There is nothing worse for an interviewer than when a candidate sits down and looks like a petrified deer in the headlights. A tense candidate won’t reveal their true personality and nerves will get in the way of sharing their authentic career stories. The right ice breaker question can help both interviewer and candidate to relax.
Interviewers need a way of breaking down these barriers - even if it is a rather predicatable question to get the ball rolling. While some have an ability to put a candidate at ease with their mannerisms, others will try to break the tension with some small talk and a few ice breaker questions.
While these ice breakers will seem light-hearted, candidates still need to take a little care in how their answers could be interpreted. A small minority of interviewers will take the answers seriously, but that is enough to offer a considered (but still fun) answer.
Let your brain gently click into gear before the serious stuff comes along.
Everyone is different, so we couldn’t possibly offer model answers to these questions, although we can offer some advice around how you may wish to frame your various answers. A word of advice - don't get too deep or detailed with the repsonses. A light-hearted question demands a swift and witty answer.
In this blog we share a few of our favorite ice breakers in a job interview, together with a few thoughts around how to tackle them.
We have chosen eight icebreaker topics that crop up in most interviews:
- Get to know you icebreakers
- Fun ice breaker questions
- “If you could” questions
- Work-related ice breakers
- “Would you rather” questions
- One word ice breaker questions
- The worst ice breakers
- Illegal ice breaker questions
There are many more along these lines, but if you recognize any of these during your interview you can let down your guard a little. The interviewer simply wants to slow down the pace a little.
Preparing for each individual question is not the best use of your job search time, so go into any interview with an open mind and a readiness to think on your feet. Any variant on the following 100+ ice breakers might be asked, so answer the exact question rather than trying to squeeze in a potted answer that you have ready to go. Listen carefully for any subtext around what your answer might mean for the job.
How do you use icebreaker questions?
Recognizing an icebreaker question is important for a candidate as you know that you can be somewhat more relaxed in your answer. There is nothing worse than adopting a serious attitude to a question that is intended to relax you and get the conversation flowing.
Hiring managers may also deploy an icebreaker question when an interview is getting a litle intense and they need to take a moment to collect their thoughts. No interview will be full on for 60 minutes. There will be ebbs and flows in the conversation - icebreakers will slot in amodst the critical questions, so be careful not to let down your guard too much.
It should also be noted that icebreaker questions work both ways. While a candidate should not waste interview time engaging in meaningless small talk, there is much that they can learn about their future boss by asking a few gentle questions. Every interview should be a back-and-forth conversation, so don't be scared of joining in the banter for a little while if that is the vibe at any point.
Icebreakers have stood the test of time for corporate bonding exercises, so show some empathy and do your best to answer them with the right spirit. The hiring manager is not asking them becuase they can't be bothered to ask the tough questions. They are asking because they wish to reveal a different side of you.
Are ice breaker questions acceptable in an interview? Sometimes a question isn’t all about the answer you give. An ice breaker question can lighten the mood and help a candidate into a relaxed frame of mind. There will be plenty of serious questions, so sprinkling an interview with the odd light-hearted question is common. The interviewer is not trying to catch you out - they won't judge your reply too harshly.
In this article, we will be sharing different categories of icebreaker questions. There is no guidance for which context they may appear. This will depend on individual hiring managers. Even the most senior of CEOs might be asked some of the most basic questions - the trick lies in how they answer. What impact you make depends on you.
Getting to know you icebreakers
Every interview will start with a few gentle questions to loosen the tongue and help the candidate to feel comfortable. Some of them might be work related, there may be an element of small talk, but don’t discount a few left-field ice breakers early on. Interviewers want to get to know you and not every question needs to be serious.
Reply with the first thing that comes into your head. Leave your brain power for the harder ones to come later. Authenticity and spontenaity are important to make your later answers believable. These ones really aren't so deep.
- What’s your favorite place in the world?
- Which celebrity do you admire the most and why?
- What does your favorite film say about you?
- What do you get up to in your spare time?
- What is the most played song on your playlist?
- Name the most impossible thing on your bucket list.
- What would you do if you knew that you couldn’t fail?
- Tell me about something that happened that changed your values
- Why do you get up in the morning?
- When did you last do something for the first time?
- What has been your best purchase this year?
- What is a fact about you that nobody would guess?
Should you try to answer an ice breaker question with an answer that will reveal something deep and meaningful about you as a candidate? Well, no, not always. There are certain questions that are simply designed to job you out of the “serious answer” mode and reset the mood a little. Trying to give a serious answer to these jokey questions will seem inauthentic. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.
Fun ice breaker questions
An job interview is a stressful life experience, so fun ice breakers are intended to lighten the mood and decrease the levels of stress hormones that are coursing around your body. They are not there to catch you out and the answers won’t be over analyzed. The interviewers just want you to smile. Wanting to be a dragon in Game of Thrones won’t deny you the job.
These might be icebreaker questions for adults, but sometimes you just need to break the tension. The interviewer won't waste your or their time, so don;t roll your eyes when they ask you. Go with the flow. Answer a fun question with a smile on your lips but try not to laugh at your own answer before the interviewer does.
- If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
- What song describes your life at the moment?
- Which Game of Thrones character would you be?
- Complete the sentence “I wish my new boss would….”
- What new talent would you like to master?
- How would you survive a zombie apocalypse?
- What imaginary world would you like to live in?
- What meme makes you laugh the most?
- What would the title of your autobiography be?
- How would you spend a million dollars?
- What is your go-to emoji?
- What fictional family would you most like to join?
What are good hot seat questions? There are certain questions that make your face flush and your seat feel that little bit hotter. They are questions that you are not expecting, and you hesitate about how to answer. If the interviewer asks one of these ice breakers and you do not know what answer they might expect, just be honest and say the first thing that comes into your head. They want to get to know the real you, after all.
“If you could” questions
Everyone loves transporting themselves into a whimsical make-believe world. Imagination is a key attribute for many jobs, so these “if you could” questions will show an employer the boundaries of your possibility. The answers to many of these questions will be highly revealing about your personality, so take the time to think before you answer.
Okay, so this is a question that you should take a moment to ponder. Much of the interview will be about the yet-to-be-realized future, so give these questions a decent amount of thought and try to answer honestly. The interviewer is intending to ask something meaningful, so even if the question is a simple one, act as if you are taking the time to think carefully.
- If you could give your 18-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?
- If you could have an extra brain at work, how would you use it?
- If you could have just one superpower, what would it be?
- If you could achieve one thing on your first day, what would it be?
- If you could turn back time, what would you change?
- If you could take credit for any invention, what would you choose?
- If you could only have one app on your phone, what would it be?
- If you could no longer work, what would you do?
- If you could be played by an actor in a movie, who would it be?
- If you could be a mythological figure, what would you be?
- If you could do something out-of-character, what would you do?
- If you could write a bestseller, what would it be about?
What to do if an ice breaker question makes you feel uncomfortable? There are some jokes that just don’t hit the mark. If an ice breaker question is genuinely in poor taste, feel free to say that you would “prefer not to say,” or something along those lines. Is an interviewer who asks such questions someone that you would want to work with? Reserve your judgment though – interviewers can also be nervous and ask poor questions as a result. This is something that a candidate should let slide if at all possible - circumstances can vary.
Work-related ice breakers
The vast majority of questions in a job interview will be related to you or your potential at work in some capacity. The interviewer isn’t there for a nice chat. There is a category of ice breaker questions that are loosely related to your future role. While you should not be too serious in your replies, think about how your answer will be received.
Think about the context and culture of where you are hoping to work. How would your future colleagues answer these questions. Remain true to yourself, but manipulate your answer a little to suit the situation if you can. Something that would have been acceptable at a previous role may not be in the new one.
- What is the most useful lesson you have learned at work?
- Describe the characteristics of your office bestie.
- What is the worst task you have ever had to complete?
- How would your colleagues describe what you bring to their day?
- What attracts you about our workplace culture?
- What is your ideal remote-working view?
- What motivates you at work?
- If you had a personal assistant, what would they do?
- How would you describe your job to a five-year-old?
- What is worse – being late for work or having to leave early?
- Where would you like to be in ten years?
- Why will I be happy that I hired you?
What are some fun ways to start a virtual meeting? One common way of starting a virtual meeting when participants do not know each other is for each individual to ask the others a brief virtual ice breaker. Everyone gets to talk and feel involved. There is nothing worse than being on a virtual Zoom or Teams call and not speaking for the first 15 minutes. Ice breakers in virtual meetings are even more important than when meeting in real life.
“Would you rather” questions
A binary choice is a devious way of asking a question – especially if the interviewer doesn’t allow you to explain your reasoning (although this may reveal fascinating insights). If they ask enough of these questions through the interview, a solid picture will appear. Answer them honestly – if you are right for the job then the job will be right for you.
Give a swift answer and maybe a one-liner to explain. If the choice is a tough one, tell them that it is a tough call. Sometimes an employer will ask a different question precisely becuase they want to see how your minds works. Explaining your answer to a tough questions will give them more insight than a simple one-word answer.
- Would you rather swim in the sea or visit a museum?
- Would you rather be fiendishly clever or tear-inducingly funny?
- Would you rather run at 100km per hour or fly at 10km per hour?
- Would you rather time travel to the past or to the future?
- Would you rather be an eagle or a lion?
- Would you rather give up your smartphone or your laptop?
- Would you rather live without restaurants or without take away?
- Would you rather have universal respect or unlimited power?
- Would you rather detect every lie you hear or get away with every lie you tell?
- Would you rather have a third ear or a third eye?
- Would you rather chat on the phone or do a video call?
- Would you rather be criticized or be ignored?
What are other ways to lighten the mood apart from ice breaker questions? Both candidates and interviewers will welcome a relaxed atmosphere in an interview room, so expect comments about the weather, recent local events, sporting occasions or even little anecdotes about an interviewer’s day. A successful interview is a chat between two curious parties and not all of it has to be a question and answer back and forth.
One-word ice breakers
Certain interviewers do not have the time for rambling (and often irrelevant) ice breaker answers, so a barrage of one-word ice-breaker questions is a common tactic during a certain section of the interview. It gives the candidate a break from speaking so much and the targeted nature of the questions is highly revealing for both parties.
You should follow instructions to the letter in any interview. No matter how much you want to expand on your answer, if they ask for one word, replay with one word. You might receive a barrage of these quick-fire questions. Play the game and be a good sport. You'll never quite know what is going on in the interviewer's head. Keep it simple - the interviewer will appreciate it.
- Describe yourself at work in one word.
- How are you feeling right now – in one word?
- Describe your ideal boss in one word.
- Tell me about your career in one word.
- If you had one word on your t-shirt, what would it be?
- What one word would describe your proudest accomplishment?
- What is the one word that scares you the most?
- Describe your weekend in one word.
- What one word would you like me to remember you by?
- What one word would encompass your career goals?
- What word would describe your ideal job?
- If your epitaph had one word, what would it be?
Is “I don’t know” an acceptable answer to an ice breaker question? While “I don’t know” is a perfectly reasonable answer to a normal interview question when you are not able to even hazard a guess about the answer (it is best to be honest), most ice breakers are light-hearted and should not be avoided in this way. Think of some answer that doesn’t totally make you cringe. Not answering at all won’t reflect very well on you. You don't want your future employer to think that you lack imagination.
The worst ice breaker questions
There are certain ice breaker questions that simply cannot be easily answered. They are not illegal, but they are just awkward. Do your best to answer honestly, but don’t be too controversial with your answer. Be as brief and don’t take the time to justify what you have to say. Too many of these negative questions in a job interview might be a red flag.
These negatively tainted questions can lower the tone of an interview if not swerved swiftly. Keep your answer short and smile positively after answering in the hope that the interviewer will move on. Many of these questions are designed to trip you up. If the line of questioning is consitently negative, you might consider whether this is the sort of person that you want to work for. Negative questions are one of the classic interview red flags.
- What is your biggest weakness?
- When was the last time you failed? What happened?
- What do your co-workers hate about your personality?
- When did you last tell a lie? Were you found out?
- What makes a nightmare boss?
- What is the most embarrassing thing you've ever done?
- What do you do when you cannot control your stress?
- If you chose to pull a sickie, what excuse would you use?
- What is the worst job you have ever had?
- What would your arch enemy say about you?
- Have you ever cried at work?
- When were you last criticized unfairly?
Can you ask the interviewer an ice breaker? I would advise against a candidate turning the tables and asking the employer an ice breaker. The balance of power in an interview lies with the interviewer, so only they should be the ones choosing to lighten the mood. They decide the tempo and content. Ask great questions, but keep them sensible.
Illegal ice breaker questions
Anti-discrimination laws will vary across the world, but questions about age, gender, marital status, children, sexual preference, disability and many others are pretty much taboo. Do not feel that you need to answer these sorts of questions. Simply state “I would prefer not to answer this” and hopefully the interviewer will get the message and move on. The interviewer may well have asked in error.
Knowing your boundaries is crucial for a psychologically safe workplace. Any decent employer should respect this. If an illegal question slips out in the interview, politely decline to answer. The interviewer may have made it in error, so don't get too principled about it. A decent hiring manager will understand why are are unwilling to answer.
- Have you ever seen a therapist or have issues with mental health?
- Are you currently pregnant or intending to start a family soon?
- How do you feel about managing men / women?
- How many sick days did you take last year?
- Have you ever had any issues with gender discrimination?
- How old are you? How long have you been working?
- How many children do you have? What are your childcare arrangements?
- How much do you weigh? Do you maybe plan on losing weight?
- How much longer do you plan to work before you retire?
- Do you have a disability that would make it difficult to do your job?
- Do you drink, smoke, take drugs or have any other bad habits?
- How do your religious beliefs affect your working relationships?
Life is filled with opportunities to answer ice breakers. Practice before your job interview. We meet new people all the time and you would be surprised by just how many ice breakers are asked during our everyday interactions. Answer in a light-hearted way but try to include some real insight into who you are. Ice breakers teach us a lot about each other.
I have enjoyed writing this blog (but not as much as interviewers will enjoy asking these questions and seeing you squirm), so here are five final positive ice breakers to ponder:
- Why do you want this job?
- What makes you happy at work?
- What do you love about life?
Question 100 could be the most important: 100. Why will I like working with you?
Lastly, the ice breaker to end all ice breakers: 101. Do you prefer coffee or tea?