Creative Interview Questions: Worthwhile or Waste of Time?

Two interviewees sitting on a couch with a female interviewer across from them in a chair

Creative interview questions seem like a fun and unexpected way to shake up the age-old process of hiring. In a competitive market, you might be looking for any methods you can use to differentiate candidates from one another and allow the top contenders to rise above the rest. 

Do unique interview questions actually help you identify great candidates, or are they just a distraction from the important process of narrowing down the best choice for the job? Here, we’ll share some of the weirdest, wackiest interview tactics we’ve heard of and explore the pros and cons of using creative interview questions as part of your hiring process. 

Creative Interview Questions, Explained

“If you were a pie, what flavor would you be and why?”

“How would you run our company if you were from Mars?”

“Would you rather have a dozen dog-sized dinosaurs or one dinosaur-sized dog?”

We’ve all heard of off-the-wall interview questions like these in water cooler conversations and job-seeker battle stories. They make for fun happy hour talk, to be sure, and they can break the ice in the normally-nerve-wracking environment of an interview. 

In theory, unique interview questions are meant to force candidates outside the bounds of the typical, formulaic interview structure and into uncharted territory to see how they respond and test their creative muster. In recent years, the trend of creative interviews has stretched beyond just the questions asked. 

Currently, there is a rise in the number of companies incorporating a physical fitness element into their interview process. The CEO of Barstool Sports told the New York Times she has a practice of texting candidates at odd hours on nights and weekends to see how fast they reply as a litmus test for their responsiveness. 

With coveted positions at big-name companies in high demand, some employers see unique interview questions and other unconventional tactics as a way to peg down superior candidates and weed out those who don’t measure up. However, there’s a lot of disagreement among hiring experts over whether such methods are truly worthwhile. 

Pros of Creative Interview Questions

Avoid stale, stuffy interviews

Your interview process contributes to your overall candidate experience, and there’s something to be said about making the process memorable and enjoyable rather than monotonous and boring. Having a positive candidate experience contributes to a stronger overall employer brand, which can help you attract top talent. Creative interview questions can be used as a way to show candidates your lighter side, which may be important to you if that’s a big part of your company culture. 

Related: The Case for Creating a Great Candidate Experience

Gauge creative thinking

Creative interview questions can work well if you can tie them to a specific function of the job rather than just being wacky for wackiness’ sake. For example, “Client X really wants to make a splash with the next project we’re working on. They’ve asked us to come up with the most creative ideas we can think of for the campaign. What’s one idea you’d pitch?”

Asking a candidate to think outside the box in the context of the role they’re applying for can help you gauge the level of creativity they might bring to the position. 

Assess poise under pressure

Some positions require a person who can stay cool no matter what’s thrown at them. If you’re hiring for such a role, unique interview questions can help you learn whether a candidate is able to think on their feet even under pressure. 

Do they maneuver through the question, even if it’s tricky, or are they totally thrown off? Depending on the position, this kind of poise under pressure might be a characteristic that’s important to identify.

Get a taste of their personality

Most candidates come into an interview scenario with their guard up. They’re in the hot seat, which can make it difficult to really get a feel for their personality. And yet, personality—not just skill—is an important factor in deciding whether an applicant will mesh well with the culture of your organization. 

Sprinkling creative interview questions in with more technical ones can help break the ice and allow a candidate to let a bit of their personality shine through. 

Cons of Creative Interview Questions

Creates unnecessary pressure

Even the most conventional interviews can be nerve-wracking for candidates, who are doing their best to make a good impression and convey their selling points. Unusual interview questions that are seemingly out of the blue can throw candidates for a loop, causing otherwise strong contenders to falter. 

Aside from creating unnecessary pressure, candidates may feel an unfair question caused them to perform poorly, which contributes to a negative candidate experience. With the prevalence of sites like Glassdoor, it’s all too easy for the word to get around about such experiences, which can hurt your chances of attracting the best candidates in the future. 

Irrelevant to the job

The biggest gripe hiring experts have with creative questions is that they’re not grounded in skills, experience, or any other proven predictor of job performance, so many see them as frivolous. While unique questions certainly keep things from being boring, your ultimate goal is to find the best candidate, not to entertain them. Asking questions that are too far off in left field can distract from your purpose. 

Could set you up for legal trouble

To mitigate legal risk in the hiring process, companies are often counseled to avoid asking for any information that’s not directly tied to a candidate’s ability to do the job. Asking whether an applicant has children, for example, or talking about religion, could be grounds for a future discrimination lawsuit. So, too, could asking unique interview questions. 

Dr. Brenda Fellows, an organizational psychologist and adjunct professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, spoke to Fast Company on the topic, saying not only are there “no true pros to [these] unusual interview practices, it often leads to legal challenges if you are unable to show specific job requirements whereas the practices demonstrate the job.”

3 Tactics to Use in Place of Unusual Interview Questions

If you want to probe deeper than basic interview questions go but don’t want to risk alienating good candidates with curveballs, try one of these three strategies instead. 

1. Change up the format

Break free of the traditional interviewer-interviewee model by using alternative interview formats. A panel interview, for example, allows multiple stakeholders with different viewpoints to meet and assess a candidate. A group interview setting can be a good way to observe soft skills like teamwork while cutting down your time to hire.  

You can also depart from the conventional question-and-answer interview format by assigning candidates a job-related exercise to work on or even having them take part in a role-playing scenario with other members of their prospective team.

2. Ask behavioral and situational questions

Behavioral questions ask candidates to describe past behavior, frequently beginning with, “tell me about a time when…” These types of questions can give you great insight into how a candidate thinks and their approach to solving problems. 

Situational questions ask candidates to describe how they’d act in a given scenario, i.e. “how would you respond if you were faced with X?” Situational questions are useful in helping you envision how a candidate might behave in the role and how well they’d respond to its day-to-day challenges. 

A good mix of behavioral and situational questions can paint a more complete picture of a candidate while keeping your interview grounded in information that’s actually relevant to the position at hand.   

3. Use skills tests

If you really want to put a candidate’s technical know-how to the test, a skills assessment is the best way to do it. A skills assessment uses a standardized format, like multiple choice, to gauge a candidate’s mastery of the precise skills they’ll need to do the job well. 

A skills test results in a clear score, which is an objective way to compare candidates against one another. This is sometimes preferred over more subjective methods like open-ended interview questions. A study by Aberdeen Group found businesses that use pre-hire assessments like skills tests are 36% more likely than other companies to be satisfied with their new hires. 

Hire More Effectively with Central Florida’s Staffing Experts

Any company will agree that hiring the right team members is a critical component of overall business success. And yet, doing it well takes a major investment of time and resources. The average time to hire across all industries is a whopping three to four weeks—a long timeline when you’ve got an important position to fill. 

Hire faster and with greater accuracy by partnering with the staffing professionals at 4 Corner Resources. We have a long track record of helping the top companies in customer service, marketing, IT, healthcare and more make better hires and retain them longer. To create a staffing solution that’s tailored to your needs and budget, schedule your free consultation today.

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.