interview question clichés

Let’s get rid of interview question clichés

Is it time to dump those interview question clichés which constantly crop up and add little value? I would say so! And for once I am not a lone voice!

I was recently involved in an interview process and the hiring manager asked the candidate:

“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

Poker face

The candidate had a good poker face. Apart from a slight widening of the eyes, he disguised his authentic reaction very well before answering, with the usual culturally accepted “blurb.” What I suspect he really wanted to say was:

“𝘞𝘩𝘢𝘵 𝘢𝘮 𝘐? 𝘈 𝘧𝘰𝘳𝘵𝘶𝘯𝘦 𝘵𝘦𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘳? 2020 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘣𝘦𝘦𝘯 𝘢 𝘸𝘳𝘪𝘵𝘦 𝘰𝘧𝘧. 𝘐 𝘩𝘢𝘷𝘦𝘯’𝘵 𝘴𝘦𝘦𝘯 𝘮𝘺 𝘱𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘯𝘵𝘴 𝘧𝘰𝘳 8 𝘮𝘰𝘯𝘵𝘩𝘴. 𝘔𝘺 𝘴𝘰𝘯 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘢𝘯 𝘶𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘭𝘺𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘪𝘴 𝘩𝘪𝘨𝘩 𝘳𝘪𝘴𝘬 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘊𝘖𝘝𝘐𝘋. 𝘔𝘺 𝘸𝘪𝘧𝘦’𝘴 𝘤𝘰𝘮𝘱𝘢𝘯𝘺 𝘩𝘢𝘴 𝘨𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘭𝘪𝘲𝘶𝘪𝘥𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯. 𝘐 𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 𝘣𝘦 𝘭𝘪𝘷𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘪𝘯 𝘢 𝘣𝘰𝘹 𝘪𝘧 𝘐 𝘥𝘰𝘯’𝘵 𝘨𝘦𝘵 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘫𝘰𝘣”

Certainly there is a meme about how 2020 year planners have gone to hell in a hand cart. So it made me think what other questions could (and even should) we let go? There are many standard interview questions that add very little value in today’s climate and should probably be consigned to the interview question trash can. Mark Anthony Dyson, Career Strategist says  these cliché questions “serve as empty calories to an interview, as they do a resume: How do these questions tell the interviewer anything relevant to the candidate’s ability to do the job?”

Interviews are ineffective

But we should also consider the very function of the interview as a reliable element of the hiring process. Currently it is the final hurdle of the hiring process which has been unchanged for decades, or even longer. Multiple unstructured interviews to select the right candidate are the corporate norm. However, research is increasingly exposing flaws in this process, and studies suggest there is no correlation between interview presentation and future performance in a role.

There is also evidence to suggest that our own perceptions of our abilities (intuition) to identify talent is equally poor.  Lazlo Bock former VP of operations at Google says the whole process is:

   “a complete random mess… We found a zero relationship.”

Research from Leadership IQ found that and astounding 46% of all new hires fail within 18 months and only 19% will achieve unequivocal success. So why do we keep going down this path and  continue to ask inane questions  and expecting and even rewarding inauthentic responses?

On the basis that interviews are going to be around for a while I decided to ask my network which interview question clichés would they get rid of.

Which interview question clichés would you dump?

Sara Lesina a Global Marketing Leader in the healthcare sector mentioned the conflict that job seekers face when confronted with questions like the “where do you see yourself” “It’s also a double-edged question: hiring managers want to see whether you’re ambitious enough, but likely hope you are not too much given the role they are interviewing you for… not a question that wins you many points”

Sweta Regmi, Career Consultant has another approach “Answer “You & I might not wake up tomorrow” 😄, could we focus on today?  Or “I will be on your seat doing exactly what you are doing right now to me ” and smile- I have done this, it worked!!

There was no shortage of suggestions!

Hannah Morgan, Career Sherpa, jumped right in. “I love the idea of getting rid of the “where do you see yourself” question! It’s not all that helpful. I would also recommend getting rid of any/all “stress interview questions” where the interviewer attempts to make the candidate uncomfortable on purpose.”

Donna Schilder, Career Coach, echoes Hannah’s thoughts. “Why put the candidate on the spot. Make them feel comfortable so the can show you their best.”

What’s the worst mistake you ever made?” is the one Michael Perry, PixlBoss, suggests binning now.  Shelley Piedmont, Career Coach, and former Recruiter, tosses in “What is your biggest weakness?” No one answers this question honestly.”

And more

Trick questions can also cause confusion says Jillian Knapp, Learning and Development Specialist.  “I had a friend who was asked what her favourite word was. I have no idea how I’d answer that question. Unfortunately she chose a word (craic) that was popular and benign in her country (Ireland) but meant something totally different in North America. She didn’t get the job.”

For the uninitiated, “craic” in Ireland (pronounced crack) means fun or a good time. In the U.S. it has other, less salubrious, connotations.

Monica Marcelis Fochtman, Career Coach, would exile “What would your co-workers say about you?”

Susan P Joyce , Publisher and Editor of Jobhunt. org adds “…who gives an honest answer to “What is your greatest failure?” Seriously? Maybe that measures how prepared/interested the candidate is?”

Sonal Bahl Career Strategist, had a whole list of suggestions involving tennis balls, pencils animals and fruit! “If you were an animal/fruit/insert any other random noun, which one would you be (I’m guffawing like a hyena now.) Or how many tennis balls can fit in an airplane (kill me now)”

Authenticity and other approaches

Then came the question of authenticity. The reality is as Kevin D Turner, LinkedIn Expert mentions “The only way we can expect candidates to be “authentic” is to ask “authentic” interview questions…. So what does an Interviewer really learn about a candidate using these trite questions? They are good at internet search, following guidance, and practicing answers? Ask real questions to discover and listen to really learn”.

Authenticity is definitely the preferred approach of Bernadette Nagy Career Coach, “I would definitely suggest authenticity and transparency for both sides on the table. “

Laura Smith-Proulx, Career Coach, doesn’t favour making candidates uncomfortable and says that even the most confident candidate can get nervous in an interview. “So why not put them at ease? She throws this question in to the mix. “What would you like your future boss to say about your work?”  

Donna Svei, Resumé Writer favours another approach where candidates should be encouraged to ask some different types of questions themselves saying “… if you can stimulate a productive conversation, you can save an unskilled or unprepared interviewer from asking outdated questions.”

Lisa Rangel, Resumé Writer, adds “I also think as much as it would be wishful thinking to rid of many of these tired questions, preparing candidates to answer uniquely and with a sense of humor advances the candidate in many cases—if it’s a job they want!

End of the unstructured interview?

We see interviews as the ultimate defining challenge against which we measure all candidates and cut those that underperform. This means that competent candidates are unsuccessful based on a process which is not data driven,  and frequently involving irrelevant and unhelpful questions. This is prompting many organisations to shift to automated and structured interviews, using more reliable and measurable methodologies.

That will definitely help reduce the problem of interview question clichés and not before time. I have a feeling that some will still cling on to the old ways no matter what.

Many thanks to all who participated in such an engaging discussion. For the full thread – check here 

One thought on “Let’s get rid of interview question clichés

  1. Keith Amoss PhD, Chartered FCIPD

    Absoluteley Dorothy. Interview questions are failing to grasp the realities of today. Employers need flexible, resilient and positive employees and the normal batch of questioning often misses.


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