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Interview Questions You Should Never Ask

Posted by Murphy, Mark at Friday, 10/26/2012 9:23 am
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3.1 from 38 votes
There are two categories of interview questions that are basically useless.

These questions, while quite popular with many organizations, render little to no valuable information. Instead, they can actually create uncertainly and confusion and taint your candidate evaluations. Finally, they eat up time, something every hiring manager could use more of.

If you currently use any of these questions, or questions like them, eradicate them from your hiring process.

Easily Gamed Questions

There are three interview questions candidates rarely answer candidly:

Tell me about yourself.
What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses?

It’s not that these are inherently bad questions, but the majority of interviewees are ready for them. They have a pre-planned and rehearsed answer for each. And if you do run into a candidate that stumbles over their response, or acts like you’ve just asked them to do long division in their head, well, they obviously aren’t the high performers you seek anyway.

You need to find out this information, but an interview is not a test of the candidate’s skill in reciting scripted answers; it’s to find out how they will perform when they’re working for you. To further prove this point, think about the answers you usually get when you ask, “What are your weaknesses?” Typically, you hear things like:

I work too hard.
People tell me I care too much.
I’m too much of a team player.
I can be a perfectionist.

If someone was actually to respond to this question with a reply such as, “I have a violent temper, and I stalked my last boss,” or, “I hate people, and I can’t stand taking orders,” then perhaps this line of questioning would have value. But how often does that happen?

Hypothetical Questions

Questions that ask, “What would you do if,” invoke an answer that reflects an idealized version of who the person thinks they are. And despite what we might like to believe, there’s a huge gap between our hypothetical and real selves.

Most people will say that if they saw a complete stranger being assaulted in a public place, they’d either rush in to help or immediately call the police. But that’s only hypothetical. They might actually freeze with fear, or maybe, in an effort to protect their life, they’d run away from the scene of the crime and then call the police. You just never know until you’re actually in the moment.

There was a news story about a Kansas woman who was stabbed during the robbery of a convenience store. The entire incident was caught on the store’s surveillance cameras. The stabbing was brutal, but that’s not why the story made national headlines. Footage from the surveillance camera showed five patrons stepping over the woman’s prone and bleeding body to exit; not one of them stopped or did anything to help. Only after all the witnesses had left the store did anyone call the police. The woman later died at the hospital.

There were dozens of online comments following the article, many that included statements of public outrage. Things like, “I’d never have walked away.” And yet, all five people in that store that day showed no hesitation in stepping over a dying woman to exit a bad situation. Maybe if at least one of them had stayed behind to help or to call 911, I’d have more faith in hypothetical responses. But they didn’t.

So the next time you feel tempted to ask a job candidate, “What would you do if two angry customers demanded your attention at the same time?” save yourself the time and trouble. Because whatever answer they give you is highly unlikely to predict what they would do in real life.

For more tips on asking the right questions when hiring, join us this Friday October 26 at 1:00 PM Eastern for our webinar "Hiring for Attitude".

  • David Towler Better questions aren't the only way to get at a candidate's attitudes or aptitudes. Only fools will answer such questions "truthfully". Assessments that test skills, aptitudes and attitudes will weed out the prepared "answer-givers" while accurately identifying the individuals who can demonstrate competence in the skills or personality styles demanded by the position being applied for. Creative Organizational Design can provide these.

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