Really (Really) Dumb Interview Questions

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Question Mark CardsSometimes I wonder if there are interviewers out there who actually ask some of the questions you see in blog posts, career books and even some (ahem) articles. Is it possible that people out there actually ask these questions? I’ve been writing for nearly seven years about careers, recruiting, HR and marketing. In all that time, I have seen countless articles on the subject and they are STILL being written (ahem again). So if you’re a recruiter, hiring manager or HR Professional, don’t ask these questions. If you are a job seeker, I guess have some answers ready, but I’m more inclined to use them as a gauge as to the corporate IQ than anything else.

Question #1: Are you going to take my job?

What you mean: I am insecure, petty and will make your every day a living hell. I am threatened by new hires and will probably give you a bunch of work I don’t want to do and then take all the credit. If you are smart, you will run now.

What they (the job seekers) think: Should I flatter them or show them I’m ambitious? Are they asking me to show my desire to grow the company or show them that I will be properly deferential?

What they say: “Of course not, sir/ma’am.”

Result: They are confused. You look ridiculous.

Question #2: Describe your dream job.

What you mean: Describe how this is your dream job. Don’t say “sampling and writing about 5 star resorts in Thailand”, which would be true, explain how this job at ACME corp, filing and refiling briefs about insurance products is your dream job.

What they (the job seekers) think: Oh no. How do I make this job sound interesting without sounding patronizing? How can I create parallels between what I’m doing and what I’d rather be doing? No one told me there would be a “spin” part of the interview.

What they say: “Well, sir/ma’am, this is my dream job, which is why I applied. Making sure that I am an integral part of road safety and the documentation thereof has been part of my goals since I was a little kid and I’m hoping you can make that dream come true.”

Result: You have wasted time asking a question that is difficult to answer respectfully, but impossible to answer truthfully. Unless you are looking for someone with a great sense of humor or an actual PR rep, skip this silly query.

Question #3: How do you handle conflict in the workplace?

What you mean: You genuinely want to know how they would handle the various instances of conflict in the workplace. How he/she would deal with Pam’s taking credit for everyone’s projects, David’s constant complaining or the way Helen flies off the handle at least once a month, causing tension in the office.

What they (the job seekers) think: Um, why is there a lot of conflict here? How difficult can this job be? Why doesn’t the manager handle conflict? What sort of people work here? This is exactly why I left my last job!

What they say: “I am adept at handling conflict in the workplace. In the few times I’ve encountered it, I attempted to resolve the issue with my colleague and if I couldn’t, I took the matter to my manager.”

Result: While this might be a useful question in some places, the truth is, it’s a moot point. Unless they had a complete meltdown at their last gig that’s on public record, you have no way of knowing if they are good at dealing with conflict or not. They will answer in a way that makes them look good and you’ve put a kernel of doubt in their mind about what it’s like to work for your organization.

Question #4: How long have you been working?

What you mean: How old are you?

What they (the job seekers) think: They are gauging my experience in the field. Hopefully, if I answer with how long I’ve been in marketing/accounting/QA they will not probe further. Also this makes me uncomfortable.

What they say: “I have 12 years of marketing/accounting/QA experience.”

Result: You have broken the law.

For the most part, a lot of interview questions are designed to assess cultural fit. Despite the tone of this article, interviewing isn’t easy and separating the wheat from the proverbial chaff is a tough job. Knowing which questions to ask, and which questions to shy away from is all part of a day’s work.

By Maren Hogan