Are you tired of listening to the prescriptive resume narrative? It’s easy for the hiring manager and the candidate to become robots and function on autopilot, asking the same questions and generating very similar answers. As a hiring manager, I was interested not just in understanding how the candidate’s experience applies to the job, but also who the person is and how this job contributes to their career vision. To find out, I needed to get candidates off their acting script and to think on their feet.

One day, after conducting six interviews I decided to try a new question to elicit a different response. On this occasion, I was phone screening a Sr. marketing manager and listening to her usual spiel, when I asked the unusual question. “Can you tell me five things that you are not?” This question, threw her off, and she immediately responded, “What does this have to do with the position?”, “I’m not answering that question.” “Let me tell you about my experience.”

It was fascinating to see a personality trait emerged from a simple question. By all accounts her experience matched the position requirements perfectly; however her response indicated a lack of flexibility.

Her flustered response caught my attention and I decided to implement the question more often to see how others would respond. On average, most people could only provide three answers on the spot. On rare occasions, people managed to respond the five things. A very low percentage of people followed up with an email writing the full answer to the question. One woman wrote “I have been thinking about the question you asked me, and I have come up with two more things to add.” The fact that she took the time to follow-up, said a lot about who she is and how she responds to challenges under stress.

The Brain Science

Our brains are programmed to preserve energy and be efficient. To respond to the question requires effort, something that our brain dislikes. At the same time, it taps into our ability to self-regulate emotions and adapt to environmental cues. This question became the best way for me to learn about the person’s ability to think on their feet and tap into the person’s whole brain.

I am curious, what is your best question and why? Share with us to help candidates prepared for their next interview.

Note: Article first appeared at SM Diversity guess blog.