Stop Asking Stupid Interview Questions. Candidates Are Done With Your Silly Games!

Struggling with interview questions? 🤔 Avoid the cringe-worthy classics and embrace purposeful inquiries that illuminate candidates' abilities and passions.

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Apr 8, 2024

Job interviews are like a high-stakes tango. Candidates step onto the dance floor dressed in their best professional attire, ready to showcase their skills, experience, and personality. But sometimes, the music takes an unexpected turn, and they find themselves waltzing through a minefield of cringe-worthy questions.

Don’t believe me? Go to the social media channel of your choice, and you will see threads of comments about some of the most ridiculous experiences candidates have. Far too many of them revolve around horrible questions during the application and interview phases. Often well-intentioned but always poorly executed, these questions can leave candidates bewildered, frustrated, and questioning whether they even want to bother completing the hiring process.

No matter how much employer branding work you’ve done as a talent acquisition leader, the questions you include in your application are the first time you REALLY present yourself to a candidate. When recruiting talent, you’re sharing what matters most to you as an organization, so choose wisely, lest you frustrate your candidates to the point where they walk away. From the infamous “What is your favorite trivia fun fact?” to the downright bizarre, let’s explore why these questions miss the mark and how organizations can do better.

The Culprits: Bad Interview Questions

“Where do you see yourself in five, ten, or twenty years?” Ah, the classic crystal ball inquiry. While gauging a candidate’s long-term aspirations is helpful, this question assumes that life unfolds predictably. In reality, career paths twist, turn, and sometimes loop-de-loop unexpectedly. And really, how would you assess the response to this question? Is there a “right” answer? Instead, consider asking about their professional goals or what excites them about the role.
“What is your biggest weakness?” Are we STILL asking this question? Apparently, yes, and candidates dread this one. It’s like asking a superhero to reveal their kryptonite. The result? Well-rehearsed answers like “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard.” Instead, ask a situation-based question that focuses on growth opportunities and how they’ve overcome challenges.

“Why should I hire you?” While straightforward, this question puts candidates on the spot. This question doesn’t tie to the role unless the role requires strong sales skills. And even if it is a sales role, it’s an interview, not a pitch competition. A better way to allow a candidate to highlight their abilities is to ask something like, “Now that you’ve learned a bit more about the job, what questions do you have?” or maybe ask about their unique contributions or how they’d tackle specific job-related scenarios that allow the candidate to show how they could contribute.

“Where did you live?” Just…no. It’s rarely necessary to ask this question; it’s irrelevant. It’s not a geography bee, and it’s not your choice to make or not make a commute. Instead, ask if they have a reliable way to get to work every day. I worked with someone who lived in the mountains and drove almost 90 minutes to work each way. And that was her choice, and she built that drive into her schedule so she was on time at work every day. You don’t know what people are willing to do. The one exception to this is remote employees – some companies will not allow a remote employee in a state in which they are not set up for payroll.

And now for a few even sillier questions!

“How has your childhood shaped your personal life?” Hold up! We’re not in therapy. No one needs to know what your childhood was like. Personal history may shape the candidate’s approach to work and life, but that’s, but this question is intrusive and frankly rude.

“Describe yourself.” Candidates aren’t abstract paintings. They’re multifaceted individuals. Open-ended questions like this feel like traps – the candidate has no idea what you’re looking for, and I’m willing to bet that neither do you. Instead, ask about their work style, collaboration preferences, or problem-solving approach.
“If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?” Look, I love a Marvel movie as much as the next person (#TeamCap), but give me a break. Unless the job involves capes and crime-fighting, this question adds little value and is ridiculous.

The hidden cost of bad questions.

Candidates prepare diligently, researching the company, matching their experience to the job description, and practicing their elevator pitch. When faced with irrelevant or oddball questions, their confidence wobbles. They wonder, “Is this a serious interview?” They lose confidence in the organization. Asking irrelevant questions signals unpreparedness on the interviewer’s part. Candidates think, “If they can’t ask relevant questions, can they lead a team or make strategic decisions?”
It also impacts the value of the conversation. Instead of talking to another person like adults, bad interview questions force candidates into scripted responses. Authenticity evaporates as candidates morph into interview robots, with hiring managers simply listening for keywords they read in an article. Organizations miss out on glimpses of the real person behind the résumé.

What to do instead.

I understand the desire to move beyond the typical “Tell me about a time…” questions, but cutesy ones aren’t the answer. As you craft your next question bank, keep the following in mind:

Be Purposeful. Every question should serve a purpose. What do you genuinely want to know? Avoid fluff and focus on job-related inquiries.

Probe for Skills. Instead of silly imaginary hypotheticals, ask about real-world scenarios. It can be helpful to mix the old behavioral style questions with situational scenarios that the candidate is likely to face. For example, “You’re likely to encounter some resistant stakeholders here. How would you handle it, and how have you handled it in the past?”

Respect Boundaries. Avoid prying into personal lives. Stick to professional matters. Remember, candidates are not open books and do not owe it to you to reveal everything about themselves.

Last year was a turbulent year for candidates and recruiters.  However, candidates deserve better than what they’re getting right now. Let’s retire the trivia fun facts and embrace questions that illuminate their abilities, passions, and potential. After all, interviews should be a dance of discovery, not a stumble through the absurd.

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