What was the worst job interview question you were ever asked? Good interview questions can help employers judge the technical qualifications, people skills, problem solving approach, and team fit of prospective employees. Bad interview questions do none of those. Instead, they confuse, irk, or offend the applicant (often in combination). Our ten worst job interview questions exhibit one or more of the following characteristics:
- Illegal – Ask about certain topics and it’s “Do not pass Go; do not collect your next paycheck.” Your employer has been advised to reduce its liabilities, and that means you.
- Useless – questions test trivial knowledge that has no bearing on aptitude or generate pseudopsychological responses that Dr. Phil could bloviate on for an entire episode.
- Hackneyed – There’s an old saying: “If you’re one in a million, you have 1,000 clones in the People’s Republic of China.” These questions were once original, but they’ve been asked so many times that everyone has memorized ‘pat’ answers to them.
Here are ten worst job interview questions, along with the characteristics that got them on the list, and some possible rejoinders. Please note that being asked any of these questions should make you seriously consider whether you want to entrust your livelihood and sanity to this organization.
#10 – What interests you about our company?
“Um, I heard you were hiring?”
#9 – Have you ever brought a lawsuit against an employer?
You can’t ask about this or age, race, health/marital/personal/family issues, and arrests, among other things. You have a choice of responses to this one. You can use the old, boring “I don’t think that’s an appropriate question” line, or you can allow the interviewer to save face with something like “No, but I’m always open to new experiences”.
#8 – Why did you take the pen from me?
In this one, the interviewer picks up a pen and holds it out halfway between herself and the applicant, and then silently waits for a response. Eventually the person will ask “what are you doing”, or, more often, take the pen. I would recommend: “When I saw you holding out the pen, I knew what you were doing. Taking it was the fastest way to get the heck out of here. Good day!” If you want to stick around, you can always grab the pen with your thumb and forefinger just above the interviewer’s (ala the old sandlot baseball method for deciding who gets to bat first) and wait for her next move.
#7 – Can you work under pressure?
Who is going to say no? You could answer “I’ve been tested to 12 ft-lbs per square inch”, or if you can completely change the tenor of the conversation with “If I don’t get this job I’ll lose my house, my wife, and the eight third-world children I’ve been supporting will be doomed to starvation. How’m I doing so far?”
#6 – If you were a ‘Lost’ character, which one would you be?
Applicant: “Jack” Interviewer: (Raises eyebrow) “Jack?” Applicant: (Pauses and gazes upward as if in deep thought, and then looks interviewer directly in the eye) “Definitely. Jack. But what does that have to do with being an Accounts Payable Clerk 1?” This is a variant of the old “If you were an animal, which one would you be?” question. If asked that question, you might want to go with Sasquatch, noting that “I read that they are telepathic, and that would make this interview go a lot easier!”
#5 – How do you define sexual harrassment?
“You nailed it! Nice one.” Or if you’re ready to leave “Come closer and I’ll show you.”
#4 – What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?
Upon further consideration, this could be a valid “team fit” question in certain technical disciplines.
#3 – Do you ever abuse alcohol or drugs?
“I didn’t realize I had to choose”, or the more tactful “You do realize that the people who test body fluid samples are part of the Teamster’s union? They don’t like people cutting in on their territory.”
#2 – What is your biggest weakness?
This question got serious consideration for the top spot, but it’s only the second most likely question to pop up in an interview. All the interviewing tactics books tell you to develop a response that actually demonstrates a strength. Don’t dignify an awful question with a thoughtful response. First, startle the interviewer by saying “I have two”, and then continue with “one, I have an aversion to kryptonite but it doesn’t normally affect my work, and two, you really don’t want me to work overtime during a full moon. Seriously.” You’ll be doing the parting handshake in no time.
#1 – Where do you see yourself in five years?
Possibly a Trifecta if family issues will effect your career planning! Undoubtedly you have either already heard it or you will in an upcoming interview. Depending upon how fast you want to get out of there you can go with: “In mirrors and on YouTube. Unless I’m undead; then only on YouTube.” Or the ever-popular: “Asking you this question as you ‘reinterview for your position’ “ (don’t forget the menacing air quotes). Rubbing your hands together and cackling works nicely, too.
Do you have a worse interview question? A better answer to one of these? Come on! Everyone has a job interview horror story. Let us hear it in the comments section!