More Interview Questions Not to Ask, Part 1

I was reading Interview Questions: Hiring Experts Reveal Their Favorites. Some of them are quite good. But some of them? Not so much.

Here are the ones you should avoid, and why:

  1. Who do you most admire and why?
  2. What is your passion?
  3. If you could do anything, what would be your ideal job?
  4. Why are you here?

Here's why you should avoid these questions. I'll take them in order.

#1, the admiration. Say someone admires someone political from the other party than the one you belong to. It could happen. You might stop listening. Maybe you're a hardcore Republican, and the candidate says, “Hilary Clinton.” You don't even hear why. Maybe you're a Democrat, and the candidate says, “Michael Huckabee.” You don't hear why.

It doesn't have to be political. It could be sports. It could be religion. The problem is relevance. Anyone you admire outside of work is irrelevant to work. Do you really want to discriminate for or against a candidate because of something irrelevant to work?

#2, the passion. Maybe the passion is for a sport. Is the passion for something outside of work? How can you tell if they can turn their passion toward your work? Again, this is an irrelevant question.

#3, the ideal job. Why put people on the spot and ask them what their ideal job is? Most people, unless they've done the introspection have no idea what their ideal job is. Are you offering it? Are you going to help people create it? This is offering people a glimpse of nirvana and then pulling it away. Bad idea.

#4, the why are you here question. This is a shocker question, designed to delight extroverts and eliminate introverts. Go ahead and use it if that's what you want. You'll create an extroverted team of people. You can still get the work done, but it's irrelevant to the job.

All four of these questions are irrelevant to the job you need done. All four. Put these on your do-not-ask list.

I'll have the second part of this in More Interview Questions to Consider, Part 2. Some of the questions were okay, and some were quite good.

Here's the question: Do you want to make your most important decision, your hiring decision, using irrelevant questions?

13 Replies to “More Interview Questions Not to Ask, Part 1”

  1. These are pretty good. I actually had someone ask “why are you here”. I was so surprised my answer was a more of a reaction than a thought out answer “you don’t know?”

    Worst are questions that make the interviewer gain superiority.

    1. HI Chuck, oh, that’s funny, “You don’t know?” I laughed out loud at that one! I like that!

      Those superiority questions are designed to make the candidate feel stupid. Those questions are irrelevant, are often puzzles and riddles, and the interviewer thinks they have One Right Answer. Oh my. Imagine the interviewer’s surprise when the question does not have that one right answer. Who feels superior now?

      This is why I like to ask questions relevant to the job, or use auditions. Both techniques help you discover how a person actually works at work. What a novel idea.

  2. Back in the day when we wrote programs in assembly language, the code was on the left and the comments on the right. I’d ask programmers to bring in a chunk of code they were espeially proud of.
    Near my desk I had a big paper cutter. The interviewee would come in, I’d get around to asking about the program, the person would hand it to me, I’d toss it on the paper cutter, chop off the code and throw it in the garbage, then proceed to examine the comments. I thought their interest and ability to leave comments for the future was relevant. Many of them didn’t. Sigh.

    1. Lee, That is quite clever!

      Now, many languages have code and comments integrated. Your technique would have to be modified. But I bet there is a way to do something like it. Comments for the future are still relevant.

  3. I agree with 1 & 2. I think there is some nuance with 3, and I agree that the phrasing above isn’t helpful.

    I think there is some nuance with 4. I confess that I’ve asked some form of “Why are you here,” which, to me, means “what are you looking for in a new job, and why did you choose to talk with ?” (and in general, my next sentence expands on the question). Or are you saying that asking why the person is interested in your company (and interested in leaving their current place) off limits? Or does “Why are you here?” mean something else to you?

    1. Steve, and everyone who asks the “Why are you here?” question:

      As always, it depends on how you ask. I know you, and if you say that you follow that up with other questions, I believe you. But the question, in an in-person interview doesn’t serve you well. If you want to know why the person is looking for a job, ask that: “What prompted you to look for a job?”

      If you want to know why this company, ask that: “What led you to this company?”

      But neither of those is great questions.

      You do want to know that a person has done research on your company, a topic Andy Lester and I tackled in a January issue of PragPub. The question is this: Does that question help you know how well that person will work in your company, on your products, with your team?

      It’s an interesting question, but the answer remains, well, not really.

      It’s a looking backwards question, not a looking forwards question. Yes, it has something to do with values and culture, but it doesn’t really say, “Here’s what I can do for you.” And that’s what you want to know, isn’t it?

      It’s not off limits to talk about the current company. But choose the context. Use a behavior-description question, so you understand the context. Otherwise, you can be off in la-la land before you know it.

      When I get to Part 3, I’ll discuss this more.

  4. Following @Lee Copeland: somewhere ’round the ‘net I’ve seen the apropos saying
    “Comments Are Like Love Notes to Your Future Self”

    1. Marc,
      That seems exactly right! Back when I was writing assembler, I struggled with what to write for comments, for the first few months as a new engineer. “Add one to the register.” Duh. Well, why was I incrementing the variable? That was the interesting part. I learned fast. I remember berating my naive self when I returned to look at code that was only 9 or 10 months old, but I had been on several projects since. “What was I thinking? If I had written reasonable comments instead of these stupid things, I would know now.

      I learned a lot that very last year of college, and first six months out of school, working as a professional. An enormous amount.

  5. I always winced at, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Uh, sitting at *your* desk asking interviewees the same lame questions?

    1. Kendra,

      You made me laugh! Seriously, as if the company was going to be in the same place in five years… Still, you don’t want to accuse those people of a lack of imagination.

      I recommend in Manage Your Job Search, that you turn that question into a behavior description question and answer it in this way: “Let me tell you about a time I wanted to do this job or project. Here’s what I did…” Then you tell your story.

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