6 Unique Questions to Ask Candidates

A month ago, I wrote an article on diversity. I stand by everything I wrote, but it got me thinking about a different type of diversity rather than just having staff that look, pray, speak, etc., like your clientele and/or community. There should be another type of diversity: thinking. A good team has people who think differently and these questions will help employers identify them:

1) What are you currently reading and why?

You need employees who are multi-dimensional. For example, you ask this question to a candidate for a sales position and they give you the name of the latest sales book. Next they answer the important part of the question, Why? They say that they are reading it to keep current in their field. Great! But then you ask them what was the last book they read not related to sales and they don’t have an example to share with you. Not so great.

When I was a fundraiser, I never read a single book on fundraising. I read books on sales, marketing, promotions, etc., because I wanted a different perspective on fundraising. I wanted to be able to approach my prospects differently from my competition. But I also read books on other topics which leads me to my next question:

2) What are you curious about?

Your staff are going to be interacting with people from different backgrounds. It is important that they be able to relate and interact with them intelligently. I, for example, am no scientist. I don’t pretend to be. But I read a lot about science because it interests me, even if I don’t understand it. A while back I met a woman who was borderline rude when I told her what I did for a living. She had no interest at all. As is required at networking events, I asked her what she did. Turned out she was a scientist. So I said, “Let me ask you a question. There’s something I have read but have never been able to understand. Why is it that in the quantum world a single molecule can be in two places at the same time?” Her entire attitude changed. Now we had a friendly discussion.

I have always believed that asking good questions is more important than having correct answers. Asking questions is a sign of personal courage to admit ignorance and the strength to want to learn. Which leads me to my next question:

3) Do you have a side hustle?

In this case, make certain that the candidate knows that it is not a problem. It won’t be held against them. But you may find what they are doing on the side can help with salary negotiations. If they say they are doing whatever it is that they are doing simply to make ends meet, then you know that if you offer them a good compensation package, they may be happy to give it up. You could ask, What would you need to give up the side hustle? The answer may not be dollars but health insurance, child care, adult care, or some other benefit.

Of course, you could also find out that they have a hidden talent not apparent from their resume. Then you could talk to them about making their side hustle a new revenue stream for your company over which they would be in charge. That would change the entire dynamics of the interview and get them really excited about working for you.

4) What does your current/past company really do?

This question gets to the issue of how the candidate thinks. For example, if I am not mistaken, Michael Dell, of Dell Computers, said he was in the customer service business. Amazon, even before AWS, was described as a tech company. Let me give you some fictional examples:

The Acme door company is in the business of making homeowners feel safe. The Acme window company is in the business of cutting heating and air conditioning bills. “We sell doors” or “We sell windows” is simplistic thinking which you do not want in your company.

5) How do you reach decisions?

Some people need data. Some people rely on experience. Some people talk to others who have been in similar situations. Whatever works! But you have to find out if it really does work for them. So follow up and ask for an example of a success and a failure and what they learned from both. A team with people who reach decisions differently, and who are entrusted with coming up with the decision, usually picks the right one! Having a team of people who reach decisions the same way is almost as bad as having a team of yes-men.

6) How do you learn?

This may be the most important question. Some people learn by reading. Some people learn by watching. Some people learn by listening. Some people learn by doing. This is a great way to find out how much supervision a person needs (confirming it by reference checking!) and whether they will be a good match with your, or their supervisor’s, management style.

The bottom line is, having people who think differently is just as important as any other form of diversity. You ignore this at your own risk.