Creative Interview Questions CEOs Swear By

CEOs often know what they want, and some have creative ways of figuring out who can deliver. Why do they do this? They want to step outside of the traditional interview box, and provide an opportunity to watch a candidate work his or her way through a problem live, right there, in that moment.

Taken from an article on, here a few of the wildest curveballs high-level execs regularly throw candidates — and why:

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?”

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

Hsieh told the New York Times reporter Adam Bryant, that he believes the question can identify individuality, something Zappos embraces as part of its overall philosophy. “Our whole belief is that everyone is a little weird somehow, so it’s really more just a fun way of saying that we really recognize and celebrate each person’s individuality and we want their true personalities to shine in the workplace environment.”

“What’s your spirit animal?”

Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite

Ryan Holmes told business columnist Jeff Haden that asking this question gets candidates to describe themselves while also pushing them to think creatively. Holmes said that he asked his current executive assistant the question and her answer was telling: “She told me it was a duck, because ducks are calm on the surface and hustling like crazy getting things done under the surface. I think this was an amazing response and a perfect description for the role of an EA.”

“What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?”

Ashley Morris, CEO of Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop

According to an interview with Business Insider, Morris explained, while it seems silly and extreme, responses suggest how someone will react under pressure. “It’s interesting to get someone’s opinion and understand how they think on their feet. The hope is that for us, we’re going to find out who this person is on the inside and what’s really important to him, what his morals really are and if he’ll fit on the cultural level,” says Morris.

“Tell me something that’s true, that almost nobody agrees with you on.”

Peter Thiel, PayPal cofounder and president of Clarium Capital

In 2012, Theil told Forbes he loves this question because “it sort of tests for originality of thinking, and to some extent, it tests for your courage in speaking up in a difficult interview context.”

“What was the last costume you wore?”

Neil Blumenthal, co-CEO of Warby Parker

Blumenthal told New York Times reporter Adam Bryant in an interview that quirkiness and fun are core values at Warby, so Blumenthal uses this question to gauge cultural fit. “The point isn’t that if you haven’t worn a costume in the last four weeks, you’re not getting hired,” Blumenthal explains. “It’s more to judge the reaction to that question. Are you somebody who takes yourself very seriously? If so, that’s a warning sign to us. We want people to take their work seriously but not themselves.”

“Summarize your life in three minutes”

Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb

“I’m trying to figure out the formative decisions and experiences that influenced who you are as a person,” Chesky told the New York Times. “Once I figure that out, I’m trying to understand the two or three most remarkable things you’ve ever done in your life.”




Susie Almaneih’s Top Entrepreneurs: Part 1

1. Benjamin Franklin: An Original Entrepreneur


“To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.”

Benjamin Franklin’s philosophic words mirrored the actions in his life.

Franklin was a printer and self-taught writer whose witty conversational writing style made his Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack the most successful publications in the country.  His printing operations were so popular that he franchised printing in other cities when the concept of franchising was relatively uncommon. Franklin was a solutions man who turned potential problems into silver linings.  He also understood the importance of networking, striving to improve both himself and his community.  In this process, he made valuable connections that came to help him when bidding for lucrative government printing work.

Franklin and his wife also collected cotton rags, invested in paper mills, and set up a wholesale paper business.  By age 42, he had acquired such wealth that he retired, and was able to concentrate on his inventions, science, and experiments and, of course, politics and diplomacy.

 2. Henry Ford: Lasting Legacy


“Stay true to your vision and follow your instincts-even if your backers advise otherwise.”

At the beginning of the 20th century, the automobile was a plaything for the rich.  Most models were complicated machines that only a chauffer conversant with the individual mechanical nuances could drive it.

 Henry Ford was determined to build a simple and reliable car that the average American worker could afford.  His goal ran counter to the wishes of his backers at Ford Motor Co., who sought to maximize profits by building cars for the rich.

As a key initiator of the moving assembly line, the company mass-produced cars faster and cheaper than other companies.  Ford also paid his workers a real living wage and, through mass consumption, made Ford Motor Co. very profitable–eventually buying out even the most skeptical of backers.  Perhaps most importantly, he helped create a middle class with “America’s Everyman Car,” his black Model T (the only color the company produced for years).

Ford’s ingenuity and acumen left a legacy that reaches far beyond the Model T’s driver’s seat.  His stunning success didn’t occur because of a masterful business sense; he was more of an idea man – a true entrepreneur.

3. John D. Rockefeller: Setting the Standard for Business and Philanthropy

jon rock

“Good leadership consists of showing average people how to do the work of superior people.”

John D. Rockefeller was the single most important figure in the foundation of the oil industry.  With his brother and other partners, he founded Standard Oil in 1870 and built it into one of the world’s first and largest multinational corporations.

With an extreme focus on efficiency and buying or shutting down competitors, the company controlled almost 90% of the country’s refined oils by the 1890s.  Rockefeller, as controlling partner and the largest shareholder, became a billionaire and eventually the world’s richest man.  In 1911, because of anti-trust litigation, the Supreme Court ruled that Standard Oil must split into 38 companies. Two of those companies eventually became Exxon and Mobil, which merged in 1999.

Rockefeller, who remained a major shareholder although he had retired from running the company in 1896, turned his focus to charitable endeavors.  Some argued that he used philanthropy as a moral shield from the critics of his aggressive business practices.  But he was as calculating in his giving as he was in business, creating the modern systematic approach to targeted philanthropy, with foundations benefiting medicine, education, and scientific research.  The Rockefeller wealth, distributed as it was through a system of foundations and trusts, continues to fund family philanthropic ventures today.


Tricks, Treats and Tweets: 7 High Visibility Social Media Strategies for Halloween


Susie Almaneih marketing social media

It’s the beginning of shopping season; sharpen your social media tools to get a slice of the pie.

What might be the most outlandish of holidays with its pageantry, creativity and mystery is also a great opportunity for businesses.  It’s estimated that Americans spend somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 billion dollars through the month of October in preparation for Halloween.  Excellent exposure couples with a sense of fun and it’s a great way to plant seeds for the gift giving winter holidays.

Social media done correctly can get your brand public-facing quality time, as people are more open than usual to the unexpected, the scary and the strange.  The immediacy and elasticity of the online world mean there are some really fantastic creative ideas floating around, so here are some examples of great Halloween marketing concepts and well-executed campaigns.

1. Refresh Your Targeting.  Before you do anything else, polish your online presence to target highly specific, granular audiences through the specialized options on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  Custom target group creation with a Halloween theme is going to generate more clicks, and make sure you run some analytics to optimize your campaign performance.

2. Appeal to the DIY Crowd.  It’s a crafty time of year where even not-so-crafty people are looking for festive ideas.  Last year, Capital One created a Vine video offering a Halloween-themed tip on how to preserve pumpkins, and shared the clip on Twitter as part of a “Halloween Hacks” campaign.  As another example, Rice Krispies shared a series of recipes using the breakfast cereal in creative, party-friendly treats.

3. Create an Interactive, Ongoing Halloween Experience.  The theatre of Halloween makes it an especially visual holiday, so utilizing sites like Instagram and Pinterest are a fabulous way of drumming up traffic.  For example, Target took the DIY thing up a notch.  The retailer played up its Halloween-themed products by introducing a game on Instagram.  Since September the company launched a social media experience called “Halloween Hills” where users knock on either “tricks” or “treats” that are hidden in a virtual neighborhood.  Depending on what they choose, the viewers can discover DIY projects, recipes, and costumes that incorporate Target products.  Very clever and beautifully drawn, this unique idea generated a ton of traffic for Target.

4. Pop Culture Sells.  There is no shortage of silly, arbitrary or downright strange incidents that capture the public’s attention, and no one says there are rules against using those push button moments to divert that attention, provided you are keeping it classy.  Creating a 20 second Vine of one-second clips that poke some good-natured fun at a recent happening or trend can easily go viral and put your brand in front of thousands or millions of users.  Tell a scary story weaving in some current references, and don’t be afraid to drag that story out over the month.  Avoid really charged topics like politics and stick with celebrities, cat videos or other viral faves like Batdad.

5. Paid Promotion Giveways.  Free stuff generates interaction, and while it’s almost a cliché, it also works.  An online costume competition where viewers vote is a standby, whereas puzzles, riddles or even brainteasers that challenge your audience are enticing, especially if you are offering a free gift, prizes or free product for signing up via email.  That’s a trade that will pay off in the coming shopping months when you can float more juicy gift ideas and sales out to those targeted customers.

6. Don’t Neglect Mobile.  Mobile should now comprise part of any paid media campaign, because it can account for a good portion of profits if executed shrewdly.  Some retailers offer coupons that can be accessed through mobile, so be sure to include that placement in all social ad campaigns.  This lets you reach your customers even when they are out shopping, not just at home doing research.

7. Safety Tips.  One easy way to get parent engagement is to offer safety advice.  Don’t use fear-based language, but instead develop some easy-to-remember tips on ensuring everyone has fun and stays safe.  As with all your content, add high-energy hashtags and encourage sharing.

The public is ripe for the unexpected, quirky and creepy right now, it’s a chance to think outside the box and get a little zany.  As is always the case, the more inventive and inclusive your online content is, the more it will propagate and convert into sales.



The Grandfather of all Business Self-Help: How to Win Friends and Influence People

Since 1936, this set of instructions has guided and shaped business, big and small.

Dale Carnegie taught a 14-week class that became the fundament for one of the world’s most successful self-help books.  Selling over 15 million copies, Carnegie got behind the coarse exterior of big business and explained in great detail how to bring out the best in people.  This book is sited as satori moment for many a successful leader, including Warren Buffett, in part because it distills down some basic golden rules into some real gems: “appeal to the nobler motives.”

Considered to be one of the most prominent people-skills instruction manuals, How to Win Friends submits that success in business is 15% industry knowledge and 85% interpersonal acumen.  In his world, companies built on mutual respect, active listening, and reciprocal inspiration are companies that cultivate a productive workforce and see long-term gains.

Information courtesy of Amazon.

How Consumers Get Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

Nir Eyal explores the phenomenon of certain technologies and how they become an essential part of our lives.

Some products seem to have been constructed with an “evergreen” nature, an intrinsic quality that keeps the consumer coming back for more.  Eyal deconstructs this habit-forming technology into a four-step process that separates out great brands with long-term customer relationships from the one-offs.  

The writer discusses the notion of “hook cycles” that have the ultimate goal of “unprompted user engagement”, or what makes these products first novel and then indispensible.  Addressing a readership of product managers, designers, marketers, start-up founders, and anyone who seeks to understand how products influence our behavior, Hooked is a must read for anyone with a vision who appreciates concrete research and step-by-step call to action for ongoing customer engagement.

Information courtesy of


5 Must-Have Books for Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs

Whether you are a seasoned pro or just getting started with introducing a new concept to the market, these books have some timely and time-honored tips.

Susie AlmaneihSome things don’t change when it comes to getting a new product into the world.  But if social media and technology have taught us anything, it’s that innovation depends on blunders, accidents, big mistakes and relentless resilience.  These titles have some interesting points to add to the conversation about what it means to strike out on your own, what it takes to let an idea thrive and how to derive personal satisfaction from the startup process itself.

4 Hour Work Week  by Timothy Ferriss has become a household name for a few reasons.  He stops at nothing when testing an idea, even going as far as testing it on himself (nick-naming himself “the human guinea pig”).  This book put Ferriss on the map because he introduces a few concepts that can be very instructive, like “questioning your assumptions” and “minimum effective dose.”  He’s part self-help, part fitness instructor, part competitive tango dancer, and part Buddhist nerd who really enjoys learning new things.  This read can plant many motivating seeds in the fertile ground of risk and reward.

The Daily Entrepreneur: 33 Success Habits for Small Business Owners, Freelancers and Aspiring 9-to-5 Escape Artists  by S.J Scott & Rebecca Livermore.  

The subtitlespeaks for itself.  Corporate hierarchical culture is giving way to a more level playing field, a more experimental attitude towards productivity and a more reasonable work-life balance.  “Successful entrepreneurs aren’t always the ones with the most talent.  They face the same challenges that you and I face.  What sets them apart is their solid foundation of habits and daily routines.”  The authors take a look at some of the daily, automated and ritualized actions that contribute to success in small business.

The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future  by Chris Guillebeau discusses the concept of the microbusiness, the recent revolution at the ground floor where individuals with unique talents are learning how to build their dream jobs, or in the author’s words, “crafting a life of independence and purpose.”  He argues that big capital is not necessarily the best recipe for success, and his suggestions are fresh and outside the box.

Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future  by Ashlee Vance. What does the tech giant and visionary have to teach you about small business?  Well, the founder of PayPal nearly went bust trying to get that idea off the ground– while he was still in college.  Since then, he has successfully launched the most sought after electric vehicle and the concomitant infrastructure to propagate this new model of power, and now he is working on colonizing space.  Musk had great ambition, but he also surrounded himself with great minds and kept his contribution to human betterment squarely in front of him.  This is a great inspirational read because despite the size of his accomplishments, he is also very self reflective and critical in his analysis.  Vance is also a talented and interesting writer so she keeps the narrative bouncing along.

The Lean Startup  by Eric Ries examines the triumphs and tribulations of the best and the worst launches, trying to get behind the scenes and debunk the modern Horatio Alger story of the hard work and perseverance that enables a couple guys in a garage to change the world.  Ries takes a hard look at failure and just what can be gleaned from it, but more importantly, he spells out a step-by-step process for developing an idea as a way of condensing the concept for maximum impact.  This one really encourages the reader to rethink some of the presupposed processes in creating a startup.

If you are sitting at your desk dreaming of the big win, it may be time to turn to the literature for some energizing guidance.  Sometimes, according to these examples, the most outrageous ideas make it, and regular people can make some remarkable choices that change their lives and the market.  It’s not a coincidence that the way these thinkers define success by the quality of their experiences in bringing a new invention into the world, not by the success of the product itself.  So if we study the masters, we also may be able to achieve the personal exhilaration that comes from creating a new solution.

The 21st Century Woman: Educating and Encouraging the Next Generation in Leadership Roles

Supporting women in higher education is critical for the workforce and the culture.

Women are making profound strides moving into positions of power, and by virtue of this shift, sectors like tech, management and policy are changing at a fundamental level.  For every one man that graduates from college this year, three women will graduate. Our daughters will be running their own companies, many of them maybe as early as high school age if the current trends continue.

Susie Almaneih

Meredith Perry, CEO of uBeam

Take Meredith Perry, 25, the founder and CEO of uBeam, a wireless charging solution that converts electricity into ultrasound to charge remote devices.  Or there is Tiffany Pham, who is 27 and founded MOGUL, a content-driven platform for women to connect professionally.  While women are still outnumbered by men in the tech field, it’s worth noting that more young women are taking charge of their own projects and building their own companies.

This new influence has started to transform the former stiff shirt and tie of the corporate world.  Women are often credited with bringing a more collaborative approach to their work that empowers the people around them, rather than the old competitive model.  They value good work instead of long hours and they actively listen, which makes them great bosses.

How do we help the next generation of girls and women think of themselves as leaders, innovators and contributors?

One assumption that needs reexamining is the idea that girls are simply not interested in these pursuits.  A recent study on fourth graders indicated that boys’ and girls’ interest in science and math is about the same, but the girls’ engagement starts to drop off sharply once they reach eighth grade.  In other words, the notion that science is a man’s department starts to interfere with that interest.

Bias toward boys in the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) areas is still very much a factor.  In sex-segregated classes, boys are rewarded for critical thinking and analysis much more than girls.  But what researchers are finding is that when girls are actively encouraged, boys also benefit.

Another thing we can do is to start young.  Girls have traditionally been pushed away from trucks and gears and coaxed toward the Barbies.  And there’s nothing wrong with a little dress up, but by examining the early models we impress upon, our girls can have a huge impact on their aptitudes and sense of self.

Forward thinking designers, Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen founded Roominate, a company that creates toys designed to encourage girls toward spatial development, architecture and design. By getting girls involved at the age when play is the primary tool of learning, we can spark their interest in technical construction and design.

Math and science are relatively new frontiers for women.  While the gap is closing, the U.S. lags behind in developing the next wave of hard science professionals.  Young women, up until very recently, never even considered going into botany, biology, chemistry, physics or engineering.  High schools, colleges and universities are working to make up that gap by actively supporting women in these fields.  And it appears to be working, too; according to a recent study conducted by Pew Research Center, half of the women graduating from a four-year college in 2011 credited their education with their personal and professional development, where only 37% of men saw their college education as a growth opportunity.

Susie AlmaneihHaving positive role models inside and outside the classroom is a crucial piece for inviting girls into these roles.  Girls need concrete examples of successful women in leadership.  Rather than touting the exceptions to the rules, the Amelia Earharts and the Marie Curies, girls need to see real-life examples of everyday women out there innovating, organizing and evolving the workplace.  This also means having confident teachers who mirror inquiry, skill and achievement.

In fact, the White House Council on Girls and Women is actively pushing for STEM education because as women move into these fields that require higher education, the research shows that the income gap between women and men decreases. “If we’re going to out-innovate and out-educate the rest of the world, then we have to open doors to everyone,” said First Lady Michelle Obama, “We need all hands on deck. And that means clearing hurdles for women and girls as they navigate careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”

We have an incredible opportunity to harness the energies and passions of the next generation, and one way to do this is to foster a proactive approach in educating our girls.  Driving this relatively untapped source of talent not only contributes to the health of the workforce and the country’s competitive edge, it also sets our young women up for better quality of life.



The Upside of Failure

One needs not indulge in the words of Thomas Edison or Bill Gates to confirm that failure is not the mutually exclusive opposite of success. Failure is very much part and parcel of success, just as crawling and falling are the first and necessary steps to walking. While it is an unfair blanket statement to say no success was ever achieved without prior failures, it is fair, and even conducive to understand that no failure stands without the inherent potential for learning and improvement.

Elizabeth Gilbert, a once unpublished author, in her TED talk viewable here, constructs an argument based off of personal experience that success and failure are concerns external to, and thus irrelevant to, true achievement. While she may agree that failure is the intuitive launchpad to great innovation—showing what works by revealing what doesn’t—she places real emphasis on intrinsic passion, arguing that the consequences of an action (such as critical opinion for a work of art) do not matter to an individual who is sure of his goal, something Gilbert calls a “home.”

Facing intimidating competition in the realm of publishing, specifically from the recent release of “Eat, Pray, Love” in spite of its unfavorable succès d’estime, Gilbert considered giving up, dropping out of the race to moving to the country to pursue a different career path. For the first six years of her dedication to publishing a novel of which she was proud, she was rejected without pause. What kept her going was her belief. After being rejected, Gilbert always returned back to writing. She explains “I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego, which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself.” She later adds that writing is her “home,” or her sense of self. She adds “your home is that thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.”

After watching “Eat, Pray, Love” Gilbert said she found herself associating with the failing artist. She says this resonance is what showed her the connection between “great failure and the way we experience great success.” In her own words, “Failure catapults you abruptly… into the blinding darkness of disappointment.” “Success,” she adds, “catapults you just as abruptly…into the equaling blinding glare of fame and recognition and praise.” What she argues is the importance of either’s influence on the subconscious. Both failure and success are external evaluations of more personal, internalized goals.Gilbert realized, a true passion remains untouched by opinions and critique—good and bad. After her first book was published, and failed, Gilbert was relieved by an unexpected feeling; she felt “bulletproof.” She felt what anybody feels after completing a task that once seemed impossible. She grew stronger than her obstacles, she grew past her defeats, and she broke through—now, able to call herself an author. What’s more is her initial success pushed her to continue writing, no longer fearful of extrinsic concerns such as failure or success. She writes for herself, and that is why she is successful.