The top icebreaker interview questions you should be asking

While icebreaker questions may be dismissed as idle small talk, the first questions hirers ask candidates can set the tone for the entire interview. Icebreaker questions also have a significant impact on helping a candidate feel comfortable.

Research has found that taking a few minutes to build rapport at the start of an interview can have a substantial influence on hirers’ perception of candidates. Not only do icebreaker questions help candidates get comfortable for the interview, they are also a way of informally gathering information about individuals.

Why icebreakers are so important

Icebreakers are generally used as a way to ease a candidate into an interview, but Yvonne Walker, the founder and managing director of HR with Ease, says there is another important purpose to the questions.

“All questions should aim to obtain information,” she says.

“Don't waste any opportunity to collect data. Good icebreaker questions ask for information that the hirer can use.”

Get an interview off to a great start

To reduce anxiety and to break the ice after the initial meet and greet, Jodette Cleary, the chief people officer at Hipages, always asks candidates if they would like a tour of the office.

“This way people see how we work in real time, observe the culture directly and see the work spaces and some of the benefits we provide,” she says.

“It also gives a chance to 'chit chat' and we get a sense of one another’s personality and communication style.”

Best practice icebreaker questions

Cleary initially tries to remove any potential worries.

“Often there could be a time concern causing anxiety,” she says. “If a candidate is meeting before work or on their lunch break they may be very conscious of this, thus impacting the way they communicate and answer questions.”

Cleary then asks:

“We have set aside x minutes today for this interview, is this still okay for you and do you need a hard stop at the end of this time?”

Cleary also likes to ask a broad icebreaker question that begins to explore if the role and challenge is a good fit.

“What do you need in your job or company to get you jumping out of bed and excited to come to work each day?”

While the following question may not seem relevant on face value, Walker says for some roles it can be very useful.

“What do you do with your spare time?”

“If you’re hiring for a role requiring creative flair, you want someone who genuinely demonstrates interest in being creative by what they do in their free time,” she says.

Cleary also tries to pose questions that investigate what excites and drives a person.

If you won $50 million dollars, how would you spend it and what would you do?”

“Often beyond the immediate role or team there are things happening or planned in the company that an individual would be able to contribute to that is a great fit for their interests and passion,” Cleary says.

She also likes to throw in a question where she asks:

“If you were not in the room, how would your boss describe you and if they were to rate your overall performance out of 10, what rating would they give you?”

“This provides insight into the style of manager they work best with,” she says.

“In addition, the characteristics they highlight give you insight into their motivations and values too.”

Recruitment is not an exact science and Cleary notes that sometimes, despite a great interview and reference checks, candidates may not fit the role or company.

“You typically don't have a long time to get to find out all of this information,” she says.

“Icebreaker questions help you to get to vital insights quickly.”