I have been in an ongoing interview process for several years due to either moving or a change in our family’s situation. I will preface this post by saying that we have moved a lot… and not just across the town or down the street, but around the world.
I have been on both sides of the table– as a potential candidate and as an potential employer. I can tell you that it doesn’t matter who, what, or where you are. The same pointless and inane interview questions always seem to creep into the conversation.
It’s as if we all do a quick search for ”Five Best Interview Questions” mere seconds before the candidate is supposed to arrive… Well, I am here to say “Stop. Just… stop.”
Here are the five interview questions you should STOP asking and why:
1. Why do you want to work for this company? Why do want this job?
Truthful answer: “I really need a job right now. I think I’m a good fit for this one and I will certainly try my very best at it.”
Why this is a stupid question: No one will answer this question truthfully, because the truth is painfully boring. I’m not saying that you can’t or won’t ever find your dream job– that brilliant and magical place where your passions, interests, and past experience perfectly align. Then again, I’m also not going to tell my children that Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy aren’t real.
But first and foremost, for a majority of people throughout a generous portions of their lives, the reason anyone looks for a job is because they need it to put food on the table, shoes on their kids, and a roof over their heads.
Reason employers ask this: They aren’t trying to gauge your interest in the position or company, but rather your motives for applying. If you are miserable at your current job, what’s to say you won’t be miserable with this one? If you are looking for a promotion, let’s explore why you have not gotten promoted at your current company.
Chances are the company will ultimately select a more ambitious applicant who is excited and interested in the company We all KNOW that. So that game is to be lovable so that you can make a good impression and use it to leverage your negotiation power.
A better question to ask: Anything else.
If this position is similar to the one that the applicant currently hold or most recently held, then ask why are they interested in moving. If it’s a step down or a different direction entirely, then ask them what prompted the change.
2. What is your biggest strength? What is your biggest weakness?
Somewhat Truthful Answer: Strength: I invented the Internet. Weakness: I am an outrageous liar.
Why this is a stupid question: Again. No one answers this question honestly. NO ONE. I’m never going to tell you that my true weakness is the hateful self-talk in my head or that I still feel guilty over things that don’t really matter.
See! Even now, I couldn’t tell you that my REAL weakness is my lack of will-power or that I know that I could lose 40 pounds if I could just be disciplined enough to stop looking at Pinerest at night and go to bed a decent hour, then get up a GO to the gym. It’s a multi-step process, okay. Lay off!
Also, I tend to be defensive.
Why am I not going tell you these things? Because they are irrelevant to the position or my ability to do a good job. Because even though I won’t go to the gym at 5am, I would come into the office at 5am to test all of the computer equipment and practice my presentation before the big client meeting at 9am.
The most common answers to both of these question are filled with sugar-coated fluff that we think the interviewer wants to hear. Also, it doesn’t take a genius to read the essential skills listed in the job description. Then, use this list to make up greatest strengths and weakness.
Reason employers ask this:
Lack of creativity. Incidentally, this question is asked in order to gauge how honest you are, as well as you’re ability to overcome obstacles and think strategically.
If you are applying for a customer service position and your biggest weakness is “talking to people”, then you probably aren’t going to be a great fit. However, if you say your greatest weakness used to be “talking to people”, but you overcame that by joining your local Toastmasters or taking management classes and now you lead a team of sales managers at your current job… then, you may have a leg up on the competition.
A better question to ask: Tell me what knowledge and skills you have to offer that would help you be a great ____?
Even better question to ask: Could you tell me the three to five things you would need to be a killer success at this job ?
3. What are your salary requirements?
Wishful Answer: I would like you to buy me a house… in the Bay Area… preferably next door to my friend, Jessica. Oh and I would like to paid in small bills and have them delivered to me by orcs. Not a Tolkien fan? I see. Okay, fine, fairies. I want my 10s and 20s flown to me by fairies.
Or… you can just pay me what you think this job is worth, which will in turn tell me how much you plan to value my contributions to your organization.
Why this is a stupid question: I am going to caveat this explanation by stating that this question is only stupid when it is asked before there has been a proper conversation about the role and responsibilities of the job. In my case, it often is… and it is an exhausting guessing game.
It is a dance that is best avoided with a little honesty and a little research. I can type in the words “Senior Social Media Strategist” into my search and come up the with following chart:
Is it true? Is it accurate? According to Simply Hired, where this chart was found:
Average senior social media strategist media salaries can vary greatly due to company, location, industry, experience and benefits. This salary was calculated using the average salary for all jobs with the term “senior social media strategist media” anywhere in the job listing.
Likewise, my salary requirements can vary greatly due to the commute, the hours, the amount of travel… and residual stress and disruption on my family life. It will also depend upon the level of the position within the organization, the responsibilities, the culture, the opportunity for growth, and the size and stability of the company.
And let’s be honest. Sometimes you will be willing to take a job just to have insurance benefits.
I UNDERSTAND ALL OF THIS. WHY DON’T YOU?!
Reason they are asking: Basic economics. If they can get you to work for them for less money than they were planning to pay for the job, then bully for them. On the other hand, I’ve filled out enough online applications to know that the box for salary does not have room for the word “negotiable”.
So what if you missed out on hiring me or someone else equally as awesome based on one stupid number that may not have mattered to me that much?
A better question to ask: This is what is budgeted for this position given your experience. Is that salary okay with you?
4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 10 years?
Long-winded truthful answer: On this day ten years ago, I was in the midst of an amazing summer. I had just graduated from college, was a year away from continuing grad school, and had just landed a great job. I lived with my two best friends and every weekend was a party. I decided I wan’t really interested in getting married or having a family. I was just going to live my life and be FABULOUS a la Carrie Bradshaw.
A month later, I met my husband. Stupid love!
Five years ago, I had just quit my job to be a stay at home mom and live the suburban dream. I was even looking at bigger houses in the neighborhood because we had already secretly talked about Baby #2. A few months later, I was in a flurry of selling everything we owned (even the house) because Mike accepted a job in London.
My point is, life is long and life is unpredictable. Very few people get a linear path and a steady course. Most of the time, things fall apart. You lose your way, but then you find a better way.
Why this is a stupid question: It’s awkward. It feels like a trap. You are forced to answer in terms of where you see yourself within the company, because any other answer will seem disloyal. On the other hand, saying something like “I will be your boss” sounds a wee bit cocky.
Reason they are asking: The question is a trap, but not the one you were expecting. It’s a chance for the hiring manager to suss out your long-term goals and where you expect your career to go. They want to hear your initiative, ability to think long-term, and what motivates you. They also what to set the expectations for the role and determine if yours are realistic.
A better question to ask: How do you think this position will take your career where you’d like it to be?
5. How would your co-workers describe you?
Shady, pompous answer: The bomb diggity, which is why I am interviewing with you. Are you kidding me with this question? Do your job and call my references. They can tell you what I delight I am in person!
Why this is a stupid question: You can’t read people’s minds. Even if someone seems to like you, you never really know what they think of you as a co-worker. You may be great friends after-hours, but your perennial whining about your boyfriend is a distraction at work. Or maybe they laugh at your jokes, but think you’re a jerk. So of course, people will err on the side of “get me this job” and embellish away!
In other words, it’s a lazy question and a total waste of time.
Reason they are asking: The interviewer actually wants to hear your little white lies. They want an idea of how you see yourself and what you believe are your most important and valuable traits.
A better question to ask: Could you provide some references for me? Followed by… a genuine conversation.
You can tell a lot about a person once they are at ease. So make them so– make small talk, ask casual, non-interview-y questions, or crack some jokes. Imagine what this person would be like at Monday morning status meeting.
Are there any typical job interview questions that YOU wish would be put to rest?