Work: Interview Questions I Love and Hate

I teach people how to interview.  Recently, this particular article swam through my emails of “hey, you seem to read these” (I do). I hate some of these questions. I tell managers to avoid asking them – and if you DO ask them, be prepared for a well-polished and prepared answer (and be warned if the candidate ISN’T prepared, but better to just avoid).

That first question – Tell Me About Yourself – the article says don’t go off on a “personal” tangent. They essentially tell you to summarize your resume. BAH!  BAH I SAY. That is terrible advice – and I actually have always taught managers that if the candidate can’t or won’t get off their resume – it’s a yellow flag. Not a deal-breaker, it could be an act of nerves – but if you are looking for a candidate to build relationships it is a dangerous inability. I almost entirely disagree with this writer on how to answer this question.

I agree with her tagline “Why are you a good fit?” – this is the culture-question. This is the chance to listen to a candidate talk about their passions. Everyone has them. It’s healthy for people to have passions outside of work. It reduces the risk of burn-out. The culture of employees taking vacation creates a more positive environment for employees; engendering loyalty and productivity simply because they think/know “my company wants me to have a life as well as to work.”  Now, not every company wants that culture. Not every employee wants that work-life balance. I don’t understand those people and some large-enough-to-be-trackable percentage of employees resent a lack of work-life balance so… I guess it depends on whether the manager wants engaged employees or wants to micro-manage people.

Now, with that said – when I’ve coached people on preparing for this question I tell them to find a piece of their life that makes them more attractive to a good manager. And be prepared to read the interviewer and tell them the skill you are showing off. Something like these:

  • “I love fishing. I love watching the sunrise over the water and letting my brain wander a little bit. I get some of my best ideas while I’m fishing.”  Oooh… this person is a happy(er) early-riser and that is a rare commodity. They also have ideas…
  • “I really love playing on my kickball team. We meet at XYZ park every Tuesday and even though we’re not the most competitive in the league, we lose pretty regularly, we love playing the game so much we keep playing. honestly, I think we have more fun than the more competitive players because we focus on doing our best even against long odds.”  Damn, tell me this person couldn’t be awesome at customer service – especially working with frustrated clients! And works well on a team!
  • “I want to be a novelist. I have an absolutely love affair with words and grammar. I read constantly and love exploring ideas.”  I wonder who’s answer this could be…..

Next question I hate – Do you have any questions for me? – she is absolutely right that not having questions is a HUGE red flag.  Did the candidate not prepare? Are they not paying attention? Why don’t they have any questions?!?!  Her advice isn’t horrible, and she is right that people have to prepare to answer this question. That said… there is another side to this I really, really wish she had addressed:

As an introvert I can tell you – if you cover all the questions I prepared, I’m going to struggle with this question. I’m not good at “on the spot.”  I’m good at deep, reflective thinking and coming up with creative solutions – but none of those are “in the moment” or “on my feet” sort of brain powers. And if I’m candidate #5 coming through – the hiring manager probably covers a lot of the common questions candidates ask about the job description or company or whatever. But, some questions I coach people to have in their back-pocket:

  • “Is this position a new role in the company or being back-filled?” If it’s a back-fill, you can follow-up ask what they liked best about the predecessor and what they would most like to see changed in how this role is approached. (What are you, as the manager of this role, excited to take this opportunity to change).
  • “Can you tell me about the greatest challenges you see this position tackling in the first six months?” Assuming they haven’t answered this yet…
  • “As my manager, if I have ideas or possible solutions that need to go up-the-chain to higher leadership, what is that process and how would you support me?” I love this question. Won’t lie. I tend to come up with ideas… a lot of them (like I needed a blog to siphon some of them off or something). Is this manager going to encourage and push and challenge me to continue growing or are they going to shut me down when I have ideas and think there could be improvements? Is the company culture really willing to try new things or always “this is the way it’s always been done” attitudes? I can’t just ASK that – every company claims to be trying to be nimble or whatever – but are they really and how do they make that reality? Every company claims to love ideas people… but they don’t always like supporting ideas.  Every manager (I’ve ever met/trained/worked with/saw) claims to want their employees to come up with solutions… but do they really?
  • “How would you measure my success, and what could I do to exceed your expectations?”  Again, if they haven’t answered this. Does this company use tracking goals or is it all more sludgy/wishy-washy.
  • “How does the company track feedback and performance reviews?” With the follow-up possibility of “what opportunities are there to learn and continue to develop my skills?” especially in a role like developer or trainer or leader – continuous learning is a requirement. Will the company support me or tell me to do it on my own time-and-dime? This tells me-the-candidate whether this company really values growing and developing as a company or if that’s just lip-service. And does this manager connect their employees into the available options or just want little worker-bees who show up and keep their head down?  That isn’t always a bad thing, but if you demand questions because you want to make sure the person is a “bigger” person than just show-up-and-work – a manager better be prepared to support that shit.

In case you can’t tell, I feel strongly that candidates should get to know the manager as well.  I tell managers when I train them, candidates are interviewing you too. Are you an asshole? (I never get to be that blunt in training) Are you going to stand between this candidate and their next career move? Are you going to force them to move before they feel prepared? Are you going to demand they keep up with technology changes but never give any time for training and development? These managers EXIST (I’ve worked with them and for them…) Are you a micromanager or a cliff-pusher (pushing employees off cliffs to see if they’ll fly or fall – usually without a parachute or anything)?  Or are you a manager who is aware that politics exists within every organization and you will fight to make sure your employees are as successful as possible? 

The other two – “what do you know about us.” Meh. It depends on the company. Does your company HAVE news? (I’ve worked for one that was B2B and…. Not really). On the other hand, is your company some huge monster that everyone knows everything about (Amazon, Home Depot, Mercedes, etc.). Honestly, I can’t come up with a lot of good that this question really provides the manager except “did you Google us” for a LOT of companies. That said – when I’ve coached people on answering interview questions…. Always prepare for this one.  Maybe someday this question will stop being asked (seriously, we all have Google now).

Finally, I teach managers the STAR methodology of answers and that the manager wants to hear it. So good advice there.

One out of four questions are worthwhile (in my opinion) and she gives good advice. But 25%? I don’t think that overall this article is the most useful. And she gives basically zero examples of what she is talking about. Maybe she had a word limit from her editors, but if so -shame on you editor! You let a dumb thing like page length become more important than quality of content! It’s not like we’re talking space on an actual page any more, let the writer put it out correctly, not within a specific word count! It’s not like she was blabbing on and on for 1500 words. *cough*