Job Interview Questions That Turn Away Top Candidates

job interview

We often think of interviews as an opportunity for interviewees to audition at jobs, but it’s important to remember that interviews are also a chance for the company to show the interviewee that the company is an exciting opportunity for employment. The questions you ask are an important part of showing your interviewee that you’re competent, professional, and an interesting company to work for.

So what are the interview questions that will turn away your top candidates?

Brain Teasers and Odd-ball Questions

In a time when businesses needed to try and guess which potential employees might perform best in a high powered role, sometimes one that was still being developed, it became fashionable to ask questions like “how much profit does the New York Philharmonic make in a year,” or “If you can only take three items to a desert island, what would they be?”

While interviewers at the time thought that these sorts of questions would help to show the most creative employees, everyone now accepts that first, the correct strategies for answering these sorts of oddball questions are readily available online, and that the sort of creative thinking that allows a person to respond properly to these questions doesn’t actually link to higher intelligence or job success.

Asking brain teasers in an interview shows you as at best, out of date, and at worst, actually out to irritate your applicants.

Questions with Yes/No Answers

Hiring trainings have been singing the praises of open-ended questions for more than two decades, but interviewers still ask questions like “Have you ever done xyz at work?”

Open ended questions succeed because they invite the interviewee to give you more information, talking about a strategy they used to succeed, or a time they overcame a weakness. In most situations, you end up learning more about the candidate by how they answer than about what they actually say. Do they understand the question? Are they able to turn the conversation so that they show themselves in a favorable light? Do they accidentally reveal something negative about themselves? How do they respond when you point that out?

Sure, it’s possible to ask a follow-up question to a yes/no question that gets more information (“tell me more about that” if the interviewee says yes, “how do you think you’ve been able to avoid that” if they say no), but far too few interviewers take that opportunity. If you’re asking a yes/no question without a planned follow-up, you’re wasting both your time, and the interviewee’s.

Questions That Take Too Long To Ask

When you’re interviewing someone, you should only be talking about 10% of the time; the rest of the time, the candidate should be responding to questions. This means that your questions need to be brief, to the point, and understandable. If you have to spent twenty minutes explaining why you’re asking the question or employment perks, it’s probably not right for an interview. Condense it and move forward.

Questions That Aren’t Questions

Too many interviewers ask leading questions, questions which too clearly telegraph the answer that the interviewee is supposed to give. When an interviewer asks someone to tell them a joke, for example, everyone knows that they’re looking to see whether or not the candidate will tell an off-color or questionable joke.

If you’re trying to trick the candidate with a question, it’s a bad question. Interviews should be an authentic exchange of information where candidate and company try to get to know each other and establish whether or not they’ll be a good fit. You can’t do that when you’re trying to trick someone.

Disorganized Questions

There’s nothing quite as demoralizing as someone who is holding your resume asking you to tell them about the last three jobs you’ve had. It reveals that they haven’t prepared for the interview, which conveys that they don’t particularly care about what you have to say or what you’re feeling.

Prepare as the interviewer just as much as you did for the interviewee

As an interviewer, you’re one of the most important representatives that your company will ever have. The interviewer is auditioning in the role of employer just as much as the interviewee is auditioning in the role of employee. We often talk about how the candidate needs to show themselves in the best possible light, but remember that this is just as true – if not more true – for the company as well.


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