This started out as a gag at a keynote presentation I gave to 900 mutual fund managers several years ago. (I always take questions at such events, even when the audience is huge.) An audience member asked how to answer the classic interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” This inspired a request for help with another stupid interview question, “What’s your greatest weakness?”
You get the idea. The rest of the discussion turned into a critique of those silly indirect-assessment questions interviewers pose when they’re clueless about how to assess your ability to do the job.
Ask The Headhunter readers know I collect such goofy queries, but I’ve never actually compiled a list of 10 because there are many, many more than that! In fact, someone just sent me a list compiled by Glassdoor.com: “Top 25 Oddball Interview Questions for 2013.” Honestly, I can’t figure out how anyone can judge job candidates with such inane, irrelevant, groping-in-the-dark interrogations. Out of the 25, there’s just one question I think is worth asking. Check Glassdoor’s list and take a guess—I’ll share my pick at the end of this column.
More important, I’d like to help you survive your next Goofy Inquisition by suggesting how to help an interviewer stop the silliness. This tactic is simple: Raise the quality of the discussion by turning it to the work at hand—that is, to how you’d do the job you’re being interviewed for.
Salesforce.com wants to know, “If you could be anyone else, who would it be?” JetBlue asks, “How many quarters would you need to reach the height of the Empire State building?” Dell Computer’s interviewers would like you to explain, “What songs best describes your work ethic?” LivingSocial wants you to perform your favorite song.
This is all fun stuff that might provide a bit of insight about you, but none of it matters until the employer can make a direct assessment of your ability to do the job at hand. Thanks to decades of expensive human resources mumbo-jumbo, the last thing employers do in interviews is ask the candidate to show how she would do the job. That’s the first question any employer should ask. Then we can talk about favorite animals.
When you encounter The Stupid Interview Procedure, it’s not hard to deftly steer it onto a business-like track:
“That’s a good one—I’m not sure you’ll agree with my answer, but I’m glad to tackle it. Before I do, I’d like to ask your permission to do something later in our meeting that I believe will make our meeting more profitable. I’m happy to answer all your questions and to tell you anything you’d like to know about me. But would it be OK if, when we’re done, I took 10 minutes to outline on your whiteboard how I’d do this job?”
Bam! No other question matters so much in a job interview. (I discussed why in a Fast Company column several years go: “What is the single best interview question ever—and the best answer?”) If the employer doesn’t ask it, and you don’t get a chance to answer it, then you will probably lose the interview.
More to the point, if the employer doesn’t understand where you’re going or says, “No, thanks,” then he’s probably not qualified to hire you—or he probably isn’t going to be in his job very long anyway.
Getting back to the Glassdoor list, when Urban Outfitters is interviewing you for a job in sales or marketing, and you're asked, “Pick two celebrities to be your parents,” suggest instead that the employer take you out onto the sales floor so you can show him how you deal with customers.
Will this approach get you booted out of a job interview? Not if the employer really means it when it claims, “We’re looking for smart people who stand out!”
I think the only question in the Glassdoor list that’s a reasonably direct assessment of how a candidate would do the job is the one asked by Amazon: “Jeff Bezos walks into your office and says you can have a million dollars to launch your best entrepreneurial idea. What is it?”
How many stupid interview questions can you think of?