By Andrew Schrage, CEO of Money Crashers, helping consumers and small businesses build strong foundations on the path to financial and personal success.
During an interview, asking the wrong questions can give you a mistaken idea about the candidate. And if you hire someone who isn’t a good fit, it’ll create more business costs.
Just as candidates need to prepare for an interview, hirers need to prepare their questions. There’s no universal set of perfect questions for every hirer to ask, but here are some questions to avoid.
1. What is your greatest weakness?
Once upon a time, this was a great question. It forced candidates to talk about themselves in a negative light. Often the actual answer wasn’t as important as how they answered it: their body language, eye contact and ability to improvise.
Today, candidates expect this question. Some will respond with an honest, candid answer. The rest will give you something that’s a strength phrased as a weakness.
Instead, consider asking: What training would you most need to succeed in this position?
2. What would your last boss say about you?
This question assumes a level of knowledge most people don’t have about their bosses. Besides, the best candidates for your job won’t spend time worrying about their boss’s opinion. They’ll do good work and expect the quality of that work to handle their relationship with higher-ups.
If you do due diligence on candidates, you’ll already know what their last boss will say because you called that boss and asked directly. Since candidates aren’t psychic, this is unfair and sneaky.
Instead, consider asking: What level of support from management is most helpful for you?
3. Where do you see yourself in five years?
A question like this is an excellent way to gauge two critical things. First, it tells you how goal-oriented, ambitious and organized a candidate is in their profession. Second, it can help you gauge whether a candidate is interested in a long-term career with your company or sees it as a stepping stone toward other endeavors.
The problem is that their answer will seldom be valuable. Even if they’re honest, life before a new job and life after is different enough to change most plans with a five-year horizon.
Instead, consider asking: How will working for us expand your skill set?
4. Why should I hire you?
This question can come across as belligerent or arrogant, and neither is the right tone for an interview. Candidates who come prepared for the question deliver a canned speech that gives little insight into their actual personality. Others aren’t ready for such a broad question and underperform.
It’s also a huge time waster. Any candidate who made it to an interview has already handed you a resume and cover letter describing why you should hire them.
Instead, consider asking: How does your previous position align with the duties for this job?
5. Why do you want this job?
There’s only one true answer: The candidate wants money to buy food, shelter and a few luxuries. Other factors might be involved, but this is the only one that’s 100% honest.
Business owners and managers love this question because it’s an invitation to stroke their egos. They get to hear candidates tell them how great the company is and how much of a privilege it would be to work for them. Sometimes this is true, but there’s little use in inviting dishonesty from the outset.
Instead, consider asking: How did you break into this field, and what has kept you on this career path?
6. If you could have any job, what would it be?
This feels like a question that would give you valuable insights into a candidate’s values and goals. But you’re more likely to get a rehearsed restatement of why they want the job or some information about how their life ended up where they are instead of where they wanted to be.
Either way, you won’t hear anything about how they’re qualified for the job.
Instead, consider asking: What was a challenging situation or project you overcame during your career?
The Dirty Half Dozen
Besides the misleading or time-wasting questions listed above, always avoid questions about:
- Age and genetic information
- Citizenship and country of origin
- Gender, sex, marital status and pregnancy
- Race, color and ethnicity
- Disability status
- Religious affiliation
If you ask about any of these and don’t hire a candidate, you open yourself to discrimination lawsuits, whether or not that had anything to do with your decision. It’s best to keep all of that out of the conversation entirely.