Career Development

8 interview questions you weren't expecting

By: Dale Simpson

In a recent Linkedin post traditional interview questions were slammed as too predictable and bound to elicit rehearsed responses from candidates. Instead the author recommends asking unexpected and intriguing questions to stimulate more insightful answers that reveal a candidate's personality, instincts, and behavioural preferences.

This approach (they say)  is not intended to catch you off guard, but rather to see how you cope with unforeseen challenges and demonstrate spontaneous thinking.

We've taken a  look at 8 of these ‘unexpected’ interview questions so we can share our ideas for giving responses that will enhance your chances of getting a job that is the right fit for you (and no, thankfully not one of them is “if you were a superhero, which one would you be and why?”). 


1  Describe yourself in one word

This question reminds me of the statement often wrongly attributed to Mark Twain, if I had more time I would have written you a shorter letter (it was Blaise Pascal).   Paring yourself down into the confines of just one word is incredibly challenging – but also a powerful exercise in focussing on the essential self. It will however still require some contextualisation for the workplace. Here are some ideas to start you thinking about the what and the why in a workplace context. 


Dedicated: I chose this word because I am someone who is committed to my work and goals. I believe in seeing tasks through to completion and always giving my best effort. This dedication translates into high-quality work and a strong work ethic.


Innovative: This word describes me well because I enjoy finding new and creative solutions to problems. I believe that innovation is key to growth and progress, and I consistently strive to think outside the box.


Adaptable: I consider myself adaptable because I can adjust to new conditions and changes with ease. Whether it's learning a new skill or adjusting to a new team dynamic, I can quickly adapt and thrive in different situations.


Resilient: Resilience is a trait that I value highly in myself. I have faced challenges and setbacks in my career, but I have always managed to bounce back stronger. This quality has helped me to grow and learn from my experiences.


Compassionate: I believe compassion is an essential quality, in driving better behaviour towards others. It allows me to understand and connect with my colleagues and clients, fostering better relationships and a more harmonious working environment.


Each of these words not only describe personal characteristics but also showcase valuable traits for any potential employer.


The article then proposes a twist on this question by asking for a negative word to showcase your level of self-insight and perhaps raise flags for a potential employer.  The skill here is to have a positive twist even on a purported negative - the ability to re-frame. 

2  What is one negative word you might use to describe yourself? 

A truncated update on the standard "What are your faults?", if asked this question you might for example  describe yourself as  "stubborn."  While this may initially seem like a negative trait, it can actually be a strength in a job context. Being stubborn can mean that you are persistent and determined. If you believe in an idea or a project, you will stick with it and do everything in your power to see it succeed. This tenacity can be invaluable in a work environment, especially when facing challenging tasks or projects.

A word that some might consider negative is "over-prepared." On the surface, it may seem as though this means you spend too much time preparing for tasks or events. However, in a job interview, being over-prepared can be a positive attribute. It signifies commitment to being ready for any situation and highlights an ability to think ahead. It shows potential employers that I take my responsibilities seriously and am always prepared to meet challenges head-on.

Or you could say  "reserved." Some people might interpret this as being standoffish or uninterested. However, in a job interview, this trait can be seen as a strength. Being reserved can mean you are a good listener, thoughtful in your responses, and focused. It shows potential employers that you can maintain a calm demeanour in a professional setting and that you value thoughtful communication over unnecessary chatter.  

The point here is to be honest, but ensure that the interviewer hears there is a potential upside to every negative.

3  Tell me about an interesting experience or encounter you’ve had recently

Answering this question allows you to reveal a little more of who you are as a person – your viewpoint, interests, and personality. You might mention an interesting fact you have read or an informative YouTube video you have watched or someone interesting outside your usual age group or ethnicity you met  – all demonstrating that you have a thirst for learning and an interest in things and people outside your usual experience – traits that any employer would value.

Jeff Weiner, the former CEO of LinkedIn, once said:

"Creativity and curiosity are the lifeblood of real-world problem solving... These are not skills that can be outmoded through automation or AI – rather, they are the keys to staying one step ahead of it."

Weiner's perspective highlights the importance of creativity and curiosity in today's ever-changing business environment, emphasising their role not only in problem-solving but also in maintaining a competitive edge in the era of automation and artificial intelligence.


4  How do you define success?

This one, the authors warn, could provoke a longwinded and sentimental response. We suggest being authentic and not too Pollyanna-like. 


For example, you might say: To me, success is not necessarily defined just by achieving a specific goal or reaching a certain milestone. Success can come from failure also because of the learning. There's a saying we grow through what we go through! 


Or “Success, in my view, is deeply personal and subjective – it's about finding fulfillment and happiness in what you do and living a life that aligns with your own individual values and passions rather than what others might define for you”.



5  Do you consider yourself lucky?

Here you want to convey a positive mindset without sounding cocky. The answer to this question can reveal much about your mindset - how passive, reactive or proactive you are. 

Yes absolutely, I do consider myself lucky. However, I think we make our own luck through hard work, dedication, and a positive attitude. I've been fortunate enough to have had some wonderful opportunities in life, but I also recognise that my ability to capitalise on those opportunities comes from the effort I put into preparing myself and being open to new experiences. So, while I am indeed lucky, I also understand the role that my own actions have played in creating that luck.

6  Tell me about a time you disagreed with a manager’s instructions or point of view in the workplace. What did you do?

Here is an example of how someone might respond.

“In my previous role, there was an instance where my manager and I had differing viewpoints on a project timeline. My manager wanted to expedite the project delivery due to client pressure, but I felt that rushing could compromise the quality of our work.

Instead of directly confronting my manager, I chose to handle the situation diplomatically. I compiled a detailed breakdown of the tasks required to complete the project, highlighting potential risks and quality issues that could arise if we rushed the process.

I then scheduled a meeting with my manager to discuss my concerns. I presented my points respectfully, making sure to acknowledge her perspective while explaining my own. I also proposed a revised timeline that would allow us to maintain quality without significantly delaying the project.

My manager appreciated my proactive approach and willingness to voice my concerns in a respectful manner. After reviewing my proposal, she agreed to negotiate a more reasonable deadline with the client. The project was ultimately completed successfully, and we were able to deliver high-quality work within a realistic timeframe. This experience underscored the importance of open communication and constructive disagreement in the workplace, as well as the value of balancing speed with quality in project management."

The key here is to show that you held your ground but in a respectful manner. Even if the outcome wasn’t what you wanted, the example should show that you handled the situation wisely and with consideration of others and thoughtful preparation. 


7  When have you failed? What did you learn from this experience?

The answer to this question will reveal how resilient you are, and whether you have a growth or a fixed mindset. 

During my role as a team lead, we were working on an important project that had tight deadlines. Despite our best efforts, we failed to meet the deadline. On reflection, I realised that while our technical skills were strong, we lacked effective project management abilities.

This failure was a significant learning experience for me. It taught me the importance of not just having technical expertise, but also strong organizational and planning skills. I learned that managing a project effectively requires setting clear goals, creating a realistic timeline, delegating tasks appropriately, and regularly monitoring progress.


Since then, I've taken steps to improve my project management skills, including taking relevant courses and implementing new strategies in my work. This has led to noticeable improvements in the execution and timely delivery of subsequent projects.



8  What two or three trends in our industry might disrupt our work, and how should we go about meeting these changes?

These examples will fit most industries but if you can think of ones more specific to your field, so much the better. 


In the tech industry, one of the significant trends that might disrupt our work is the accelerated adoption of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. These technologies are becoming more sophisticated and prevalent, which could automate certain job roles and change the way we approach problem-solving. To meet these changes, we should focus on continuous learning and upskilling. By ensuring our team is knowledgeable about these technologies, we can leverage them to improve efficiency and innovate.


Another trend is the increasing importance of data privacy and security. With stricter regulations like GDPR and CCPA coming into play, companies must prioritise data protection. We should consider investing in advanced security measures and training our team about best practices in data management and compliance.




In the marketing industry, a major trend that could disrupt our work is the shift towards personalised and customer-centric marketing. Consumers now expect brands to understand their unique needs and provide customised experiences. To adapt to this, we need to invest in tools that allow us to better understand our customers and tailor our marketing strategies accordingly.


Additionally, the rise of influencer marketing is another trend to watch. Traditional advertising methods are losing effectiveness as consumers trust recommendations from real people more. We should consider incorporating influencer marketing into our strategy, finding influencers whose values align with ours and who can authentically promote our products to their followers.


9  Why are you memorable??


"I am memorable because of my enthusiasm and drive. I am always eager to learn new things and take on challenges, which has helped me excel in my previous roles. For instance, at my last job, I took the initiative to streamline our team's workflow, which resulted in a 20% increase in productivity."


"What makes me memorable is my ability to build strong relationships with both clients and colleagues. I believe that communication and empathy are key in any job role, and I always strive to understand and meet the needs of others. This approach has allowed me to successfully manage and lead teams in the past."


"I think I'm memorable because of my problem-solving skills. I enjoy finding innovative solutions to complex problems, which often involves thinking outside the box. This mindset has led to personal growth and contributed to the success of the companies I've worked for. For example, I developed a new software tool at my previous job that improved efficiency by 30%."


Please let us know what you think of these questions and our suggested answers or if you have other suggestions.  

And as always, please share if you found this interesting. 

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