Why Job Candidates Hate Your Weak Questions

What is your biggest weakness? Perhaps it’s that very question, at least when it comes to interviewing job candidates. We informally surveyed recently hired job candidates about their interview experiences and found the ever popular “What is your biggest weakness?” is their most dreaded job interview question. Here are some of their candid remarks about that specific inquiry.

  • “The candidate is—nine times out of 10—not going to tell you his or her true weakness.”
  • “It can be a tricky question because you want to display your best qualities while not exposing too many faults, although I do find interviewers usually appreciate honesty above all else.”
  • “Most people [are forced to invent] a ‘weakness’ that others might see as a strength.”
  • “This is always a convoluted/loaded question, and wasteful.”
  • “It’s hard to not come off as seeming incompetent.”

Yes, job candidates understand this question is meant to help you identify and mitigate risk. But they also rehearse the answer to the point that it often becomes a non-answer. “Perform an internet search on that question and you’ll get dozens of articles outlining exactly how to answer it. How often are you told, “I’m a perfectionist,” or “I’m a workaholic.” Is that standard feedback truly useful?

Instead, consider relying more on scenario-based questions that, according to HR expert Dr. John Sullivan, focuses specifically on real problems in this position at this company. Either ask the job candidate to describe a time he or she overcame an obstacle, or give a sample scenario and ask the job candidate to describe what he or she would do to overcome the challenge. By eliminating canned questions that beg for canned answers, you’ll be truly testing a job candidate’s problem-solving skills as they directly relate to the position.

One survey respondent fully agrees, “If you want to get to know me, give me a scenario and ask how I would handle the situation.”

I See Myself…Elsewhere

Runner-up for the worst interview question “ever” is, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” What’s problematic about that question? Job candidates are savvy enough to know this is a trick question.

“In fact, a truthful answer about what you HOPE to be doing can easily sabotage your odds of landing a job offer,” Interview Coach Pamela Skillings wrote in her popular blog Big Interview. “You could be unfairly eliminated from contention if you answer this question in a way that even hints this is not the one and only job of your dreams.”

As you know, employee retention is a huge challenge. But looking for loyalty before you’ve earned is, frankly, a waste of time. Even successful managers and executives will likely move on within five years, according to Catalyist.com, for better pay or better advancement or professional development opportunities.

It’s better to specifically ask about professional goals and aspirations beyond the current job description. Look for resume clues—such as degrees, professional organizations, and internships—which can help tailor the question further.

Now You Be the Judge

Of course, you can’t please everyone. The most popular questions have become quite polarizing (candidates either love them or hate them).  The following three creative questions are modified from the feedback we received:

  1. Why is a manhole cover round? (A now infamously classic Microsoft® job interview question)
  2. Can you tell me a joke?
  3. Are you the best person for this job?

How would you respond? Why do you think these three questions have gotten rave reviews? Share your thoughts with us here, and if you have a favorite (or least favorite) interview question, let us know!

Image credit: 72soul / 123RF Stock Photo