5 Stupid Interview Questions (And How To Answer Them)

by Rich DeMatteo on October 26, 2009 · 28 comments

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1. Why do you want this job?

This question fails so hard.  A recruiter/hiring manager needs to gauge your level of interest in their position and organization, obviously .  Initially, candidates can prove that by submitting a resume/application for the opening.  Also, not that employers have time to read them, but cover letters should be very specific as to why you’d like to work for their company and particular position.  Study your cover letter and use it to answer this question.  Even without preparation, most people can BS a great answer on the spot.

2. What are your greatest strengths?

Quickly becoming extinct, most organizations have removed the question from their interview strategy.  To answer, check the job description for essential skills listed.  Use this list to create  your own personal greatest strengths.  No, I don’t condone lying but the company should be punished for its use of such a terrible question.

3. What are your greatest weaknesses?

Barf.  Also becoming extinct, this question is far worse than asking candidates about their strengths.  Most candidates assume a strong answer would be something like, “I work too hard, or care too much about the projects I’m assigned”, hoping to make a positive aspect of themselves sound negative.  At this point, recruiters/hiring managers have heard enough of those sugar coated answers and their interest is in your true weakness.  If you must answer this question, go about it smartly.  Again, review the job description for important skill sets, traits, and essential job functions.  Once you know what skill sets are important to the job, you’ll also know skill sets NOT important.  Create a few weaknesses that aren’t important for the position, and utilize those for your answer.

4. How would your co-workers describe you?

What a waste of time.  Isn’t the reference check enough?  When asked this question, be very specific.  Example, “When I worked with Tom at Google, he always said I worked best with our customers.”  State a name, the company, and something that reflects your value.  An example of something not to say is, “Bob told me I smiled a lot.”  Easy enough, right?

5. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Terrible.  Absolutely terrible question.  Loyalty is gone.  Employers don’t expect you to stay for 5 years, and I’m sure you feel the same.  People take whatever they can from an employer (money, skill) and move on.  There will always be people who end up staying with a company for 20 years, but its growing increasingly rare to see.  To answer, be broad.  Be honest, but be broad.  State a few of your career goals, but don’t mention the exact position or company you hope to work for.  If your interviewing with a “stepping stone” company don’t let them know it.

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23 comments
Jackson S.
Jackson S.

I have been asked all of the above questions. It would be nice to have a few HR staff who are a bit more creative!

Mitch
Mitch

You know, I've had ALL of those questions in the course of a single interview. Not only that, but since it was a multi-interview session, I was treated to the same questions more than once. I've thought a lot about my answers to those questions and how I would respond if asked again. I don't know if my answers will be any more effective next time, but I hope that they will at least be more creative and better expressed.

jim
jim

if you desperately need the job, which of course is what the interviewer thinks, they can be smug and ask all sorts of these (typically asinine, often invasive, irrelevant) questions. This is one of the reasons why I spent so many years studying computer science. I wanted to basically be able to pick a nice company, and ignore these a**holes. Of course it's easier said than done, but it's better to work for sh*t pay, than for a**holes, my opinion anyway.

Mike
Mike

My personal fav. was when i was asked "why is a tennis ball fuzzy?" Really? I mean so far from revelant how ever the fuzz is designed to cause "grab" from the racket and asert spin. Or causeing a smaller airwake which allows for a better trajectory. ;-)

Laurie Holman
Laurie Holman

I actually saw a suggestion by a job search consultant, who shall remain nameless, that a candidate answer the question "What are your weaknesses?" with the response, "What are YOUR weaknesses?" Yikes! The consultant wasn't kidding, either. The rationale for this was to bring the interview on a more equal footing. While I'm all for a mutual-benefit mindset, I still find this advice pretty appalling. When I tactfully suggested why this wouldn't be a good idea, in a way that made it obvious that it wasn't very good advice, the consultant didn't post my response.

mrcloud
mrcloud

I believe that all hiring power for companies should given back to the managers like it used to be.HR has no idea of what a good canidate is for most of their departments.The local manager/dept is where the rubber meets the road.Do you really think that all these bogus questions really guage any real qualities of say a programer,eletronics tech,or mechanic.20 years ago I was hired on with a fortune 500 company.I was interviewed over the phone by a manager (that new the trade and knows what it takes to do the job) from 1500 miles away and was hired.Today this would rarely happen because HR has to meet with you and ask all these stupid illrelevent questions.

Jonathan Hyland
Jonathan Hyland

I'm a big fan of behavioral interview questions, if only because they are at least partially objective questions. Sure the candidate could BS a response, but the truth is only a reference check away. I believe if you have a healthy combination of situational and behavioral questions you can get at a lot of good stuff. Here's a suggestion: ask a behavioral question, then re-phrase that question as a situational one, but ask it further down the line. It's a research concept called a "manipulation check"; if the answers to the two questions are radically different, then someone's fudging the response. The mention of these questions as "traditional" makes me puke. "Tradition" is just another word for "I'm too lazy to change" and "Well, it hasn't gotten us in trouble yet, so..." You aren't going to get the best talent asking them what they think about themselves (trust me, they think very highly).

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Most smart interviewers that ask those questions, simply ask them because they are busy. They may not have time to really look into better methods, or questions that will help them screen candidates. My guess is, for someone like you, it's more about a portfolio. They need to know your creativity, and the professionalism of a resume helps too. The interviewer most likely knew you were a fit for the position as soon as he/she saw your resume or your previous work. They could have asked #3 as their formality. You didn't answer it wrong. You answered it in a way to get the position, and it worked. I just don't like the question in terms of the company. The company has no idea if you are telling the truth in this situation. You'll obviously say whatever you think will get you the job, and they know it. Good work on the answer!

Eric
Eric

I got question #3 for my current position several years ago. "What are your greatest weaknesses?". Obviously no one likes to admit their flaws, especially on an interview. But, I said I was a perfectionist and tried to spin it as a positive quality. In my line of work, perfectionism is crucial but time is also important. I had to walk a fine line while answering this but feel that my answer was well received. I did get the job, after all.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

John, this is quite common. HR has many jobs and one of them is ensuring that the hiring process is done correctly, legally, and in the best interest of the company. HR needs to save all paperwork, including notes from an interview for each candidate that interviewed. More common in the larger organizations, but smaller companies should follow the process as well. Glad you enjoyed behavioral. Do you remember any of the questions that were in the behavioral category?

John
John

At my last job, I was a supervisor in charge of hiring for my department. We were given a sheet of questions developed at our corporate office which we had to use in our interviews for candidates. We not only had to ask each question, but we had to recod their answwer AND grade them after the interview before submitting the paperwork to HR. Ever hear of this before? Anyway, I hated it. The interview, though, was designed to be a mix of traditional and behavioral interviewing questions, which I thought was rare. I definitely preferred the behaviorally-based questions, and completely loathed the traditional ones.

Elisa
Elisa

Haha, I actually had to whip out #3 in an interview this past week. It's one of my most hated. Yet I had this punk of a candidate feeding me line after line like a robot programmed to smile, blink and answer according to an interviewing manual. So I pulled it out and threw it like a grenade. His response...a pause for a moment...then "I can't really think of any weaknesses I have off the top of my head." Needless to say the rest did not go well. Sometimes these interview questions have to come out when you need to bring an interview down to a level that is conducive to the candidate. Course sometimes you just need to say "I think we've discussed enough," and lead them out of your office. :)

Jenny
Jenny

One of my friends was talking about how stupid question #3 was and his idea for a great answer was to say that one of his weaknesses was picking out personal weaknesses. I think it would be pretty fantastic. Social fantasy #4,567.

Mike
Mike

most simple answer I am a workoholic

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Mr. Cloud - thanks for your comment, appreciate your thoughts here. Unfortunately, you've dealt with HR programs that don't "get it". HR can be very strategic, and I disagree with you here, but I understand why we disagree. Some of those bogus questions are asked by the hiring manager, and not HR. HR is the group that is learning to NOT ask those questions. In most cases, these questions are a means of pre-screening, and not on the actual interview. HR usually handles a pre-screen interview and then passes onto the hiring manager for a more technical interview, although I don't believe in HR pre-screens. I believe that managers should be trained on how to pre-screen to create an easier facilitated process.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Jonathan - glad to have an HR buff like myself join the conversation. I do agree with you on that a candidate may be able to BS a response, but in my training (as I'm sure yours) we are taught to probe until the cows come home. A great deal probing means a whole stuffing of lying from the candidate if they choose to BS an answer. Some people are wonderful liars and story tellers (maybe our friends in sales), but most candidates won't last even 2 minutes of probing before coming up short. Maybe I've been brain washed, but I'm very concerned with what someone has already done, as opposed to what they might do. But, I am very interested in this "manipulation check", research concept. Maybe we could talk off line about it at some point so I can learn more. Lazy is exactly how I'd describe it. Even if it HAS got them in minor trouble, people won't work to change it until something radical happens. Great stuff, thanks for your reply.

John
John

Yes, they were very specific, but along the lines of "In a previous job, how did you handle..." or "If this happened, how would you..." or "What is an issue a client came to you about at your other jobs that you felt you had handled well?"

M.A.
M.A.

Elisa, sometimes you may want to consider the "punk" candidate. The questions that are posed in interviews seem to make any company less than desirable to work for anymore. . . .. Can't you all come up with something bettera? Maybe your candidates will be able to do the same.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

That is where the beautiful Behavioral Interview is so fantastic. Even if people tell you otherwise, candidates can't train for Behavioral. Candidates have told me it's the hardest, but best interview they've been on. It's my specialty, after training in Boston for it, and then training my entire company on it I've realized that I

Laurie
Laurie

I got every one of those idiotic questions at an interview yesterday. What they really needed to ask before the interview was "how old are?" and then when told 42 they could have saved me the time and gas to get to the interview. They obviously were only interested in young inexperienced people.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

That is a great answer, funny, but if you'd actually want the job of course a polite/non-sarcastic answer would work best. But hey, if your not feeling the job then go for it. I'm sure the recruiter/manager would get a kick out of it too to be honest.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Behavioral interview always looks at specific situation. So, you are correct when you say the "how did you handle...?" part in terms of BI. Behavioral Interviewing is all about exact situations that have already happeend. When you ask "If this happened, how WOULD you....", that does not belong on Behavioral Interviewing, that is called Situational Interviewing. It's not as effective. In that scenario, someone can make up a GOOD answer. It doesn't prove that's how they would actually handle it. A key word is WOULD. Change the word WOULD to DID and it will make it behavioral. In behavioral, all questions start off with... Explain a time in detail when.... Tell me about a time when..... How DID you handle... Things like that. Thanks for your comment and adding value to COTJ.

Troy
Troy

Can u post some insight on how to Ace a Behavarioal Interview . I had one for a awesome job with Children's Hospital and blew it. For example: Give me a example on how you showed vision on a Project with the project objective not quite clear.