HR has rustled up a great group of candidates to fill your empty staff position. They seem smart, eager and perfect fits on paper. So how do you know which one is the best?
You’ll never find out if you’re still sticking with lame interview questions.
They’re questions Ellis Chase, HR director at the former Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, refers to as “flat-out dumb.”
But they’re still on many many managers’ interview checklists. And they’ll never get you what you need from prospective employees.
Here are 4 of the top offenders you need to eliminate TODAY – and what to ask instead:
1) ‘Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?’
Why it’s banal: Potential employees, if they’re smart, aren’t going to say anything that doesn’t resemble “Why, working here, of course!”
Quality candidates who are asked this question at every job interview probably have whittled down their answer to: “I just want to be working at a job I love at a place where I love to do it.” (Snore). They know it’s a fishing expedition by hiring managers to assess how quickly they’ll be looking for a job elsewhere. Nevertheless, some managers still think candidates will come up with an out-there answer like, “I plan to retire to Nepal and be on my first attempt to summit Mount Everest.”
What you’re REALLY asking: “Do you see yourself in this profession in five years, and if you do, are you still working for us?” Or more bluntly, “You’re not planning to quit after a year and a half, are you?”
What you SHOULD ask: “What are your career goals for the next 5 years?”
Why this is better: Now you’re truly getting a feel for a candidate’s desired career path, not only in your position and company but also for the future. You can (and should) ask candidates about their goals without forcing them to predict “where they’ll be.” You’ll get a good idea about whether the candidate takes the job seriously, or is just using your position as a stepping stone to some loftier goal.
2) ‘What’s The Thing You Liked LEAST About Previous Jobs?’
Why it’s banal: If they’re in your office for a job interview, chances are they:
- were fired from a previous job
- were laid off from a previous job
- voluntarily left/are leaving a previous job.
So they probably have a list of negatives as long as your arm. Regardless, employees don’t want to badmouth former (or current) companies in interviews – it’s considered bad form. But here you are, asking them to do it!
What you’re REALLY asking: “Tell us something you hated about your previous bosses/coworkers/places of employment so we can predict if you’ll hate the same stuff at OUR company.” Candidates who are worth their salt will see right through this.
What you SHOULD ask: “How have other positions you’ve had fostered your career goals?”
Why this is better: It’s smart to ask candidates about their expectations for a job position. Asking them to recount how previous positions did or didn’t help them meet career goals can shed light on what candidates are looking for in a new position – and if the one you have is a right fit for them.
3) ‘What’s Your Biggest Weakness?’
Why it’s banal: That’s not why the job candidate is there. He’s in your office in an expensive suit to tell you why he can do the job you’re hiring for, not why he can’t. He’s armed with a resume and reference letters to wow you with his skills, not to talk about why he has a hard time making decisions or fears public speaking.
The worst thing about this question is that most candidates feel compelled to answer it. It’s very “Dr. Phil” in this day and age to be able to own your shortcomings. It makes you seem appropriately self-aware. Only the snootiest job seekers would risk shrugging, “Gee, I can’t think of any weaknesses!”
What you’re REALLY asking: “Give me an idea of why I’m going to be freaking out in six months because I was dumb enough to hire you.” Well, at least that’s what it sounds like.
What you SHOULD ask: “Tell me about a work problem/situation you had to resolve, and why it was difficult.”
Why this is better: It’s the great equalizer. Everyone has dealt with a work-related problem if they have job experience, or even a school situation if your candidate is fresh out of college. It asks the candidate to think about how he or she handled a situation and what could have been done better. The question creates empathy, not judgment, and will more likely get an honest answer out of an interviewee.
4) ‘Why Should I/We Hire YOU?’
Why it’s banal: “Because I live around the corner?” “Because I have a nice face?” “Because I really, REALLY want the job?” You’re fishing for some sort of magic answer, and candidates know it, which puts them in the awkward position of trying to outsmart you with an answer.
What you’re REALLY asking: “Explain why you’d be a great addition to our organization.”
What you SHOULD ask: “Explain why you’d be a great addition to our organization.”
Why this is better: Because you just come right out and ASK! This allows candidates to show you what they know about the company, the position, and what would be required if hired. They were intrigued by your job opening – now’s their chance to tell you why.
It also gives candidates an opportunity to tell you something about themselves that you might not find on their resume. It gives them the chance to brag a little. Most of all, it’s a question that will get you a genuine answer.
10 Interview Questions
to Weed Out Bad Fits
Ever wondered how this idiot got hired? Well, it’s because you didn’t ask the right questions during the job interview. Download this FREE handy list of questions that will help you keep it from happening again..
Rose Biegle says
I recently went for an interview with a five-person board, and it was the interview from Hell. The two main interviewers – the only men- were totally adversarial. One of them asked the stupidest questions, including “What would you say is your greatest weakness and your greatest strength?” He practically yelled it at me. He also asked, “You say in your resume that you are in charge when the director is not in the building. What is the longest time you’ve been in charge?” If he had read my resume, he would’ve known I had four years experience of being a director myself in a smaller organization. The other fellow kept saying that they were only going to offer a very short probationary period of about 4-6 weeks, vs the usual 6 months in the field. He said something to the effect, “You’re probably concerned about your career, so I’m letting you know this.” I would never leave a decent job for a job where you could be out on your ass if you sneeze wrong. I doubt they’re going to offer me the job, but if they did, I’d have the pleasure of saying “No way.”
Phil Grimes says
Rose, I think it says something about the company if the majority of the hiring team is female, yet the two males are the main questioners. maybe they like to sit back and see how you react to the “attack dogs”, but it likely says in what regard the management holds the opinions and judgment of females. Run away. Run away fast.
Phil Grimes says
I have an observation on the “4 Stupid Interview Questions” post.
Question 1 is “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
However, in the white paper download “10 Interview Questions
to Weed Out Bad Fits”, Question 4 is “Where do you see yourself being two years from now? Five
years from now?”
So is it a good question or a stupid question?
John Walston says
Good catch…. I’m going to have to rethink this some.
I agree with more sensible versions of interview questions. What about the interviewees who are so adept at lying to any question and coming across as a great candidate? This happened recently and the person did not have any of the required skills and did not resemble the person interviewed at all. In fact was aggressive and disrespectful to try to cover a lack of skills. 7 weeks later I am back to square one with a more cynical approach to interviewing even though I have been interviewing for many years. Thank goodness for probation periods. Such a convincing interview, yet completely fake. Panel of 3 highly experienced interviewers, all fooled.
Terry Simons says
Rose must have been interviewed by the same five guys I was interviewed by. Aside from the question regarding the longest time one has been in charge, as per Rose Biegle, and the stupid question and statement about the short probationary period, the absolute dumbest questions I’ve been asked were “Do you get sick often?” and “What would be the first thing you would change here.” The latter was asked as soon as I had walked into the interview. I told them that without having worked in their organization before, there is no way I could assess what needed to be done immediately. I suggest one thing that needed changing (other than this board of fools) was their webpage. It was hard to read (crowded, poor use of fonts, etc.) and it was difficult to find out information from. I noticed one of the board members looking sheepish. The blowhard who lead the interview said, pointing to the other guy, “He designed it.” Yeah, not only did I know I wasn’t going to get the job, but I knew I didn’t want to work there. Period.