INTERVIEW QUESTIONS – How to answer the worst ones…

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Having interviewed more than 500 candidates for potential roles, I feel I can comment on interview questions with some degree of expertise in the subject.

Starting with questions I know are regularly being asked even though they are ineffective. These are questions that ask how worthy you are as a person, however, they do not relate to the role.

  1. With so many good candidates, why should we employ you?
  2. What’s your greatest weakness?
  3. What would your last boss say about you?
  4. Where do you see yourself in five years?
  5. What do you bring to our department?

If you are asked all five of these at an interview then you may want to get up and leave before they ask you if you have any questions.

If you hired a contractor to carry out a job in your house would you ask what his greatest weakness was, or what his five-year plan looks like? You want to know if he can do the job based on his experience.

As the interviewer /assessor, it is your job to decide whether to hire, not to ask the candidate. Focus on strengths, just because you have a weakness does not mean that others must believe they have a weakness. What if their last boss was horrible and completely incompetent at his job? Why would you value his opinion?

Asking about five-year plans is an old-fashioned question and in today’s world of constant change, the question is irrelevant.  It is your job is to research your candidate so that you know what they bring to the job. After all, isn’t that how they got to interview stage?

If you find yourself asked these questions, here are some ideas for responding to them:

  1. How about I tell you what I understand the job to be, and then you can let me know where I’m off track?  
  2. I used to think I had weaknesses, and I used to read books and take classes and worry about things I don’t do well. Then it hit me that there will always be things I don’t do well, and that my job is to get better at the things I do well and love what I do.
  3. She would probably say that I was a positive force in the department and achieved what I set out to achieve. And what would your boss say about you?
  4. In five years, if I’m still alive, I’ll be working on something important alongside smart and enthusiastic people – what about you?
  5. Here’s another copy of my CV that should help you understand what I can do!

The following are those strange questions that come out of the blue and leave you wondering if you are in the right meeting:

  • An apple costs 20 pence, an orange costs 40 pence, and a grapefruit costs 60 pence, how much is a pear?
  • If you could be a super-hero, what super-hero would you be?
  • If you received £20,000, how would you double it in 24 hours?
  • Do you believe in ghosts?
  • Rate yourself on a scale of 1 – 10, how weird are you?

These are all genuine questions that have been asked at interview and, no, for those, I don’t have the answers.

To finish, I thought I’d share some inappropriate questions that despite legislation, continue to be asked nowadays. The interviewer may believe they have a good reason for asking the following, however, they are certainly on shaky ground legally while also ensuring the candidate feels uncomfortable:

  • Does your career come before your marriage?
  • What does your husband / wife do?
  • How old are you?
  • How religious would you say you are?
  • Who is looking after your children when you are work?

As the candidate, if you have built a good rapport and feel confident, feel free to answer with some humour. However, if you are asked something you are simply not comfortable answering, don’t be afraid to speak out. If the interviewer is not understanding in this situation, it is probably not an employer you should be working for.

These are my suggestions for suitable responses:

  • My job comes first when I am working.
  • She / he is very supportive to me, and what does your wife / husband do?
  • What is the age limit for this role? I wasn’t aware there was one.
  • How religious do I need to be for this role?
  • When I am at work, all of my efforts are focused on my work.

The best questions, and I have over 300 in my question bank, concentrate on understanding the way the candidate has behaved in the past in order to provide an indication of how they are likely to behave in the future. We will discuss those in another article.

words | Sylvia Kenna, The HR Dept.