Stop Asking These 4 Interview Questions

Stop Asking These 4 Interview Questions

Are you still asking questions recommended by 20th Century job search hiring guides? If so, you’re probably not getting the most substantive answers from job candidates coming in for interviews.

Frankly, with talent in such demand, it’s time to reconsider your approach. Let’s start with four questions you should retire (and what to ask in their place).

1. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Technology advances are coming faster than ever. So this question is bound to fail in judging a candidate’s psychic abilities. Could a mobile app developer in 2011 have known in 2006, five years before the release of the first smartphone, that they would be developing applications for a device that didn’t exist yet?

Meanwhile, career trajectories are as varied as individuals. Someone starting out in product management may find their way to marketing, while a sales associate may land in account management. Other factors such as a family event or relocation can also impact a career.

In the end, this question will only tell you how well a candidate thinks they know what you want to hear. Consider these alternatives: 

  • What skills would you like to develop?
  • How will this position help you to accomplish your long-term goals? 


2. Tell me about yourself?

Typically thought of as an icebreaker, asking a candidate for their life story right off the bat can be intimidating, even if interviewers are trained to expect this question. Plus you’re likely to hear a tale that focuses solely on education and job history, again based on what they think you want to hear.

In the rush, especially for older workers who have longer histories to relate, enlightening details about their personal or family life, or their creative or athletic pursuits, have to be jettisoned. After all, the American cultural notion that the the most valuable part of an individual is their ability to perform a job on behalf of an employer, nothing more, right?

Finally, this question suggests the interviewer is lazy. Shouldn’t the resume provide the relevant nitty gritty details?

Better to be specific than general. Look over the candidate’s resume and carefully and pick a few obscure or not-so obscure points that intrigue you. Use those as your icebreakers to put the candidate at ease and set the stage for detailed questions later.

For example, if the candidate has a degree in a subject not directly related to the role, ask what they learned in school that applies to their work now. Or ask how a hobby or volunteer activity has impacted their life.

3. What is your greatest weakness?

There’s no reason to put your candidates in a bad mood.

Your job is to sell them on the opportunity at your company, not remind them about what they’d like to improve about themselves. And because the answer has likely been rehearsed, it’s hard to get substantive information.

It’s far better to tap into a candidate’s optimism, strengths and proactive nature. Consider the traits necessary for the role, such as taking in feedback, dealing with conflict or negotiating. Then ask relevant questions like:

  • Tell me about a time you received negative feedback and what you did to address it.
  • Tell me about a time you had to appease an unhappy client.
  • How do you bring a group to consensus when there are several differing opinions?

If you feel the candidate may be weak in one particular area necessary for the role, or don’t see evidence of it on the resume, ask about it.

For example, “This position requires a lot of negotiation. What experience do you have?”

If a certain skill seems lacking, query the candidate on how they would go about developing that particular skill.

4. Are you a people person/team player?

As a “yes” or “no” question, this violates a cardinal rule of interviewing. It also implies companies have open jobs more in line with solitary confinement and which don’t require interaction with others.

A better approach is outlining the team dynamic of the position itself. For example, is the interaction primarily online, in-person or via phone? With clients, vendors, prospects, departmental colleagues, cross-functional teams, the press or executives? Primarily incoming (e.g., customer service) or outgoing (e.g., sales)?

Look for evidence of interaction among those groups on the resume then ask directed questions that relate to job responsibilities. Behavioral or situational questions related to the job will yield answers that tune you into a candidate’s teamwork and communication skills.

A final thought

Remember, today, your interviewing process is as much a part of your employer brand as your workplace culture. Structuring your interview process to ask the right questions can make all the difference for hiring not only the best candidates but ones who will do well at your organization.

For more tips on interviewing and creating a structured interview process for your team, download our guide How to Conduct Better Interviews: Checklists and Templates for Hiring Pros today!