How do you find candidates who think “out of the box”? Conduct “out of the box” interviews!

Thinking Out Of The Box

Begin with upgrading your recruitment process. You can only learn so much about a candidate from their resume and cover letter. But it is the recruitment process that reveals the most about your potential new employee. 



The interview stage is your chance to really get to know the candidate, only if you use it well.

Asking the typical interview questions such as “What do you expect from this role?”or“Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”won’t get you far. Candidates know these questions and will most likely have the right answers prepared. This is why you need to choose your interview questions wisely.



You should also consider giving your candidates some creative tasks or assignments that really dig deep into who they are and what they can bring to the table. These creative tasks and assignments have to do with work samples or work assignments. They require a candidate to produce a sample of work they will be typically doing if they were to get hired. This allows the employer to assess candidates on the quality of their work beyond the resume and interview questions.



Did you know that only 32% of HR professionals use work assignments, even though 84% agree that work assignments are an effective interviewing technique (Source: LinkedIn). This is most probably because many of them just don’t know how to conduct work sample tasks!



Here are 8 work sample tasks you can incorporate into your interviewing process to help you identify top quality talent, as well as differentiate you as an employer, so you stand out.




Here are 8 creative tasks you can incorporate into your interviewing process:


Task #1: The in-tray

A popular interview task with recruiters, the in-tray is something we’ve probably all faced at some point in our careers without realising its value as a recruitment task.

The task:

Your candidate has just returned from a two-week vacation to find their email inbox overflowing with 200 emails. They have a meeting in an hour and need to process every single one beforehand.

Expert tip:

Vary this according to your industry. For example, if you’re an e-commerce business, task your candidate with processing a high volume of orders rather than emails.

What to look out for:

Some candidates might become flustered and panic during this stage. But others will approach this methodically, sorting emails by their importance to your business, your client, or their team. This task is great for identifying candidates with strong work ethic and a calm demeanour in the face of adversity.


Task #2: The role reversal

This one is a real curveball, and you’ll definitely have a few stumped interviewees after you ask them this.

The task:

Simply ask your candidate to rate you as an interviewer. Ask them to pick out a few pros and cons about your style and technique.

Expert tip:

Yes, it’s bold — but it can reveal depths about your candidate. Not only does it show how good their perception of people is (vital if they are going to be working with clients), it also gives you an indicator of their diplomatic skills.

What to look out for:

You don’t want to employ someone who is too blunt or overbearing, but you also want to avoid a candidate who is too meek to be truly honest. A successful candidate is honest, but approaches the issue with delicacy and nuance.


Task #3: The show-and-tell

This one is simple and can reveal multitudes about your candidate.

The task:

Simply ask your interviewee to bring in an object from home that best represents their personality, and have them explain why they chose it.

Expert tip:

Change this up by increasing the number of objects your candidate needs to bring, or by stipulating certain types of objects they need to bring. A piece of clothing, a book, and a mug, for instance.

What to look out for:

Does the object they choose have sentimental value, or does it relate to a hobby or passion? Listen to the reason why your candidate chose what they chose, consider why you think the candidate picked it. Did they want to emphasise a strength, or a facet of their personality? This will reveal depths about your candidate as a person, rather than as a worker.


Task #4: The river crossing puzzle

River crossing puzzles are hundreds of years old, and while it probably wasn’t intended to weed out poor candidates, it’s still a valuable interview task for recruiters.

The task:

The one you’re probably most familiar with is the farmer, the fox, the chicken, and a bag of seeds. A farmer has a fox, a chicken, and a bag of seeds, and needs to cross a river via boat to transport them across, but can only carry one item with him at a time.

Expert tip:

If he leaves the fox alone with the chicken, it’ll eat it, and if he leaves the chicken alone with the seed, it’ll eat it. It’s a head-scratcher, but there is a solution; take the chicken first.

What to look out for:

Some people are naturally better at this than others. The more logical candidates will find this task a breeze, but even if they don’t get it straight away, it says a lot about your candidate’s problem solving skills.


Task #5: The angel investor

The task:

Ask your candidate to imagine themselves as an angel investor, tasked with turning around the fortunes of an ailing business. Give them a set budget and get them to create a short plan that outlines what their business strategy is and how they can implement it.

Get them to also choose a business niche to invest in. Some candidates might simply choose a business that appeals to a personal interest, e.g. a fitness lover might invest in an activewear brand.

Expert tip:

Innovative candidates may use a more calculated approach to this, for example by conducting competitor analysis to identify existing businesses that are failing to spot profitable niches. When individuals display a methodical approach to business, it’s a sure sign you’ve got a top candidate on your hands.

What to look out for:

Once they’ve selected a business, task your candidate with increasing its profits. Do your candidates look to implement new strategies, such as paid ad campaigns? Or do they work on fine-tuning existing ones? Do they look for new investments, or terminating existing strategies? This task is ideal for identifying candidates for a managerial role.


Task #6: The e-commerce entrepreneur

This task is in a similar vein to the angel investor task mentioned above, but instead relies on your candidate starting an entirely new e-commerce business from scratch.

The task:

Task them with picking a content management system, a niche, a basic marketing plan, and so on.

Expert tip:

Obviously, your candidate isn’t likely to come up with the next Apple, but this is a useful task for learning how they approach ideation and strategy on the go. As before, look at how they approach the task and have them explain their thinking afterwards.

What to look out for:

When it comes to choosing the right platform for their business, do they opt for a ready-made store builder or an open-source coding option? Do they copy an existing business model, or do they strike out on their own? Choices like this can reveal depths about your candidate’s mindset, and how they might fit into your team and company as a whole.


Task #7: The color description

This task is guaranteed to stump even the most confident of candidates.

The task:

Ask your interviewees to describe, as best they can, one or more colors to a blind person.

Expert tip:

Some candidates might adopt a scientific tact, making reference to physical instances of color that a blind person might be familiar with e.g. “yellow is the color of warm sunlight on your skin.”

Other candidates might take a more creative approach, describing it in emotional terms. For instance, one might describe red as a color of passion, love or rage.

What to look out for:

Obviously there is no one ‘right’ answer to this. However, the aim of this task is to discern your candidate’s communication skills. The answer you’re looking for will depend on the requirements of the role you’re recruiting for. For example, if you’re looking to fill a creative role such as a graphic designer, an imaginative approach will suit you.


Task #8: The pizza delivery

You’ve probably heard of the “how many uses for a lemon” puzzle. It’s an easy little task but tells you a lot about your candidate.

Expert tip:

But you can take this even further with some inspiration from Apple. Apparently “the pizza delivery” is a popular question with the tech giant during its recruitment process as the question reveals a candidate’s creative problem-solving skills.

The task:

Ask your candidate how a pair of scissors would benefit them if they were a pizza delivery person. Get them to list as many uses as possible within twenty minutes, and then discuss them afterwards. Another fairly simple task, but one that reveals a lot about your candidate.

What to look out for:

Beyond focusing on the best use of the scissors, see if your candidate has an awareness of the pizza delivery guy’s role. This shows empathy and appreciation of a potentially unfamiliar role.



I hope these interesting, out of the box tasks opened your eyes to reimagine your recruitment process. Go beyond the usual interview questions with the tasks listed above. Ultimately, the answer you’re looking for will vary depending on your brand, industry, and the role you’re recruiting for. But whatever the position, you’re guaranteed to find the top candidates who think out of the box with these simple but creative recruitment tasks.

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