Without a doubt, human resources and hiring pose some of the biggest challenges to startup entrepreneurs when it comes to business operations. While you might be great at coding or design, chances are you don’t have the extensive knowledge and training needed to see through the facades potential employees put up during their interviews in order to select the candidates who will best help advance your organization.
So today, we want to share a few of the unconventional questions we use in our interview process here at Single Grain. Whether you’re a startup looking to bring on your first SEO employee or an established company trying to expand an in-house SEO team, we hope you find the following suggested questions useful in your own hiring process!
1 – What’s your favorite blog and why?
SEO changes all the time, and the best way to stay up-to-date on the latest industry updates is to become a regular reader of the field’s top blogs. We’ll probably also ask candidates to share the articles that caught their eyes most recently as well, as a sneaky way to determine exactly how up-to-date they are on their chosen sites.
2 – Who’s your favorite internet marketer and why?
Every industry has its “major players,” and knowing who exactly our candidates look up to tells us a great deal about what we can expect from their work style and priorities. There aren’t any right or wrong answers here – unless a candidate can’t come up with a single option!
3 – How do you handle multiple tasks?
In the Single Grain office, multi-tasking is a must. Not only do we have several different accounts active at any given time, the work that must be done for each of these companies is varied and changing.
But while we don’t expect the candidates we hire to be experts on every single area of web promotion, we do want to know what systems they have in place for managing multiple priorities. Knowing that we’ll be able to rely on new hires to manage various challenges efficiently –and without dropping the ball on important client relations – is incredibly important, which is why we make this question a priority during our interview process.
4 – Who is your favorite superhero and why?
Again, when we ask this question, there’s no right or wrong answer. We aren’t going to kick you out of the interview if you choose Aquaman over Superman (although, really, you’re going to need a pretty strong argument to back up that claim…).
Instead, what we’re looking for is more information on the qualities our candidates value and how they handle adversity. If you choose the Incredible Hulk, for example, we might give you the side-eye and wonder just exactly how you’re going to handle disputes with other departments…
5 – What has been your biggest mistake and how did you handle it?
This one’s a pretty big “no brainer,” and it’s probably not a new idea for those of you who are putting together lists of potential interview questions.
That said, it’s popular for a reason. Every single person makes mistakes at their jobs. We do, and we know that you’re going to as well if we decide to hire you. What we care about is how you’ve handled mistakes in the past, because that demonstrates how you’ll handle them when it’s our clients on the line.
6 – What company would you like to be working for right now?
Now, unlike the previous question, this one isn’t exactly a “no brainer.” Sure, we’d like to hear you say that you want to work for Single Grain, but we also respect that we might not be everyone’s final career resting point.
As an example, if you tell me that your ultimate goal is to score a job with Google, but that you’re looking for a smaller company where you can cut your teeth and build your skills – that’s great! Not only does knowing more about you and your personal goals helps me to determine if we’re the right fit for each other, it will also help me to eventually develop the appropriate training plan for you – so I highly recommend looking for this type of honesty from your own future hires.
7 – Assign pre-interview assignments
Often, we’ll send candidates a copy of our SEO Guide (or some other industry article) and then have a discussion about the material’s content within our interview. Not only does doing so help us to gauge prospective employees’ reading comprehension skills, it also shows us how dedicated and prepared they are. If we see that a candidate has taken notes and prepared responses, it’s a good indication that he’ll bring this level of professionalism to his responsibilities within our company.
8 – Make someone do something very inconvenient
One of the biggest challenges of working in a consulting capacity can be, well, the clients. While we’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with a variety of engaged, well-informed customers, the truth is that anyone who works directly with clients will experience last minute demands, nonsensical requests and even complete course changes that require saint-like patience to handle appropriately.
So how do we determine whether or not potential job candidates will be able to handle these sometimes-frustrating requests in a professional manner? We make them do inconvenient things as part of the interview process!
For example, we once interviewed a candidate who would be arriving via Greyhound bus. And although we’re well aware of the challenges this mode of transportation presents, we declined to offer additional interview time slots – just to see how he’d handle the adversity. It might seem needlessly cruel, but the fact of the matter is that, if you can’t put on your game face after minor travel inconveniences, we can’t trust that you’ll respond to a major client meltdown in a way that represents our organization appropriately!
9 – How many Ping-Pong balls can you fit in a Boeing 747?
Yeah, we totally stole this one from Google – but only because it’s a great way to test a candidate’s on-the-spot thinking skills. When we ask this question, we aren’t looking for a specific answer. We’re listening to how our candidates reason through the problem and reach a conclusion in order to better determine the types of critical reasoning skills they’ll bring to our company.
10 – Change up the interview location
Sometimes, we like to take candidates out of their comfort zone by meeting at the office and conducting the interview at a coffee shop. Or, we might hold the interview in our conference room, but then have the candidate sit informally on a couch or chair in the room.
In some cases, we even hold interviews in front of our other employees so that they can give feedback on the people we bring in. This might sound intimidating, but we’re a small office, which means that it’s critically important that any new hires mesh with our current team. It’s also a great idea to try this if you’re a startup hiring candidates without past experience working with growing companies, as this type of informal setting is a crucial part of startup cultures.
11 – NSYNC or Backstreet Boys?
No joke. It’s an ongoing office joke, and your 1990s boy band preference is vitally important to how you’ll fit into our existing environment…
12 – Require post-interview homework
If we’re serious about certain candidates, we’ll often have them complete post-interview assignments that give us a chance to assess professional skills in real-world situations. Unfortunately, plenty of people interview well, but then fail to deliver when it comes to actual work. To minimize this disappointment, consider testing final candidates’ skills with well-designed homework projects.
Thoughts? What other unconventional questions have you used successfully in interviews? Share your favorite stories in the comments section below!