Most managers don’t know what to ask during a job interview. I don’t blame them. They’ve never been trained and their role models have no idea what to ask, either. So they end up asking some stupid questions. Still, if you want the job, you can’t say, “That questions so dumb it doesn’t merit an answer,” so you have to be ready for them. Here are five of the most common questions, why they’re stupid, and how I suggest you answer.
1) What are your greatest strengths?
Why it’s stupid: It’s too easy to lie, or at least embellish, your answer. If you say one of your strengths is the ability to take on 10 ninja warriors single-handedly with your bare hands, who’s to say you’re not telling the truth? Unless, of course, you’re applying to work at a ninja school. In that case, you’re in big trouble.
How to answer: Hopefully, you’ve read the job posting, maybe even received the job description, so you know what attributes the organization is looking for. Pick two or three of these and provide those as strengths. You don’t have to lie, because you no doubt have something they are looking for, unless they are just interviewing you because you are the CEO’s nephew. Provide specific examples, even if they haven’t asked for them.
2) What are your greatest weaknesses?
Why it’s stupid: It almost encourages dishonesty. You can’t say, “I’m unreliable and can’t be counted on for anything,” even if the last time you met a deadline was your 5th grade science fair project. You may think you are being straightforward, but what you are telling the interview is that you are too dumb to lie.
How to answer: Some people think the best response is to say something positive about yourself but phrase it as a negative. Examples include, “I try too hard,” or “I care too much”. You aren’t fooling anyone with this type of twist of phrase. Instead, be prepared with something you aren’t as strong at but add how you’ve worked to overcome it. For example, I’d answer this question by saying, “I can sometimes be too nice. While this is a strength in some situations, it is a drawback when I need to be more honest and direct in delivering bad news. I’ve been getting better at this, identifying these situations and practicing how I will deliver the message so that it is properly communicated.” This type of answer tells the interviewer that you not only understand yourself, but am working to improve.
3) What do you like to do outside of work?
Why it’s stupid: This question tells interviewers nothing of how someone will perform in the workplace. Whether you like to skydive, go for long walks with your dog, or sit on the couch binge watching Stranger Things for the fifth time, it says nothing about whether you can balance an account ledger, provide great customer service, sell dishwashers, or whatever the job entails.
I knew a man who was a functional alcoholic. He needed a six-pack to get to sleep at night. But he almost never missed a day of work, was never late, and did a good, if not exception, job. While I cared about this man personally, and encouraged him to get help when we discussed it, his private life was none of the organization’s business unless it affected the workplace.
The question is also problematic legally. The answer could provide information that could lead to charges of discrimination. You may tell the interviewer that you are active in a particular church, or heavily invested in a political cause. If the organization doesn’t hire you, you could claim it was because it knew this information and didn’t approve. You could be right. Everyone has biases, even if they don’t realize it. Not having this information will keep an interviewer from even a chance of making a decision based on it.
How to answer: Be honest. Whether you spend all your free time on Instagram and Twitter, or volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, tell them. And if an organization doesn’t hire you because it doesn’t approve of your personal life, you probably don’t want to work for them anyway.
4) Where do you see yourself in five years?
Why it’s stupid: Organizations need to someone who can do the job they are hiring for today, not five years from now. Besides, most of us are too busy just trying to get through the day, or even the interview, to think about long-term goals.
The question is also a trap. If you say you want to be a manager, or get into some other job within the organization, the interviewer will think you won’t stick around, or worse, are gunning for their job. If you say you want to do the job you’re being hired for, you sound unambitious.
How to answer: Use generalities and don’t get into specific roles. Talk about how you want to be in a role where you are both successful and valued. Tell the interviewer that you want to be a contributor to the organization, that you want to learn and grow. All of this sounds positive without giving the interviewer an excuse not to hire you.
5) Any question that the interviewer thinks is clever.
(These include, “If you were a salad, what kind of dressing would you want?” Or “If they made a movie of your life, who would you want to play you?” Or “If you were a car, what kind of car would you be?”)
Why they’re stupid: When an interviewer ask a question, he or she should have some correct answer in mind. These questions don’t have correct answers. Does the interviewer think, the correct answer to what kind of car you would be is a ’65 Pontiac GTO? I doubt it. When an interviewer asks a question, it should be for a particular reason, to illicit a particular response that gets to the person’s ability to be successful in the job. In most cases, these types of questions do neither.
How to answer: This depends on whether or not you really want the job. If you do, all you can do is answer them as honestly as possible. Since interviewers have no idea what a correct answer is, no answer will be wrong.
If you don’t want the job because you’ve already decided from the hiring process that you’d rather have your eyes pecked out by an angry crow, come up with the most smart-ass answer you can. So if asked, “If you had six months with no obligations or financial constraints, what would you do with the time?” Your response should be, “I don’t know, but I certainly wouldn’t be sitting in on this waste of time interview.”
And after the interviewer picks their jaw up off the floor, tell him you have a few stupid questions of your own.