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6 Common Interview Questions … That One Trainer Says Are Uncommonly Bad

by
Todd Raphael
Feb 14, 2012, 5:43 am ET

That famous “what’s your biggest weakness?” question may be more ubiquitous than a Grande Frappucino, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good at determining whether someone’s a good candidate or not.

Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ and author of a book called Hiring for Attitude, says this question and many others used every day should be placed in the dustbin of history. It’s about a 7-minute video, below.


This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Eric Putkonen

    You should have included, “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” The odds are low you will be where you are in 5 years (the reality of the current state of affairs), but will you be hired if you say you will be somewhere else? This is a question from bygone days when people stayed with companies for life or at least many years.

  2. tua022012 ngo

    Hi,

    Thanks very much for this comment. It help me to think about my ideals.

    Tks again and pls keep posting.

  3. Ronald Katz

    Good interview, looking forward to part two. Another question to add to the trash heap is, “Why should I hire you?” As Mark pointed out you’re going to get a canned, non-informative answer. One key is that if you do feel you’re getting prepared, canned responses to your questions, get even more specific and probe the candidates about what they’re saying, don’t just write them off. If the candidate got as far as an in-person interview, they must have something going for them. Our job as recruiters is to find it.

  4. Keith Halperin

    Thanks, Todd. One person’s “canned answer” is another person’s “prepared and practiced answer to an interview question”. It sounds as if Mark is urging interviewers to ask questions for which an interviewee is unprepared. This puts a premium on a person who is able to think and speak well “on their feet” which is a useful skill to possess, but not one that seems critical to most positions that don’t involve substantial quick decision-making or crisis management.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  5. CJ van der Westhuizen

    Great video and looking forward to part 2! From my point of view (recruiter), the challenge is not always WHAT to ask… it’s influencing WHO should ask!

  6. Patti Breckenridge

    Don’t be too hasty about throwing out any question about a person’s weakness. Perhaps the question could we worded differently,like “What do you need to work on to become more effective?” But this is a very valuable litmus test. If a person answers that he or she can’t think of any area that needs improvement, you don’t want to hire them. Why? Because they don’t know how to accept constructive criticism. In fact,they will be shocked when you point out any error in judgment or shortcoming in performance. If an adult thinks they are fine just the way they are, you will not be the person who magically helps them see that there is room for improvement.

    Also, Keith’s point is valid. If you are screening for a position that requires someone to react quickly to questions, posing unexpected questions might be valuable. But it the position does NOT require that a majority of the time, evaluating people on their ability to respond to unexpected questions is NOT a valid method.

  7. Jerry Miller

    As in any interview scenario it’s not the questions you ask but what you do with the answers that counts. No matter how you frame the “weakness” question no one is going to answer in such a way as to disqualify themselves for the position. So I’m not sure what it says about someone that they can provide a “canned” or, as Keith says a “prepared and practiced” answer to that question. Frankly it’s a throw away question so why bother?

  8. Tataverty Prasad

    Good inputs by Mark Murphy and thanks to Tood for sharing this. Looking forward for the next part of the video.

  9. Eric Putkonen

    Patti Breckenridge,

    “If a person answers that he or she can’t think of any area that needs improvement, you don’t want to hire them. Why? Because they don’t know how to accept constructive criticism. In fact,they will be shocked when you point out any error in judgment or shortcoming in performance.”

    Your assumption is totally wrong.

    I never really know how to answer this question…and if you asked me this question right now, I can’t think of any area that needs improvement. I am not someone who focuses on my weaknesses…I focus on my strengths.

    I have no problem with criticism, constructive or otherwise. I don’t think I am infallible, so I wouldn’t be shocked when you point out an error in judgment or shortcoming.

    I don’t understand how someone can assume that because you don’t have a good answer for ‘weakness’, then you can’t take constructive criticism or recognize a shortcoming without shock. The two are not necessarily related.

  10. David Hafernik

    I have to agree with most of what was in the video. Far too many interviewers are lazy when it comes to interview preparation. The interviewer needs to speed more than just a minute or two reviewing a candidate’s resume before they interview them. The hiring manager needs to prep almost as much as the candidate needs to prep for the interview. Since most hiring managers are very business, they often don’t spend enough time prior to the interview getting ready. The candidate should be able to have the same expectation that the manager will be prepared for the interview as the manager has to expect that the candidate will be prepared. When the manager is not fully prepared, that is when a lot of these useless questions come out. They are not sure what to ask so they fall back on the same old questions that they have used for years instead of asking specific questions about a candidate’s background and skills.

  11. Keith Halperin

    @ Patti: Thank you.
    @ Eric: ISTM that it’s a serious weakness when someone doesn’t believe they have weaknesses or isn’t aware of what they are.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overconfidence_effect
    The overconfidence effect is a well-established bias in which someone’s subjective confidence in their judgments is reliably greater than their objective accuracy, especially when confidence is relatively high.[1] For example, in some quizzes, people rate their answers as “99% certain” but are wrong 40% of the time. Overconfidence is one example of a miscalibration of subjective probabilities.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optimism_bias
    Optimism bias is the demonstrated systematic tendency for people to be overly optimistic about the outcome of planned actions. This includes over-estimating the likelihood of positive events and under-estimating the likelihood of negative events. Along with the illusion of control and illusory superiority, it is one of the positive illusions to which people are generally susceptible. Excessive optimism can result in cost overruns, benefit shortfalls, and delays when plans are implemented or expensive projects are built. More generally, they are related to the initiation of military conflicts and the creation of economic bubbles.

    ………………………………………………..

    The two listings above when applied to recruiting, interviewing, and hiring are examples of Behavioral Recruiting- the application of Behavioral Economics to Recruiting.

    Cheers,

    Keith “Ask Me More About Behavioral Recruiting” Halperin
    keithsrj@sbcglobal.net

  12. Keith Halperin

    @ Patti: Thanks.

    @ Eric: ISTM that it’s a serious weakness not to believe that one has weaknesses or be able to say what they are.

    Overconfidence effect http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overconfidence_effect
    The overconfidence effect is a well-established bias in which someone’s subjective confidence in their judgments is reliably greater than their objective accuracy, especially when confidence is relatively high. For example, in some quizzes, people rate their answers as “99% certain” but are wrong 40% of the time. Overconfidence is one example of a miscalibration of subjective probabilities.

    Optimism bias http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optimism_bias
    Optimism bias is the demonstrated systematic tendency for people to be overly optimistic about the outcome of planned actions. This includes over-estimating the likelihood of positive events and under-estimating the likelihood of negative events. Along with the illusion of control and illusory superiority, it is one of the positive illusions to which people are generally susceptible. Excessive optimism can result in cost overruns, benefit shortfalls, and delays when plans are implemented or expensive projects are built. More generally, they are related to the initiation of military conflicts and the creation of economic bubbles.

    …………………………………………………

    The two listings above when applied to recruiting,m hiring, or interviewing are examples of Behavioral Recruiting- the application of Behavioral Economic principles to Recruiting.

    Cheers,

    Keith “Ask Me More About Behavioral Recruiting” Halperin
    keithsrj@sbcglobal.net

  13. Eric Putkonen

    @ Keith

    “@ Eric: ISTM that it’s a serious weakness not to believe that one has weaknesses or be able to say what they are.”

    You can call it a weakness, but what would the business impact be of not being able to say what your weakness are (focusing on them enough to know them off the top of your head)?

    Would testing it really find out that people who can not say what their weakness are…are bad hires…in a statistically significant way?

    I don’t see the correlation.

  14. Ross Clennett

    @david – spot on in my experience.

    And remembering that a ‘good performance’ at interview is not necessarily related to a ‘good performance’ on the job.

    Unless you are validating candidate interview answers through reference checks and assessment technology you are still mostly relying on gut instinct (ie may as well flip a coin).

  15. Keith Halperin

    @ Eric: ISTM it could imply a tendency to:
    make erroneous decisions based on conviction rather than fact with a limited capacity for self-correction, over-promise based on over-confidence, and an unwillingness to compromise. (These are critical business and personal flaws.) Think George W. Bush (probably the worst president in U.S. history) as a prime example….

    It could also mean that the person has a completely normal reaction to an interview question, and can’t think of an answer off the top of their head. Not being able to answer it wouldn’t indicate the probability of a bad hire any more than not thinking of an answer to any other interview question would be…I think how they didn’t answer the question could say a great deal.

    Cheers,

    Keith

  16. Eric Putkonen

    @Keith

    “could imply”

    “could say a great deal”

    “could also mean”

    There are too many coulds for me. If the question’s answer (a single non-answer more specifically) could mean so many things, then perhaps it is a bad question.

    Instead of inferring so much from so little, perhaps more direct questions would be better to dig into what is important (whatever that may be).

    That way we are not mis-inferring something and rejecting candidates for something that is not fact but based on our own assumptions.

  17. Keith Halperin

    @ Eric: My experience has shown that non-basic questions which can be answered “yes” or no” (or in other simple ways) aren’t very useful- the questions need to be open-ended, both to determine job competency and long-term likeability/fit. A great deal of the competency part (unless you’re giving a test) and virtually all of the likeability/fit part are based on assumptions- we need to be aware of that and of how how our inherent biases affect our decision-making. That’s what Behavioral Recruiting is for…

    Cheers,

    Keith

  18. Ryann Cheung

    I think some of the questions mentioned in the video could easily be turned to ‘useful’ with a bit of tweaking.

    With the exeception of — tell me about yourself/your resume/etc. As mentioned above, this is all to often a filler by the interviewer who has not prepped themselves and needs the “here’s me” ramble to actually read the resume for the first time.

    As far as the weakness question goes, I think we could get to a better/more realistic answer if we asked “What have you been told in your last review that you need to develop further?” (similar to Patti’s suggestion, but with a time-bound component)
    Turned this way, we can gather information on that very aspect – OK, what have you done about that? Does the person take specific steps to adjust – or do they launch into a diatribe about how they ignored their manager b/c they didn’t feel they needed to work on that skill.

    If they say they were told they need to work on effective listening & you don’t see them practicing that in the interview – well, you’ve gathered a nice bit of info there.

    I’d disagree that “behavioral questions” are leading questions – I think the ones that lead as mentioned in the video are poorly designed. I will often ask ‘flipped’ versions of the same question – tell me about a time when you worked with a group where things went well (which generally surprises candidates b/c they expect the group which didn’t work well question) and then ask the reverse – now tell me about a time where you were in a group where things didn’t go so well. (Just curb the urge to say – and how did you handle it – draw that out after their initial story!)

  19. 2 Good Types of Interview Questions - ERE.net

    [...] Mark Murphy’s not a fan of many of the interview questions commonly used, saying they don’t differentiate between [...]

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