Three Interview Questions to Avoid

When you’re interviewing a potential employee, the stakes are high. You want to bring the right person onto the right team in the right role, and which questions you ask can have a huge impact on the process. You’ve probably spent time tailoring your list to include thoughtful questions that will really help you identify whether or not the candidate is a good fit for this particular position.

interview questions

It’s also important to consider building a rapport with the candidate before jumping into questions, to help him or her feel more relaxed and confident. While it may be tempting to see how a job applicant performs under pressure, diving right into the tough questions may knock them off their A game, and it’s also unfair to someone who’s likely spent many hours preparing for this very important conversation.

It’s often easy to start with some of the more standard questions. You may have even done a Google search of “common job interview questions to ask.” Some of those are perfectly acceptable, such as:

  • Why did you leave your previous job?
  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • What would you be most excited about if you were to be hired by our company?
  • Which skills do you think you’ll be able to bring to this role? and
  • Do you have any questions for me about what the role entails?

However, there are some standard interview questions that are better left in the past. They may be outdated, unhelpful, or just obnoxious. Don’t take up valuable interview time by asking questions that aren’t going to achieve your goal of finding the perfect candidate. Here are three interview questions you should make sure to avoid at all costs.

What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

You may be surprised to see this one on the list—after all, it’s extremely common! The intentions behind this question are good. People who are interviewing a potential employee want to make sure they have a full picture of the applicant, and that includes what a person is weakest at. After all, we all have places we can improve, but that isn’t exactly a deal-breaker. And it’s important to make sure the person you’re hiring is humble; otherwise, they could prove to be difficult to work with down the line.

But the problem is, this question is going to lead you to unauthentic answers. Be prepared to hear a lot of “I just work too hard and get too focused” or “I give my all to my work, which lets my personal life slip.” People aren’t really going to be up-front about their real weaknesses—they’re trying to impress you! And canned answers tell you nothing about an applicant’s real weaknesses or personality. Furthermore, our weaknesses are often our blind spots. If you know you’re weak in an area, you’re going to be working to improve in that area, so a person’s “greatest weakness” is likely something they’re unaware of or haven’t been told about.

Instead, try to ask questions about the specific strengths needed for the role you’re looking to fill. That way, you can hear concrete examples of a person’s skill set, as well as ensure they have the strengths needed to complete the job well. If someone is terrible with technology, but they’re interviewing for a sales job where they’ll be spending 90 percent of their day talking to customers face-to-face, who cares? What someone struggles with may come out in the interview in a more authentic, natural way.

Any Question Involving Race, Gender, Family Structure, or Religion

Inquiring about a person’s personal life to this extent is actually illegal in most cases. Unless you work for a religious organization and are asking questions about a person’s faith background, it’s not a good idea to ask personal demographic questions, at the risk of getting in trouble with the law. Furthermore, these types of questions won’t reflect whether or not a person will be good at the job, so why bother? You’re looking for the most qualified person for the job, and nothing about a person’s race or gender will help indicate that. It makes applicants feel uncomfortable as well, adding an awkward tension to an already high-stakes situation.

Also, never ask someone if they’ll have to pick kids up from school. It’s fine to inquire about children in a purely social sense, but if you ask what their specific parental responsibilities are, it’s going to come across as if you’re actively looking for someone who will give 110 percent to their job over their family. Not only are there discrimination laws against such questions in certain states, it’s a bad standard for society in general—of course we all want hardworking employees, but not at the risk of broken families and absent parents.

What Kind of X Would You Be and Why?

Another common tactic in interviews is to ask odd, out-of-the-box questions just to see how a candidate responds. Again, the intentions here are good—the interviewer is often trying to understand a job applicant’s creativity. It’s also a great way to see how they think about problems and approach complex issues. But this type of question can be so out there that it throws the candidate off, leaving them unable to express themselves well and provide a reasonable answer.

Instead, focus on the specificity of the role at hand and try to come up with a creative question that shows off problem-solving skills without leaving someone wondering what kind of tree they are. For instance, if you’re trying to hire a software developer, asking them to guess how many windows there are in all of Chicago can help you see how they approach problems. Where do they start? Do they begin by breaking down a large problem into easy chunks, tackle it from the ground up, or focus on concrete analytics?

There’s definitely room to gauge creativity in the job interview process without resorting to asking people what kind of animal, flower, or household object they are.

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