Stupid Interview Questions...And How to Answer Them
My ninth grade Algebra teacher told me, "Jeremy, there are no stupid questions." She didn’t know what she was talking about. We swim in an ocean of stupidity, and stupid interview questions are the Great White Sharks. They lead us to wrong assumptions and reveal more about the interviewer than the interviewee. I will begin by explaining why people ask these ridiculous questions and attempt to convince decision makers not to do so. Because I know that this is an exercise in futility and bad habits endure, I will follow up with my advice on how to answer these silly questions.
What Is Your Biggest Weakness?
Why People Ask: The reasoning goes, we all have a weakness, something to work on. I want to see if this person is focused on self-improvement.
Why It Is Stupid: This is the granddaddy of all stupid interview questions. I beg you, STOP IT! This question creates a prisoner’s dilemma where at best you can expect sugarcoating and at worst blatant dishonesty. Do you really think anyone with a functioning brain is going to tell you anything of value? Can you imagine someone telling you that they drink too much and come into work late?
How To Answer: Don’t answer it. Change the context. Instead, tell a story. Early on in your career, you struggled with something. Next, tell them the steps you took to remedy the struggle. Finally, give them an example of how far you’ve come. Let’s face it, a redemption story is more interesting anyway. It pays to entertain your interviewer.
Here’s an example: When I started my career, I was absolutely terrified of presentations. I did some research and decided to join Toastmasters International where I had a chance to face my fears directly. Last year, I made a presentation to 2,000 people at our national conference. I learned that you can overcome anything with hard work and perseverance.
Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?
Why People Ask: There are two reasons to ask this question. The first is, people on your team keep bugging you about promotions, and you want to make sure that you don’t get another complainer on the team. The second is, you are looking for an A player, and A players are shooting for the stars. They have a plan and they execute the plan.
Why It Is Stupid: For the first scenario, this is a dead-end job, you are secretly circulating your own resume and will have a hard time convincing anyone to work for you anyway. Just be honest with yourself. You don’t need or want a great candidate. It will bust up your sub-par ecosystem. Hire yourself a B- candidate, and get on with it.
For the star shooter, I’ve got news for you. This question will reveal absolutely nothing. I can’t tell you how many people talked a great game while interviewing with me, but when it came to actually doing the work, failed miserably. Everybody wants to be a winner, nobody wants to put in the work. The greatest performers let their actions speak.
How To Answer: Memorize this, “I’m not overly concerned with titles or status per se. At the end of my career, I want to be able to look back and say that I was consistently challenged and performed to the best of my ability.”
If this sounds like double-talk, it is. It’s not your fault, they forced you to give this answer because they insist on asking stupid questions. Ask a canned question, get a canned answer.
Next week, I'll flip the script and write about the best interview questions, and what they reveal.