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This Week: Top 10 Most Overrated Interview Questions
The job interview is essentially an established literary genre, like playwriting or screenwriting. Unfortunately, it's also a genre that relies heavily on formulas and tropes. Every interviewer seems to pull from the same limited bag of prewritten questions. Rare is the interviewer who steps outside the box for even a moment!
In general, that's a good thing. It's much more comfortable for both an interviewer and an interviewee to have an idea of what to expect from one another when they sit down in a room together. Plus, wildly inventive interview questions might scare off a lot of high-performing candidates who are simply looking for jobs, not baffling new scenarios.
But some interview questions have outworn their welcome. Some of these questions are so threadbare from use they can no longer elicit a single authentic insight into a candidate's personality or skill set, while others were never really all that useful in the first place.
We asked our readers and contacts for their thoughts on the most overrated interview questions. You can check our their answers below.
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But first, a quick note: Far and away the two most commonly cited queries were "Where do you see yourself in five years?" and "What are you strengths and weaknesses?" Of the 40+ responses we received, more than half named at least one of those questions. If you don't agree with the full list, you may want to at least ax those two from your question bank.
1. What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?
It might work for some people, but I would personally never ask this. What's the point? If you're asking the right questions, you should be able to work out a candidate's strengths and weaknesses yourself.
— Sat Sindhar, Managing Director, People
2. Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?
This question feels like a trap simply because if you sound too ambitious, it tells the employer that you won't be around for long, but if you don't sound ambitious enough, they might not hire you because they don't think you're motivated to do the job.
Besides, recruiters are asking the candidate to predict the future. In five years, I could have suffered severe injuries in a car accident and be unable to work. Your company could fold, which leaves me back at square one with having to find another job (and, by the way, "Why did you leave your last job?" "The company went bankrupt." That doesn't sound so great if your job involves handling any aspect of the finances, even if it's just the cash drawer, does it?).
There's a lot that can happen in five years, and my answer will usually be what could happen if everything goes smoothly.
– Heidi Hecht, Writer, Nothing in Particular Blog
3. How Many Windows Are There in Boston, and How Much Would You Charge to Clean Them? (And Other Brain Teasers)
This question is dumb. It has nothing to do with a candidate's abilities, and instead, the interview becomes a test.
When we hire, we look for four things: Will the candidate be good? Will they be happy? Will they work well with their peers? Will they work well with our clients?
This question actually prevented us from hiring someone who would have been the perfect fit for a relationship-building role, and we have since canned it.
— Ryan Fitzgerald, Owner/Realtor, Raleigh Realty
4. What Was Your GPA in Your Major? (or Any Question That Leans Heavily on a Candidate's GPA)
At Koru, we found that you can obtain the best insights into a candidate's success when academic experience, like GPA, is combined with a candidate's strengths. We call these strengths the "Koru7 Impact Skills" – grit, rigor, impact, teamwork, curiosity, polish, and ownership. Data shows that a focus on "grit over grades" will better determine and predict a candidate's long-term success, resulting in a 30-60 percent increase in volume of diverse, top-performing hires, according to our 2016 Koru Predictive Hiring Index Report.
— Kristen Hamilton, Cofounder and CEO, Koru
5. Do You Have Any Questions?
I feel like this question forces potential candidates to ask questions that don't really further the conversation. A good interview is a back-and-forth conversation with questions from both sides naturally being asked.
— Brandon Hoffman, Director of Digital Marketing, KEA Advertising
6. Why Do You Want to Work Here?
Most candidates will have a fluff answer prepared for this question, and it really doesn't tell you much about the character or work ethic of the applicant. It's almost a waste of everybody's time and can be insulting to the interviewee. I find it's best to use everybody's time effectively and ask situation-based questions to understand what the values and character traits are of the candidate to ascertain if they will be a good cultural fit.
— Bryan Clatyon, CEO, GreenPal
7. What Is Your Biggest Pet Peeve in the Office?
This question only warrants negative answers that don't lead the conversation anywhere or allow an interviewer to get an accurate read on a potential hire. This question is tantamount to asking, "What do you hate about others?" A better question to ask might be, "What qualities of an office do you think make it most productive?"
— Jake Tully, Head of Creative Department, TruckDrivingJobs.com
8. Why Should We Hire You?
The answer you're going to get here is going to be strikingly similar across candidates. We can expect something like, "I believe I would be a great asset to the team. I'm highly motivated, work well in teams, and I'm an achiever." We can expect that most people in software, hardware, and technology are highly motivated team players; it's just the nature of the industry.
Instead of this question, I'd rather ask, "What is your greatest strength and how could you apply it to what you would be doing over here?"
— Dave Lopes, Director of Recruiting, Badger Maps
9. Tell Me About Yourself
It's supposed to be an icebreaker, but it's less effective in terms of actually telling the interviewer about the candidate. Since this question has been so overused, the answers are usually scripted and not authentic. This beats the purpose of asking someone to tell us about themselves.
— David Mitroff, Founder, Piedmont Avenue Consulting
10. How Would You Sell This Pen/Pencil/Object?
This question comes up a lot in sales interviews, and it is antiquated in my opinion. Selling today is based on a solution and is more consultative, which can be almost impossible to determine from answering that question. I advise my clients to stay away from this question during sales interviews.
– Kathleen Steffey, CEO, Naviga Recruiting and Executive Search