Over your career, especially the early days, you will be exposed to some toxic interview questions. In this post I list the most egregious ones that I have heard of, give sample answers of what one might wish to respond with, which are not all mine, and close with a discussion that is 100% mine.
Question: What is your biggest weakness?
Answer 1: Kryptonite.
Answer 2: My inability to suffer fools easily.
Discussion: The problem with this question is that it is demeaning. An interview is an already stressful experience, why ask a question that will never be answered honestly without being detrimental to the job seeker? The successful candidate for this question is dishonest.
Q: Describe a decision you made that was a failure.
A: Taking my current job.
D: Similar to the problems with the above. The successful candidate for this question is dishonest. Can be better modified to “Please explain using actual examples your thinking and reactions to a major challenge.”
Q: Why do you want to leave your current job?
A1: I don’t like it.
A2: You pay more.
D: These are the only two answers that make sense, but what is expected is usually praise for the interviewer’s employer. Expecting the applicant to gush all over the interviewer’s company is simply asking them to be sycophants. Not an auspicious start to a professional relationship. Or any relationship. The successful candidate for this question is dishonest. The successful candidate for this question is a kiss ass, with predilections to corporate politics.
Q: What makes you think that you are qualified to work here?
A1: Isn’t that your job to figure out?
A2: Isn’t that why we’re having this interview?
D: The question really is in two parts. The first is useful: “What are your qualifications.” The second part, “Do your qualifications match the company’s needs” is not one the applicant can answer, at least not alone. The interviewer would have to provide a detailed job description. The successful candidate for this question is a mind reader. A bitter first taste of things to come?
Q: Why should we hire you?
A: Why should I work for you?
D: The error here is one of form over function. Better would be “Explain your relevant qualifications as you understand them.” A little less arrogance please. The successful candidate for this question is obsequious.
Q: Where do you expect to be in 5 years?
A: Running a franchise of Madam Zsa Zsa’s fortune teller stalls.
D: The only two options are that the applicant takes his boss’s job and his boss is let go OR the applicant takes his boss’s job because his boss is promoted. We return to the problem of this question asking the applicant to be obsequious.
Q: What makes you think that you will be successful in this job?
A: Your belief in me, your positive support and your mentoring.
D: The implied assumption in this aggressive question is that the base scenario is that the applicant will not be successful. Now that’s not nice, is it? The successful candidate for this question has low self-esteem.
Q: What motivates you?
A: Getting a paycheck, working a job that doesn’t suck and avoiding getting fired.
D: Again, what else is there? Passion? Making a difference? They are what I would call higher level motivations. They don’t come into play until the basic foundations are taken care of. Ask Maslow. The successful candidate for this question is a bullshit artist.
Q: Tell me about a time that you misjudged a person.
A: Every time that I think someone is kind, loyal, trustworthy or decent I turn out to be completely wrong.
D: Every single time you meet someone new you misjudge them. How can you not? You have so little information. As you interact with this person, you continuously improve your misjudgment to a slightly better misjudgment until after 40 years you conclude that you don’t know this person. What is the value of this question? The successful candidate for this question is a sociopath.
Q: What salary are you looking for?
A1: The highest you would pay.
A2: Whatever the latest Hay’s report indicates.
D: This may be a valid question for more senior applicants, but for the majority of people, it really is not fair to them to ask them this question since the information asymmetry is strongly in the interviewer’s favour. Why do companies want to start off an employer — employee relationship by rigging the salary negotiation completely against the applicant? The successful candidate for this question is meek.
Q: How do you balance life and work?
A1: What’s this thing I keep hearing about called a “life”?
A2: I have no power over the work part, it is in the hands of whichever sadistic boss I inherit. After he squeezes every last drop of production from me, I’ll collapse on the couch, empty of any human dignity or energy, staring at the TV, comfortably numb.
D: I don’t think any further discussion is needed here.
An interview should not be degrading. It should not require sycophantic behaviour. It should not make the applicant feel bad about themselves. If you behave in this way, then don’t come crying to me about the high level of corporate politics in your work place, or when your employees won’t give you 100%, or when they jump ship at the first opportunity.
You reap what you sow.