Stupid Interview Questions (Career Tip #19)


"Leo Tolstoy Working At A Round Table" (and writing down rockin' interview questions) - Ilya Repin, 1891

“Leo Tolstoy Working At A Round Table” (writing down some rockin’ interview questions) – Ilya Repin, 1891

A long-running series on career tips for, well, for anyone. It started out as a series of advice to young people starting out in the workforce, from someone with more than a little gray in his hair.  And now, just observations and reflections on job and career.  Other examples can be found here and here.

Stupid interview questions.  No, not open-ended saws asked by employers, like “Tell us about yourself”. These are the questions that interviewees themselves may be at some point be prompted to ask, and which are most always flubbed.

The unprepared will blankly stare and offer nothing.  The mildly prepared will let fly, for form’s sake, with canned questions lifted from career websites.  The truly prepared will use this opportunity to further sell their talents and increase their value in the eyes of the prospective employer.

Job interviews, especially with large companies, tend to be structured affairs.  The basic  is always about the same.  Sixty minutes, sliced up thusly:

10 minutes small talk and company intro
30-40 minutes question-and-answer by the interviewer
5-10 minutes questions posed by the applicant.
A few more minutes for close-out.

That’s about it, ten minutes to ask penetrating, qualifying questions.  Ten minutes to NOT ask seemingly open-ended questions that to go on to a non-sequitur.   The goal should be to start a discussion, not end one.

Aside from the blindingly stupid questions, such as “How late can I come in the morning?”, or “Do you allow for flexible hours” or even “What do people get fired for around here?” which reveal a more than casual attitude towards work, not to mention a lower-than-average IQ, what follows then is what NOT to ask in a contrarian, against-the-grain sense.

Right then,  here we go, courtesy of a few lazy Google searches. Note that all these are taken from bulleted lists swimming around the internet and touted as advice.

What is the company’s management style?    What does it matter?  Are the interviewers apt to pull back the curtain with a “Why, we favor a top-down command-and-control approach, where we gradually suck the life force out of you by micro-managing every hour of your workday and second-guessing every decision you mistakenly believe you are allowed to take.”

No, they are not.

What they might probably come out with a variance of  “We are just one big loving family here. It’s all puppies and sunshine”.

Don’t ask this question.  It’s beyond irrelevant.  It does nothing to sell you, and only allows your prospective employers to tell you how super-duper it is at ACME Rocket & Sled.

Who does this position report to? If I am offered the position, can I meet him/her?   This position reports to me, the person in front of you, you dummy.  I said that at the beginning of the interview, and you’ve just now demonstrated you have the attention span of a tween girl in a shopping mall.  Granted, although most professional interviews are conducted by the hiring managers, lower-level positions may be screened by the HR department. In which case, toss rationality out the window, good luck, and you’re on your own.

What’s my office going to look like? It’s not going to look like anything, sport, because that’s the worst closing in the history of sales.

Mistakenly placed confidence is as repellent as a total lack of personality.   This is an actual question asked by an actual applicant who breezed into the interview room on a reeking cloud of aftershave, sporting a mismatched suit and a clip-on tie.  It was widely suspected that there was a used-car salesman position somewhere in his background, just not reported in the resume.

How would you describe the responsibilities of this position? Or even better: What are the performance expectations of this position over the first 12 months? What, you didn’t bother to read the ad, and practice even a modicum of advance preparation?  And, if you don’t already know or cannot intuit the expectations from the previous 50 minutes of interviewing, then you don’t belong.   An engineer engineers, a salesperson sells, and a teacher teaches.  That’s it.

How does one advance in the company?   One more Captain Obvious award. One advances by increasing their value to the company, the rest just follows.

What don’t you like about working here and what would you change?  Well done, chief, waste your precious allotted ten minutes dwelling on negatives.

Is this a new position? If not, what did the previous employee go on to do?  Again, it matters not a whit if it’s a growth versus replacement position.  They have a need and you’re there to fill that need.  Why belabor the obvious?

How soon would you like me to start?  The obvious answer is right now.  They need someone to start contributing right now, else we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we?  On second thought, it was back when they realized they needed someone, which is now in the past.  The pedantic answer, especially with large companies with HR departments, is after all the background checks and drug test screening is done, etc.   Again, this question just manages to waste precious time by eliciting non-value-added information.

What training programs are available to your employees?  Ask this, and you’ve just shown that you’re not one who can learn on her own.  

So In Conclusion, What?

We could go on here, but we’re well past the point of diminishing returns.

The point is that the closing part of the interview is just that, closing.  The salescallsiness of the interview.  Inquiring about the team culture or about working hours is ordinary and forgettable.  Its opportunity-wasting, and stupid.  This is where the applicant uses the tiny time window of ten (that’s 10!!) minutes to further qualify the prospects and then make the sale.

Don’t go for the canned and ordinary*.  Be original, and get the deal.

And as always, Amat Victoria Curam.**

That’s it for today, folks. Thanks for visiting.  Any further insights or comments on the interview process, that’s what the comment section is there for.   In the next post on interviews, we’ll dwell a little more on this made-up word:  salescallsiness.  Don’t miss out, that’s what Email and/or Twitter subscriptions are for.


*But, if you feel very strongly about inquiring about a particular company’s mission statement or vision, by all means, ask away.

** Victory favors the prepared.  Or, Victory loves careful preparations.  Or further still, the ones who prepare will kick some righteous ass.  Whatever…


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  1. Once when I was interviewing for an admin assist position, the candidate asked me if she could wear flip flops to work because her feet needed to breathe. And she was a grown woman in her forties who should know better!

  2. Q4: Here’s one where I’d disagree with you. Sure, if you work in traditional industries – but not if you work in a new and rapidly changing one, like I do. My job didn’t exist a few years ago, and jobs I’m looking at now didn’t exist a couple years ago either. It’s all new and we’re all feeling our way through. In order to really get a feel for what I would be in for I had to ask ‘if we were to think of it as a pie chart, what percentage of what duties would make up a typical week’?
    NZ Muse recently posted..The single most defining food experience of my life…

  3. I agree coming up with a few good interview questions can make or break you getting the job. Do you have a series of best interview questions?
    EL @ Moneywatch101 recently posted..Do you have Mobile Banking?

  4. Oh man I’ve sat through way too many interviews in my day. I’ve seen and heard it all. It’s amazing how clueless some candidates are. I had a guy practically shout at me for fifteen minutes once, I guess he was talking extra loud because he wanted to make sure I could hear him. Boy was that annoying.
    Untemplater recently posted..Never Underestimate What You’re Capable Of

  5. Good post!!!

    For awhile when I taught professional writing at the Great Desert University, one of my units was a resume and cover letter. Each semester I’d invite a woman from Career Services to come in and harangue the students. She told a good story along these lines, after first addressing the fact that applicants are often asked to present their own questions.

    One young woman, who had a degree related to retailing, applied for a management position at a large department store. She knew nothing about this company — she’d never even shopped there. In addition to looking it up in the various corporate reference works our speaker advised, she went to the store and spent some time exploring the place. She went to every department, studied the way the displays looked, how the space was laid out, the Muzak, everything she could think of.

    Then when asked to present her questions, she was in a position to ask questions that made her look like she understood the way the store’s merchandising operated: why do you do XXX? Each question was based directly on what she had observed.

    She got the job.
    Funny about Money recently posted..Creative Work: Good for Your Health?

  6. I’ve also held a number of interviews and am amazed what answers and questions some candidates will spit out. Being prepared is always better than winging-it.
    Bret @ Hope to Prosper recently posted..How to Maximize your Income

  7. I had few interview questions already for a job. And yes, some questions may break or make you to the job.

  8. Helpful advice for anyone preparing for an interview. From a personal perspective one of the top qualities I seek in an employee is self reliance and initiative, whether at a junior level or senior and examples of how this has helped an organisation or company in previous roles. Aside from the ability to perform the job, the other most significant factor is personality and the fit with the business. I’m sure this ranks very highly amongst many employers.


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