The Top 4 Interview Questions to Avoid

Hiring staff isn’t just a one-way persuasion – it’s a contract between two parties. So when interviewing candidates, it’s as much as advertising your organisation, as it is for the candidate to advertise themselves. Candidates love modern, quirky companies, that think outside the box, so even asking dated, age-old questions can misinterpret your employer brand instantly. Here are four interview questions to avoid, and what they really say about you:

 1.       “Sell me this pen.”


This one’s a classic amongst sales hiring managers. It’s age-old, was previously used to identify the sales strategy of a candidate, and quite simply, candidates will always have an answer for it. It’s famous. What may seem like an intriguing question, actually says that you may, as an interview, lack the initiative to create your own questions and ideas or to tailor an interview to the chosen candidate. It could be seen as a bit of a ‘box-ticker’.

How else can you identify such strategies? Ask the candidate about their hobbies and interests. Something they have some strong knowledge upon. In this example, let’s say that the interviewee has a keen interest in cars. A good question to ask would be;

“If you had literally just developed the perfect line of car parts, what problem would you look to address, and how would you sell this to market?”

Product knowledge is a huge part of selling. Sometimes candidates simply won’t know the problems an industry is facing, and why your product addresses these problems. By creating a scenario in which the candidate holds this knowledge, you’re setting a scenario from which you’ll clearly be able to see how they’d follow a sales process. Not only this, you’re engaging the candidate and showing interest in what they enjoy or believe in, outside work-life. This shines your employer brand in a fantastic light from the word go.

 2.       Why should we hire you?


Again, an absolute classic that leaves jobseekers trembling in their chairs. Also, offers a hint of arrogance to an already out-dated question. An employment contract binds two parties, so if you’re happy to ask this question, be prepared if the candidate turns round and asks “Why should I work for you?”. If this question would make you feel uncomfortable, the feeling is probably reciprocated. People work their best when they’re feeling relaxed and focused – something like this could really change the atmosphere in your interview room. The chances are, you’ve already made your decision based on their available skills and compatibility for the role. A question like this could lose you a top candidate.

Here’s a question you could use to work-around this issue. Although there’s no real substitute, something like them following could work well:


“We’re hiring, you’re looking for a job. What scenarios or cases would stop you from accepting a job with us, should you be offered?”

This offers as a real double-barrelled positive. It allows you to give power to the jobseeker, with a real hint of positivity and allows you to gather an insight into what sort of barriers there may be in hiring that candidate. These barriers could include expected salary, working hours, employee benefits. This’ll save you time when it comes to the offer and onboarding process.

This question should really be used if you’re happy with the interviewee and their skillset/compatibility to the role. Then again, if you feel that this question is too promising for the prospective candidate, the chances are, you’ve already wrapped up the interview.

 3.       What’s your greatest weakness?


Another unusual question. Rarely will you get back an honest answer. “Well Steve, in all honesty I’m never on time, I savagely underperform without fail and I struggle thinking outside the box. When do I start?”. You’re most likely going to get “My biggest weakness is loyalty to my employer”, or “My biggest weakness is working too hard”.

This answers will be used inherently to dodge a question that simply has no answer. A genuine weakness within one job may translate to a profitable act within another. Every company has a different process and way of utilising employees.

A way to proactively identify any weaknesses is to collect a few references. You could ask a previous employer what the candidate struggled with, and what they excelled in – this’ll give you real evidence into their skills if the references are detailed. A substitute question to ask would be:

“What sort of training or help would you need from us to be most comfortable?”

This is a fantastic way to identify their self-proclaimed weaknesses, but at the same time, offer that you’re happy to provide anything required in order for the employee to be comfortable within their role. To make them feel looked-after. Again, a positivity-induced question that still gathers the information you require. If the candidate replies with “I wouldn’t mind shadowing some of your top performers and understand the different techniques they use to close Sales contracts” – you know the candidate is keen to learn and perhaps has a weakness in the latter part of the sales process. If the candidate replies with “I’d really like constant review of my work, and to address areas of improvement” – you know that the candidate may require additional praise in order to keep motivation high.

 4.       Where do you see yourself in 5 years?


I’d struggle to think of anyone I know that hasn’t been asked this question. “In all honesty Steve in five years I could have a new job, a new house, wife and kids, a small Labrador and a membership in the local chess club.” Life, and careers change so often now that the days in which an employee would only work for two or three companies within their career have gone. Positions available for promotion now may not be available in five years, and positions not currently available may arise at the time of need. It’s impossible to say, without saying a generic interview term such as “To move up to a management/director level within your organisation” as the interviewee simply doesn’t have enough knowledge of the internal structure, culture or progression in order to predict this.

A suitable substitute for this ancient interview question would be:

“What sort of promotion timeline would you expect from us, and how could this be fulfilled?”

This, again, offers a line of positivity and allows the interviewee a chance to see that you’re understanding of what’s required as an employer to motivate staff, and provides the candidate with the power to write their own terms. A great piece of enablement that further illuminates your employer brand.


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