Guest Post by Lisa McKale

Originally posted

                                                   © Copyright 2016 ResourcefulManager


HR has rustled up a great group of candidates to fill your empty staff position. They seem smart, eager and perfect fits on paper. So how do you know which one is the best?

You’ll never find out if you’re still sticking with lame interview questions.

They’re questions Ellis Chase, HR director at the former Chase Manhattan Bank in New York, refers to as “flat-out dumb.”

But they’re still on many many managers’ interview checklists. And they’ll never get you what you need from prospective employees.

Here are 4 of the top offenders you need to eliminate TODAY – and what to ask instead:

1) ‘Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?’

Why it’s banal: Potential employees, if they’re smart, aren’t going to say anything that doesn’t resemble “Why, working here, of course!”

Quality candidates who are asked this question at every job interview probably have whittled down their answer to: “I just want to be working at a job I love at a place where I love to do it.” (Snore). They know it’s a fishing expedition by hiring managers to assess how quickly they’ll be looking for a job elsewhere. Nevertheless, some managers still think candidates will come up with an out-there answer like, “I plan to retire to Nepal and be on my first attempt to summit Mount Everest.”

What you’re REALLY asking: “Do you see yourself in this profession in five years, and if you do, are you still working for us?” Or more bluntly, “You’re not planning to quit after a year and a half, are you?”

What you SHOULD ask: “What are your career goals for the next 5 years?”

Why this is better: Now you’re truly getting a feel for a candidate’s desired career path, not only in your position and company but also for the future. You can (and should) ask candidates about their goals without forcing them to predict “where they’ll be.” You’ll get a good idea about whether the candidate takes the job seriously, or is just using your position as a stepping stone to some loftier goal.

2) ‘What’s The Thing You Liked LEAST About Previous Jobs?’

Why it’s banal: If they’re in your office for a job interview, chances are they:

1. were fired from a previous job

2. were laid off from a previous job

3. voluntarily left/are leaving a previous job

So they probably have a list of negatives as long as your arm.  Regardless, employees don’t want to badmouth former (or current) companies in interviews – it’s considered bad form. But here you are, asking them to do it!

What you’re REALLY asking: “Tell us something you hated about your previous bosses/coworkers/places of employment so we can predict if you’ll hate the same stuff at OUR company.” Candidates who are worth their salt will see right through this.

What you SHOULD ask: “How have other positions you’ve had fostered your career goals?”

Why this is better: It’s smart to ask candidates about their expectations for a job position. Asking them to recount how previous positions did or didn’t help them meet career goals can shed light on what candidates are looking for in a new position – and if the one you have is a right fit for them.

3) ‘What’s Your Biggest Weakness?’

Why it’s banal: That’s not why the job candidate is there. He’s in your office in an expensive suit to tell you why he can do the job you’re hiring for, not why he can’t. He’s armed with a resume and reference letters to wow you with his skills, not to talk about why he has a hard time making decisions or fears public speaking.

The worst thing about this question is that most candidates feel compelled to answer it. It’s very “Dr. Phil” in this day and age to be able to own your shortcomings. It makes you seem appropriately self-aware. Only the snootiest job seekers would risk shrugging, “Gee, I can’t think of any weaknesses!”

What you’re REALLY asking: “Give me an idea of why I’m going to be freaking out in six months because I was dumb enough to hire you.” Well, at least that’s what it sounds like.

What you SHOULD ask: “Tell me about a work problem/situation you had to resolve, and why it was difficult.”

Why this is better: It’s the great equalizer. Everyone has dealt with a work-related problem if they have job experience, or even a school situation if your candidate is fresh out of college. It asks the candidate to think about how he or she handled a situation and what could have been done better. The question creates empathy, not judgment, and will more likely get an honest answer out of an interviewee.

4) ‘Why Should I/We Hire YOU?’

Why it’s banal: “Because I live around the corner?” “Because I have a nice face?” “Because I really, REALLY want the job?” You’re fishing for some sort of magic answer, and candidates know it, which puts them in the awkward position of trying to outsmart you with an answer.

What you’re REALLY asking: “Explain why you’d be a great addition to our organization.”

What you SHOULD ask: “Explain why you’d be a great addition to our organization.”

Why this is better: Because you just come right out and ASK! This allows candidates to show you what they know about the company, the position, and what would be required if hired. They were intrigued by your job opening – now’s their chance to tell you why.

It also gives candidates an opportunity to tell you something about themselves that you might not find on their resume. It gives them the chance to brag a little. Most of all, it’s a question that will get you a genuine answer.

Lisa McKale is a writer and editor for and She has more than 25 years of experience in varied areas of publishing, including community newspapers, legal and policy newsletters and business-to-business magazine publishing. Her areas of specialty include writing on leadership and career advice. For more information, visit her blogs at



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