Curveball interview questions can either be incredibly beneficial or extremely misleading in relaying a candidate’s fit for a position. The success or failure primarily lies in the type of curveball question the hiring manager is asking.

There are generally two types of curveball interview questions: personality-based and brain teasers. Let’s take a closer look at why one type is effective and the other is not.


Personality-Based Questions:

Personality-based questions are open-ended questions that provide hiring managers with insight into the personality, thinking pattern and imagination of a candidate.

It is good to throw one or two of these curveball questions into an interview for multiple reasons. The responses to personality-based questions give the hiring manager a big picture vision of how the candidate will fit in culturally, which is directly correlated to the level of job success achieved. These types of questions showcase a candidate’s level of creativity and spur-of-the-moment decision making skills, which can be helpful in determining how the candidate will contribute to the team. Additionally, personality-based questions can be good ice breakers, lightening the mood of the interview, helping the candidate to relax and open up a bit more in the rest of their responses.

Some personality-based questions include:

  • What is your spirit animal?
  • If your best friend was here, what would they say is the best part about being your friend?
  • If you could meet any celebrity, who would it be and why?
  • What has the most satisfying moment in your life been?
  • If you could start your career over again, what would you do differently?


Brain Teaser Questions:

Brain teaser questions usually have one right answer or are so complex that answering correctly is nearly impossible.

Many larger tech companies in Silicon Valley have relied on brain teaser questions with the philosophy that the responses would result in higher-quality hires. This philosophy has turned out to largely be false. Many high-quality candidates have been rejected due to not knowing the random-fact answer to a question that has absolutely nothing to do with the role they’re interviewing for. Meanwhile, many bad-quality candidates have been selected simply because they focused so much of their interview prep on learning answers to typical brain teaser questions.  Google was at one point the most well-known offender of using this style of interview tactics but the company has since focused more on behavior and situational interviews.

 Some brain teaser questions include:

  • Why are manhole covers round?
  • How many golf balls fit in a school bus?
  • Design an evacuation plan for San Francisco.
  • How many piano tuners are there in the world?
  • How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?

Throwing a few curveball interview questions to a candidate is an excellent way to see the person behind the skill sets and experience.  Interviewers gain more insight into a potential hire when they ask open-ended personality-based questions rather than closed-ended brain-teaser questions.

So what is your spirit animal?


Find a job that suits the animal in you on our Career Portal.

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Views: 2122

Comment by Katrina Kibben on July 30, 2015 at 10:08am

Have you had any candidates react stunned or negatively to creative questions like these? 

Comment by Recruiter Raya on July 30, 2015 at 11:38am

We haven't received any negative feedback, yet. In fact, we were expecting our interviewees to be more surprised. I think our saving grace was that we used curveball questions for creative positions.

At it's heart, a curveball question reveal a candidate's humor and personality, and since we were hiring for cultural fit in a creative position, a curveball was appropriate.

In industries like IT, Legal and Accounting, curveball questions would only highlight candidates who are LIKE the interviewer. And with all of the diversity struggles these industries face, I would not recommend curveball questions for them. 

Comment by Katrina Kibben on July 30, 2015 at 1:14pm

Good point. There's definitely another layer here - not just what you're asking but who you're asking. A creative person is going to be onboard with creative questions, another department may just think you're weird. I read an article about PayPal where they got so specific as to only hire people who agreed with them on Star Trek vs Star Wars to find the right cultural fit. 

The element I think a lot of recruiters forget about is the part where you have to do it for a purpose and you need to know what that purpose is. While these questions are fun, they should help you get to an answer. I would even suggest that companies who are looking to implement these questions consider asking their most successful current employees the same questions via survey to see the kinds of answers they would give and seek out candidates with similar answers/style. 

Comment by Recruiter Raya on July 30, 2015 at 1:48pm

You make really great points, Katrina.

I agree with you that polling current employees is a good way to ensure cultural fit. But I think Star Wars vs. Star Trek is getting a little too specific. Batman vs. Superman though? Debatable. LOL ;)


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