The ULTIMATE interview question, and why I ask it EVERY TIME

I’ve been building my team for a couple years now and currently have 5 direct-reports in my role as Digital Marketing Manager at Fit Foods/MUTANT. It’s a competent group that works well together, even though every person on the team has a very specialized role with little overlap. That’s by design, and necessary because of the extremely wide range of responsibilities that fall within the scope of our digital department.

I’ve interviewed many, many candidates over the past two years to build this team. I interviewed candidates for Video Specialist, Social Media Specialist, E-commerce Developer, (among other roles), so of course the interview questions were always very different and specialized from one interview to another. However, there is one question that I ALWAYS asked every single candidate I interviewed. Are you ready? Here it is, I’ll set it up for you, exactly as I would to the candidate.

“So Tom, I’m going to outline a scenario for you. There is a grizzly bear and a great white shark in a body of water that is about 4 feet deep. Which one of them wins a battle, and why?”

No, this is not a joke, and yes, I truly do ask this of every candidate I interview. Now here’s why:

1-   I’m looking for a sense of humor, which to me is part of a good culture fit. My team works hard but often plays jokes or pranks on each other, sends funny memes on Slack, and generally likes to laugh together. We do serious work but having a sense of humor is really helpful at times. So I want to see if the person gives me a smile or a chuckle.

2-   I want to see some creativity. That’s why I ask them not just who wins the battle but WHY. What kind of creative reasoning do they have to explain their decision?

3-   I need them to be able to think quickly, adjust on the fly, and stick to their decisions. Throwing in a question like this one after they’ve just been answering typical HR and technical questions is a jolt. How do they respond to it? Can they come up with something fast or do they stare at me like a deer in a headlight?

Doesn’t sound quite as crazy now, does it? Next time you’re interviewing a candidate throw this question in there at the end to test it out. You might be pleasantly surprised at just how much it can reveal.


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