As a job candidate, you may have the honor (or misfortune, depending on how you feel about it!) of interviewing with a top executive at the company you’re pursuing. And one important thing to remember is that they may not take the traditional approach to evaluating your merits.
While many ask tricky or unconventional questions, others practice unique hiring strategies.
We looked back at interviews and sifted through articles in which successful CEOs, COOs, founders, and VPs, such as Salesforce’s Marc Benioff and Airbnb’s Brian Chesky, offered some insight into how they interview — and we highlighted a handful of the more interesting approaches below.
Keep reading to find out how eight top executives interview job candidates.
Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, always asks to hear the candidate’s life story.
CNBC reported last year that Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky asks interviewees, “Tell me your life story.” However, according to his interview with The New York Times in 2014, the kicker is that he requires them to do so in under three minutes.
“I’m trying to understand the two or three most remarkable things you’ve ever done in your life,” Chesky told The Times in 2014. “Because if you’ve never done anything remarkable in your life until this point, you probably never will.”
This timeframe isn’t as short as selling yourself in 30 seconds, but the constraint still forces the interviewee to highlight only key moments.
While Chesky puts a time limit on this question, other execs ask similar questions without a stopwatch. Melanie Whelan, CEO of SoulCycle frequently asks, “What’s your story?” while Elon Musk inquires, “Tell me the story of your life and the decisions that you made along the way.”
Larry Page and Sergey Brin often ask candidates to ask themselves questions.
Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have been known to use a role reversal tactic when interviewing potential candidates.
“I don’t think I’ve ever told this story,” former Google exec Tim Armstrong told Business Insider’s Alyson Shontell in 2017. “But when I had my first discussion with them, they basically said at the beginning of the meeting, after a few questions, ‘We’re not really sure what to ask you. Ask yourself the questions.'”
CNBC added that Armstrong was not alone — Page and Brin used this tactic on a number of interviewees. Additionally, infamous brainteaser questions have also made their way into Google interviews, including “How many times a day does a clock’s hands overlap?” and “Estimate how many gas stations there are in Manhattan.”
Deborah Bial, President of the Posse Foundation, performs the “Airport Test.”
Deborah Bial, President of the Posse Foundation, told The Muse that she uses the “ Airport Test,” which the website describes as “a question that attempts to weed out people who would be unbearable to be stuck in an airport with.”
“I’ll want to get into a discussion about something,” Bial told The Muse. “What’s in the newspaper that day? I want to know what they think, how they think, how they express what it is they’re thinking, how they ask questions and how they listen.”
Jeff Zwelling, COO of ZipRecruiter, often throws in a brain-teaser question.
Page and Brin are not the only execs to ask brain teaser questions; while Google is infamous for it, COO of ZipRecruiter Jeff Zwelling says he often turns to tricky questions during job interviews to get a better sense of who the candidate is.
For example, in the middle of the conversation, he often throws in a curveball math question: “A hammer and a nail cost $1.10, and the hammer costs one dollar more than the nail. How much does the nail cost?”
“Some candidates will instantly blurt out 10 cents, which is obviously wrong,” he told Business Insider in 2014. “They don’t have to get the exact right answer, which is a nickel, but I want to see them at least have a thought process behind it.”
Zwelling says he understands that math isn’t everyone’s forte, but he wants them to realize that “10 cents is too easy of an answer, and that if it was that easy, I wouldn’t be asking it.”
Michelle Peluso, a current IBM exec and former Gilt CEO, always asks for adjectives.
Michelle Peluso, current SVP Digital Sales & Chief Marketing Officerat IBM and former CEO of Gilt, told Adam Bryant of the New York Times in 2014 that one of her favorite go-to questions is, “If I were to say to a bunch of people who know you, ‘Give me three adjectives that best describe you,’ what would I hear?”
Peluso said if the candidate gives her three glowing adjectives, she’ll remind them that the hypothetical group includes a few people who aren’t particularly fond of them.
Similarly, Quartz reported the Wharton People Analytics Conference, where Mary Barra — the CEO of General Motors —revealed the three related questions she asks during job interviews: how your peers, your supervisor, and people who’ve worked for you each describe you in three adjectives.
“Ideally, you don’t want the adjectives to change much at all,” Barra said. “Because if you’re hiring for integrity, you don’t want people to manage up differently than they manage down. And you want people to work just as well with their peers and superiors as they do with their subordinates. This consistency is the key to empowering teams.”
Rick Goings, the former Tupperware CEO, observed how candidates treated his company employees.
Rick Goings headed Tupperware for over two decades, and in 2017,he spoke with Business Insider’s Áine Cain about his favorite interviewing tactics.
“Come to think of it, I do have one thing I often do regarding a potential candidate,” Goings told Business Insider. “I ask our lead receptionist, Joyce, how a candidate treated her. She has marvelous instincts. Ditto to both of my assistants who chat with the candidate while they are waiting to see me.”
Additionally, Goings told Cain he tries to keep things simple and have a natural, relaxed conversation.
“During the interview, I like to get into where they grew up, their parents’ vocations, the kind of activities they enjoyed in high school and college,” Goings told Business Insider. “It’s important to get them talking about significant things that are revealing to me. At some point, I shift to the open position, the company, the future. But that is at the end of the interview.”
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has been known to ask rapid-fire questions.
While Tupperware’s Rick Goings sees how candidates treat his employees, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff has been known to see how candidates respond to rapid-fire questions. Previous reporting fromBusiness Insider’s Julie Bort shows that one interview of Benioff’s only lasted seven minutes.
Freddy Kerrest, cofounder and COO of Okta, revealed in 2013 that Benioff asked a steady stream of rapid-fire questions on every detail on his resume. After confirming that Kerrest’s technical skills were sound, Benioff ended the interview by saying, “You’re hired.”
Bluemercury’s CEO Marla Malcolm Beck makes hiring decisions in under 10 minutes.
Marc Benioff isn’t the only exec to interview candidates for seven minutes; Business Insider’s Jacquelyn Smith previously reportedthat luxury beauty retailer Bluemercury’s CEO Marla Malcolm Beck consistently conducts short interviews.
Beck told The New York Times in 2015, “I interview for only seven to 10 minutes, and I have a framework — it’s skill, will, and fit.”
For skill and will, Beck asks “What’s the biggest impact you had at your past organization?” and “What do you want to do in five or 10 years?” respectively. Finally, for fit, Beck “ turns to the resume.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider.