4 Dumb Job Interview Questions (and 3 Possible Answers)

4 Dumb Job Interview Questions (and 3 Possible Answers)

by Kerry Scott on 23 March 2009

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I have a lot of friends who are job-hunting (doesn’t everyone?), and I’ve heard some very interesting interview stories recently.  Apparently, there are still some lame, useless interview questions in use out there.  Here are four of the worst:

  1. What is your greatest weakness? I always want to answer this one, “Rolling my eyes at people who ask stupid interview questions.”  Seriously, what is the point of this?  Nobody is going to say, “I steal office supplies,” or “I call in sick every time the Packers lose” or “I really like to look at internet porn from my work computer.”  Seriously, what is the point of this question?  Everyone who has ever read an article on interviewing gives the standard answer, which is some variation of “I’m a workaholic.”  Even if that really IS your greatest weakness, no one will believe you, because it’s such a canned answer.  The answer I usually give to this one is, “I can be blunt sometimes.”  It’s true (duh), and if you don’t like that trait, you will probably not want to work with me.  I figure I’m saving everyone time by letting them know up front.  Give some thought to the traits you have that are unlikely to change, and that might be deal-breakers for some people.  Somewhere on this list is a good answer to this question-and that means you can be refreshingly honest when answering this stale question.
  2. Where do you see yourself in five years? I think this is left over from, like, 1950, when people had nice, neat, linear career paths with a single company.  I don’t know any of those people anymore, and if I did, I probably wouldn’t hire them, because they’re dinosaurs.  That said, there are still people who ask this question.  If the truth is that you hope to be with this company you’re interviewing with, maybe with a promotion or two—well, great.  There’s you’re answer, and you’re all set.  For some people, though, the answer is, “I hope to be in a completely different line of work,” or “I hope to be home with a couple of kids” or ” I’ll be retired by then.”  In a perfect world, you could share those facts…but an employer who asks a question like this is probably hung up on finding a candidate who wants to pledge its everlasting loyalty to this company (and good luck getting the same pledge in return).  A truthful answer in that case will probably eliminate you from consideration.  If that’s your situation, a more vague answer like, “I’m looking to continue to expand my skills and grow in my field for the rest of my career; learning is a lifelong thing for me” is probably the best you can do.
  3. We have a lot of candidates who are way more qualified than you are.  Why should we hire you? I worked with a hiring manager who wanted to ask this question, in the same condescending, confrontational way, of every candidate.  He was part of the school of thought that said you should rattle people’s cages to “see what they’re made of.”  He was a jerk.  That said, there are lots of members of this same school of thought out there, so you should know that they sneer at everyone, not just you.  Don’t take it personally, and simply tell them why you are fabulous.  Then go home and consider whether you really want to work for someone like this, because in my experience their interview style is also their management style, and it’s not fun at all.
  4. If you were a cookie, what kind of cookie would you be? Seriously, someone asked me this once.  I said, “A smart cookie,” thinking I that since he was being funny, I would be a good sport and play along.  Nope.  Dude was serious.  My policy is to never work for anyone who bases their hiring decisions on these kinds of questions (whether it’s a cookie, a tree, an animal, a car, or the latest one I’ve heard about—a Muppet).  I don’t think there’s a “right” answer with these, because they’re just…too stupid.  I have no suggestions.  Sorry.

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{ 18 comments }

Kurt March 23, 2009 at 8:46 am

I could only hope to get asked the cookie question in an interview. That’s awesome. I’d be all ” An Oreo. And your mom is the creamy filling.” except I need a job so I would probably just say “Oreo.” and when they asked why I’d say “Diversity.”

Kurt’s last blog post..Crocodile Head Car

abdpbt March 23, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Wow. Wow. I don’t know how to answer the cookie one. I really don’t know what he’s after there–maybe a mexican wedding cookie because nobody really wants them and I don’t want to be eaten? What would be a good answer to that question, I wonder? Anything without nuts?

The muppets is lame but at least you can see the personality more. I’d be one of the old men in the box seats on the balcony. No question.

abdpbt’s last blog post..17 Things They Call Me That Aren’t My Name

Ask a Manager March 23, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Love this post. And your answer to the weaknesses question is excellent (which maybe I think because it’s my answer too). I really do want to learn about a candidate’s weaker points because I want to make sure they don’t happen to be weaknesses that would be fatal for that particular job or the office culture or the manager they’ll be working with. And so many people refuse to be honest about it because all the job hunting guides tell them not to be. Those are the people who end up in jobs they’re not the right fit for.

Ask a Manager’s last blog post..how to tell your boss he’s breaking the law

Eliz March 23, 2009 at 8:08 pm

You’re so right that those questions reflect what kind of management style you’d end up with if you got the job, but when you’re in the interviewees’ seat, and really need a job, it’s so hard to separate all this. The pressure of waiting for calls and undergoing interviews is so great you can end up missing the warning signs.

Eliz’s last blog post..14 Songs I “Saw” in a New Way Upon Hearing Them at the Movies

Martin Burns March 24, 2009 at 8:33 am

There are millions of seemingly stupid interview questions – and, despite what your teachers told you, there are plenty of stupid people. Life is what it is.

#1: That said: here’s the trick behind “tell me your greatest weakness. Go on, tell me – oh, and while you’re at it? Could you fashion this rope into a usable noose? Gee, thanks…”. If the interviewer actually understands the question, they’re looking for you to show them (in your answer) that you’re self-aware enough to know you aren’t superman, not stupid enough to tell them something that will kill your chances of landing a job, and have plans to improve on your self-confessed “weakness”.

#2: The 5 year thing? Lame, yes. Staying power? Oh, absolutely. Best answer I can think of? “Still passionate about my work, with 5 years of great experience under my belt working for [insert name of company you are interviewing with here, you beautiful brown-noser, you], and having made a real impact through my work.” So lame, so so lame… but, a lame question begs an equal response…

#3: Is just mean. Answer it, but then feel free to ask “I’m interviewing with 5 different companies right now, all of them seemingly stronger than yours. Why should I choose you?”

#4; Wtf? I mean, seriously. Feel free to jump up and shout “I don’t know, but this is how this cookie crumbles!!” And then run around the room, screaming “lalalalalala!” Okay, don’t. That’s lousy advice. But, if you do, know that some guy in Boston loves you just a little.

Btw: I was once asked “if life’s a salad, what are you?” I told the guy “the tongs”. Didn’t get the job.

Martin Burns’s last blog post..Geeky Bits & The Future of Job Hunting

Elizabeth March 24, 2009 at 8:49 am

Re: the cookie question. My boss was once on an interview panel and someone asked the candidate what her slogan would be if she had one. Her response? “Mmm mmm good. Because I am.” All the men in the room scored her on that one question – half of them thought she was a perfect fit (ha!) while the other half saw that as a lawsuit waiting to happen.

When is someone going to teach these interviewers that there are MORE QUESTIONS THAN THIS out there?!

Elizabeth’s last blog post..The 10-Minute Task

HRPufnstuf March 24, 2009 at 11:03 am

I love the cookie question! I do think it would be fun to argue the benefits and merits of different cookies, but probably not in an interview.

Kerry March 24, 2009 at 1:47 pm

“I’m interviewing with 5 different companies right now, all of them seemingly stronger than yours. Why should I choose you?”

Oh, I want to go on an interview right this minute so I can try that one out. I am TOTALLY writing that one down.

I actually tried googling to find out what the “right” answer was for the cookie question…but alas, no answers. I was blown away by how many people had been asked this question though.

Maybe I could find work as an interview-question consultant.

Kerry March 24, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Oh, and Eliz and Ask a Manager–you both bring up good points that I am going to address in tomorrow’s post. So thanks for the inspiration!

AustraliaWorks March 25, 2009 at 6:03 am

hi kerry! thanks for the article, and your questions, it was a great read! anyway if you have a moment please also check this list i compiled of the 50 most commonly asked interview questions, why they are asked, any hidden motives and exactly how to answer the questions!
50 most common interview questions and answers

Charles March 25, 2009 at 10:49 am

Love this post!

Although it will kill any chance of getting the job I will use that answer to Number 3 for the next employer who asks me that because I did have an employer ask me that once. I gave the response that since I didn’t know the other candidates’ qualifications I really couldn’t tell him why he shouldn’t hire them then proceeded to tell him about my qualifications. He also asked me if I smoked pot, but didn’t inhale. I didn’t realize at the time he was making a joke about Clinton so I answered that I would be willing to submit to any drug tests. Looking back I realize that I should have seen both questions as warning signs of what a jerk he would be – thank you for reminding me!

I have been asked the “what kind of tree”, etc. question – but my all time favorite was “Are you a cat person or a dog person?” My response was “what kind of pet do I need to have to get the job?” I didn’t get the job.

Lloyddabbler March 25, 2009 at 11:11 pm

To the cookie question I would simply say “d’oh!” and then enjoy the symphony if crickets while I grabbed my things and fled. :) p.s. To Martin, Lol!

Carla March 26, 2009 at 11:39 pm

I so hate questions 1-3.

Over the years, I have came up with answers to these questions (the same answers for every job interview no matter what), but I try my best not to roll my eyes over when I’m asked them – especially the “5 year” one. That is not the question to ask a candidate, especially someone who is only 20! My live changed from day to night and back again several times in my 20s. I really don’t think anyone can honestly say where they will be in such a long period of time.

Carla’s last blog post..Green and Chic Products: Skinny Skinny

Tim April 1, 2009 at 1:20 am

I love it when I get asked questions like “Why are man-hole covers round?” I don’t know.. . cause they want them to fit man-hole openings? Aside from iron forging, what exactly does that have to do with a job?

T Rhode April 2, 2009 at 6:48 pm

@Tim:
So the lids can’t fall down the manhole…if they were square…oh my :-)

Adam April 3, 2009 at 11:10 am

The cookie question or if you were a color what color would you be question is all about letting the interviewer know how well you think on your feet. The question is commonly asked in creative environments and consulting where the applicant (if hired) would commonly face questions requiring them to think on their feet and requires a question no “normal” person has ever thought about before.

Seattle Interview Coach April 4, 2009 at 1:59 pm

As a hiring manager, I like to ask the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question. It helps me understand whether they are indeed a good fit for the job. This is related to your other post, “How to Completely Screw Yourself in the Interview. If I ask this question, and you say, “I want to work for a creative, innovative company” — then I would have to question whether a hypothetical “conservative company” would be a good fit for you.

As you mentioned, last thing I want to do is hire someone who doesn’t fit and quits in five months. Finding good candidates is tough. I don’t want to do it all over again.

Michael Scott November 4, 2009 at 2:18 am

Goooderrific article!

Get rid of the dumb questions!!

Practice makes perfect,
Mock Questions

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