’s career path,” reported Haden for the Gusto blog. “The answers give her a better picture of each candidate’s work history, like what keeps them motivated, why they moved from job to job, why they decided to leave, and what they looked for in the next company.”
“Tell me about a recent project or problem that you made better, faster, smarter, more efficient, or less expensive.”
Jeff Waden also reported that CEO of RoadID Edward Wimmer gets excited by explanations.
“According to Wimmer, good candidates can share plenty of answers. But great candidates get excited as they share plenty of answers.”
In the full LinkedIn post, Wimmer revealed that the costs of his company RoadID have remained the same. To do this, the team has had to solve many problems, so hearing candidates’ answers gives him an idea of whether or not they’d be a good fit for the company.
If you got hired, loved everything about this job, and are paid the salary you asked for, what kind of offer from another company would you consider?
Ciplex founder Ilya Pozin revealed that he asks this question to see if people can be bought. In a LinkedIn roundup, Pozin said, “You’d be surprised by some of the answers.”
Would you rather be rich or would you rather be king?
Harold Hughes — CEO of blockchain-based analytics company Bandwagon — told Fast Company there is no wrong answer to this question.
“What’s more important is the reasoning,” Hughes told Fast Company. “If the response is to be rich but they use their new wealth in ways to help others, that speaks to their empathy and compassion.”
“If they choose to be king, I’m interested in their views on impacting power structures,” he added.
Who is your role model, and why?
While this is a seemingly basic question, Clara Shih — the cofounder and current CEO of Hersay Social — said that the question “reveal[s] how introspective the candidate is about their own personal and professional development.”
Additionally, Cuyana founder Karla Gallardo asks her candidates a similar question: “Who or what has shaped who you are?”
“A core value at Cuyana is hiring ‘good people,’ which we define in part as people with integrity, a sense of gratitude, and confidence in showing their vulnerability without ego,” Gallardo told Fast Company. “So I love questions that help reveal those qualities, as opposed to those solely focused on job qualifications.”
What things do you not like to do?
In the same LinkedIn roundup, Bullhorn founder and CEO Art Papas admitted that, “Getting an honest answer to the question requires persistence, though.”
Like other questions, the answer to this can be telling. Papas said he once interviewed a sales candidate who hated meeting new people and a finance candidate who hated checking work.
Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.
MyCorporation CEO Deborah Sweeney said, “I find that this question opens the door to further questions and enables someone to highlight themselves in a specific, non-generic way.”
Additionally, Sweeney said followup questions are easily arranged:
1. What position did you hold when you achieved this accomplishment?
2. How did it impact your growth at the company?
3. Who else was involved and how did the accomplishment impact your team?
So, what’s your story?
Several successful execs swear by this question, always opting to ask their interviewees about their life story.
“The question, as obtuse as it might sound to the interviewee, is the beginning of a story and in today’s world of selling oneself, or one’s company, it’s the ability to tell a story and create a feeling that sells the brand — whether it’s a product or a person,” said managing partner Richard Funess in a LinkedIn post.
Overall, Funess looks for creative responses that show him the candidate is a broad thinker to apply their skills to his business.
Likewise, during a conversation with Adam Bryant of the New York Times, Melanie Whelan, CEO of the New York-based fitness company SoulCycle, says she always starts interviews with: “Tell me about your background.”
“It’s a great way to warm up any conversation, and it really helps me understand how you communicate. Are you linear, concise, and direct? Or are you a storyteller? Are you entertaining? Do you go off on tangents?”
Finally, Airbnb CEO Brain Chesky puts a time limit on this question.
According to Inc., Chesky told The New York Times in 2014 that he usually asks interviewees to summarize their lives in three minutes or less. The Muse referred to this as the ultimate “Elevator Pitch.”
“I’m trying to figure out the formative decisions and experiences that influenced who you are as a person,” Chesky explained in The Times interview.
Can you tell me the story of you prior successes, challenges, and major responsibilities?
Lonne Jaffe, senior advisor to the Board of Directors and former CEO at software company Syncsort, says in a New York Times interview with Adam Bryant that he always wants to see how well a job candidate can tell a story.
He tells Business Insider that as long as we’ve had language, storytelling has been a powerful communication tool. “In business, creating a compelling narrative is invaluable for motivating a team, explaining strategic priorities in a way that’s easy for others to understand, or communicating complex ideas to customers and prospects. Successful senior-level leaders are good storytellers, and it’s also a very useful skill early on in your career.”
Jaffe says he recognized the importance of storytelling early in his career while working at IBM. “Storytelling is especially important in the tech industry because technology can be “very complex, and sometimes people find technical details to be somewhat boring,” he says.
Similarly, Dave Lavinsky, founder of Guiding Metrics asks his candidates, “Discuss a specific accomplishment you’ve achieved in a previous position that indicates you will thrive in this position.”
In a LinkedIn roundup, Lavinsky said, “Past performance is usually the best indicator of future success.”
Do you have any questions for me?
“Do you have any questions for me?” is a common last question in an interview, but few interviewers may consider it the most important one.
However, according to Inc., Lori Goler — Facebook’s Vice President of People — asking this question helped solidify her decision to hire Sheryl Sandberg. When asked, Sandberg responded with the question, “What is your biggest problem and can I help solve it?”
Scott Dorsey, the cofounder and CEO of ExactTarget, also asks candidates this question.
“I love asking this question really early in the interview,” Dorsey said. “It shows me whether the candidate can think quickly on their feet, and also reveals their level of preparation and strategic thinking.”
“I often find you can learn more about a person based on the questions they ask versus the answers they give,” he added.