For all of the time and effort that candidates invest in interview preparation, there is a wholesale lack of reciprocity on the part of most interviewers. Considering that turnover replacement costs are at least 30% of an individual’s base compensation—and the higher level and specialized the person is, the higher those costs are—it is astounding that more companies do not train hiring managers on interviewing techniques. What this means for you, job seekers, is that you are very likely to encounter some exceptionally poor interviewers.
One of the things that a poor interviewer does is stick to a list of pre-fabricated questions. Not only does this fail to facilitate a meaningful conversation between the interviewer and the candidate, but it also fails to give the interviewer any insight into how the candidate’s mind works. What it accomplishes is that it irks the candidate! Here are five lame interview questions, along with some suggestions of how you can try to turn the conversation back to the real issues at hand:
Tell me about yourself. This one gives candidates the most trouble, simply because it is so vague and nebulous. Does the interviewer really want to know about your passion for dog shows or your thoughts on Jungian theory? Probably not. Take this opportunity to tell the interviewer something unique and interesting about you, within the context of your professional persona. Then, relate that to the business need at hand. Keep it brief, and then turn it back over to the interviewer: “Now that I’ve told you about what makes me tick, could you tell me about the new markets you’re trying to penetrate?”
What is your greatest weakness/strength? Wholly unimaginative, and without any relevance in the contemporary workplace, this pair of insipid questions just refuses to die. Avail yourself of the chance to talk about things that you are good at, not areas in which you might feel that you are deficient. I advise clients that instead of providing a list of weaknesses, to say that they rather focus on things they’re good at, and worry about doing them well. Another way to handle this is to discuss something that was a weakness and then describe the things you did to improve your skills in that area. Whatever you do, don’t respond to the weakness question with “I work too hard,” “my expectations are too high,” or “I’m a perfectionist.” Not only are these responses likely untrue, they also cast you in a poor light, and make you seem like someone with whom interactions in the workplace might be difficult. People want to work with other people who make things easy for them.
Why did you leave your previous position/why are you looking to leave your current role? Let me get this out of the way up front: your reasons for leaving your last position are entirely irrelevant to the role for which you are interviewing. Additionally, it is presumptuous of the interviewer to assume that you are actively looking to leave your current role—you are there for an interview, to find out more about a different opportunity. That’s it! Having said that, this one gets asked almost every time, so it’s important to have a strong answer. What you don’t want to do is badmouth a current or previous employer, so you need to be sure that you spin your answer in a positive manner. For example: “My previous position came to an end when my group was eliminated in a 15% reduction in force. I’m looking for a new role where I can be part of a high energy team, and in an organization that is truly market-focused.”
What would your current boss say about you if I called her up? Here you want to tell a story, in which you give an example of how you are cooperative, resourceful, and make interactions easy. Don’t say, “I don’t know; you’d have to call her to find out”! This question is exceptionally unimaginative because it’s asking you to speculate on the behavior of a third party who is unknown to the interviewer.
Why should we hire you? There are a lot of great candidates out there. This question presumes that you are a Job Beggar. You are not. You are the CEO of your career. A CEO doesn’t beg his customers to buy his product. A classy CEO doesn’t knock the competition. A CEO demonstrates that he understands what his market’s pain is and that his product is the solution for it. “I can’t speak to all the other candidates out there. What I can tell you is that I’m a person who believes in taking an outside-in approach to marketing, where I put the customer at the center of everything I do. That enables me to create products that the customers need and not ones that I assume they will buy. I’m seeking a company where this kind of creativity is embraced and encouraged. Can you tell me how that approach would go over here?”
It is my hope that we could see an end to vapid, mindless interview questions. But that does not seem likely, so you are best served by practicing your answers, and positioning yourself as a solution to the employer’s problems. Good luck!