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Screening questions to ask for a better hire

Most people are aware of the standard questions that are asked in an interview and a prepared job seeker will have something rehearsed for even the most dreaded questions like ‘what would you consider to be your greatest weakness?’ or ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’

If you really want to get to know a potential candidate, throwing a ‘curve ball’ question can provide valuable insights into a potential candidate’s personality, their values and abilities like creativity, communication style and thinking on their feet.

The below list is just some of the ‘curve-ball’ questions that assist in getting to know a potential candidate.

Questions that test a candidate’s personality

  1. If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

The choice of animal – be it, cat, dog, three-toed sloth, snake, bear or elephant, is not necessarily the most important part of the answer (although the sloth and the snake could be a concern). It is their reasoning behind the animal choice which will allow you to get to know the candidate a little more. For example, they could choose dolphin because they like being in a team, really enjoy ocean sports or they’re a member of the local life-saving club. Or dog because they are loyal, cat because they are independent etc.

Another version of this question is what kind of tree would you be and why?  For example, a palm tree is flexible, a jacaranda provides shade, a gum or an oak tree is strong.

  1. If you could trade places for a week with any person in the world (living or dead, real or fictional), who would it be and why?

Who the person chooses and why will very likely provide insight into their values and aspirations. For instance, there is a big difference between wanting to be a famous person because of all the money and power, versus being that person so you can gain insight into that person’s talents and capabilities.

  1. If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you have?

Most people would never have never imagined being a salad before (let alone what dressing to place upon thy salad-self). The flavour combinations may say something about their personality but also their imagination and how creative they are under pressure. If you don’t feel too silly asking the question, its a great one for a creative role or where creative thinking is required.

  1. If there was a movie about your life, what would the title be?

This question is likely to bring a range of responses and is designed to establish a cultural fit with the team as well as insights into the candidate’s sense of self. An optional additional question to this is ‘who would play you in the movie’?

  1. Do you consider yourself a hunter or a gatherer?

This question can be helpful when interviewing for sales type roles (hunter) but also roles that require lots of research or working within a team (gatherer).

Questions that test the candidate’s logical thought processes:

  1. Describe the colour green to a person who has been blind from birth

Here you are giving an impossible task (try it yourself!) but what you are really looking for is the candidate’s problem solving skills and how they go about simplifying a complex task. You can also pay attention to consideration of the person with the disability and their ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes.

  1. What would you take on a deserted island with you and why?

This question is designed to reveal a candidate’s practical, decision-making processes, as well as their values depending on what they choose to take on the island. For instance, practical items for survival versus personal, comforting items. Similar to this question is ‘What would you do if you were a lone survivor of a plane crash?’ What they choose to do moving forward will reveal their practicality as well as personal values.

  1. How many pencils can you fit in this room?

This question is deliberately designed to stump the candidate while the real objective is discovering how they problem solve and how confident they are to ask for further information. An easy answer to this is ‘a lot of pencils’ but to more accurately answer this question they will need to find out how large the pencils are, will the furniture remain in the room etc. You’re not expecting them to work out the problem, you want to see how they react when faced with a problem and how confident they are to speak up for further information. After a certain amount of time, it is probably best if you let them know you weren’t looking for a correct answer.


Most businesses would have a horror story of a candidate they employed who had ‘interviewed well’ but unfortunately, that’s where it ended. As another useful interview technique, unexpected questions like these (and there are many more examples to explore) require an un-rehearsed answer from the candidate which can then provide a more authentic evaluation.

Of course, if you require help to find great staff, call BUSY At Work on 13 28 79 or visit for more information.

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