I recently read about how to respond to stupid interview questions and thought, but “Why do you get asked stupid questions in the first place?”
You may reason that asking trick questions gives the interviewer the upper hand, or the interviewer wants to try to make you look inferior, or try to unsettle you.
Yet, at the core, these aren’t the real reasons you get asked these stupid interview questions. There are 3 main reasons why you actually get asked these crazy questions:
1. Most hiring managers are not highly skilled at interviewing. Most hiring mangers lack the expertise and knowledge of how to ask a question and then read the person’s body language during the response. They lack the ability to listen clearly (they may be distracted thinking about the email they need to write once out of the interview, or the project their boss has demanded they get finished in the next 30 minutes) and therefore they don’t pick up on everything you say. Due to their lack of interviewing skills, they depend on the interviewer’s playbook – a list of standard interview questions, such as tell me your strengths and weaknesses and tell me why you want to work here.
These standard questions unfortunately have been asked so frequently that candidates have learned how to answer with well scripted responses. The answers all sound the same and provide little insight into the candidate’s ability nor differentiate them from any other candidate. The result is the well scripted answers make the hiring decision even more difficult.
Turning to clever questions gives a hiring manager something you never thought of: an easy out in the interview process. Whoever answers with the most clever answers is remembered and in turn helps the hiring manager forget about what really matters – if you are a great fit, have passion, skill, expertise and knowledge for the job. Since most people struggle to determine the value of one candidate compared to another, the easy choice and decision becomes to ask a stupid question, and worst of all, let that be the deciding factor on who lands the job, or at least gets to the next round! (I will give you my answers to the stupid questions at the end of this article.)
The problem with this approach is that what you focus is what is achieved. The silly questions are an attempt to weed out less talented candidates, but the result is they weed out the better candidates. When you focus on not hiring a lesser candidate you end up with a lesser candidate. Focusing on hiring the best candidate is not achieved by asking the candidate what animal you would want to be or what is to be on your tombstone. You hire the best candidate by asking the tough questions and by being willing to dig deeper into what the candidate is saying by asking follow up questions.
What are the tough questions? Ask the candidate what drives and motivates them, what their passion is and where and how do they obtain their passion. Ask them what achievements are they most proud of and why. Listen how the candidate describes these achievements in detail. And have them tell you what they regret most in life. After all, the word “interview” is to get an look “inside” someone. Wanting a clever response for a stupid question does indicate the internal fortitude, knowledge, wisdom, expertise and passion of a candidate. Instead, ask the candidate how they work under pressure and to provide examples. Unfortunately, these questions become an afterthought all too often.
2. Too much pressure to make the right decision. Consider this: have you ever wondered why you are required to go through 4, 5 and 6 rounds of interviews and multiple psychological testing? There is extensive pressure today to make the right decision, get the right person to hit the ground running, and add value to the bottom line yesterday. Our resumes are filled with cost savings, revenue created, efficiencies generated and the impact to the bottom line. And yes, even all resumes all look similar rather quickly. Hence, don’t ask the candidate silly questions; rather, ask questions that make the candidate reveal who they are. Asking insightful questions requires discipline, patience and great listening skills. The pressure is on to deliver the perfect candidate. After all, why does the job description require someone with the exhausting list of skills and knowledge?
But, how can a hiring manager deal with the pressure to not make a mistake in the hiring process and relieve themselves from the pressure of not making a mistake when hiring someone? By putting the pressure on multiple people and spreading the responsibility to many people.
Sure, having at least one other person besides the hiring manager interview the candidate makes sense to get perspective. But all too often the candidate ends up coming back for more and more interviews which only frustrates the candidate. Requiring the candidate to continually come back for more interviews is strong indication that the hiring manager and company is unable to make a decision and get it right. In addition the hiring is by committee instead of one person taking the lead and responsibility.
Consequently, the hiring manager can have everyone possible interview you, and from there these people discuss who they like and don’t and collectively the decision gets made. If the person turns out not to fit, anyone can easily state it was a group decision.
Finding and hiring the right candidate simply does not require 6 people to interview a candidate to determine if they are a great fit. The amount of time and energy used in the interview process can easily be offset by hiring someone with the right skills and teach them technical skills if needed. More on that in another article, but for now, let’s move on to the most important reason for stupid questions:
3. Companies are actually risk averse. Although companies like to state otherwise, most are risk averse. The big misconception today is that companies want their employees to take chances, take risks and be entrepreneurs in the business. Sure, companies such as Google and Apple thrive on their employees taking risks as they push creative boundaries. But most companies, and that means over 90% of companies don’t want risk takers, unless you are always right. Too many companies can’t afford for you to take risks because if you do and fail it costs the company money. And most companies today are all about driving shareholder value.
Consequently, all of the testing and interviews are an attempt to be absolutely sure you are the right candidate – the perfect fit. Yet, with closer attention in the interview process it will become apparent rather quickly which are the perfect candidates. Quite often, the interview process is so lengthy that great candidates move on and receive offers or opportunities elsewhere.
In summary, hiring managers are much too careful to take risks in hiring and therefore spend far too long in making the decision out of fear of selecting the wrong candidate. If they select the wrong candidate and projects don’t get completed, their own job is in jeopardy. To be risk averse makes managers spread the risk to others. Employees today are not often rewarded for even being successful at taking risks, so with much more downside than upside, the hiring manager feels pressured to depend on others to make the decision for him/her. Even if you had a string of positive risk taking, so much is about what you have done lately.
But just in case you were wondering, go ahead and ask me the stupid questions and I will tell you what animal I want to be (a dog, because they possess a keen sense detecting genuine character in someone); what I want on my tombstone (I am reincarnating so don’t touch any of my stuff I will be right back), my weaknesses (if I had a bunch do you think I would have gotten this far?) and why do I want to work here (because from my experience I have seen the same problems at previous companies, know how to fix the problems and am excited by the challenge to help fix them at your company). And I can provide examples of being creative (developed and created a website for one company where I worked that is now their main form of communication to the media, press, customers and employees. And I have Finance expertise!)
But when you get done with those questions, be sure to really listen to me (and all of the other candidates) explain and provide examples on how I can directly and immediately impact your company. Sense how my keen business acumen has made impacts on companies from top to bottom. Read my body language, my handshake, how I look you in the eye, feel my passion and excitement combined with the calmness of my self-confidence and sense my perseverance. Gain awareness of why my negotiation, analytical and communications skills are top notch. Feel my desire to build and develop a great team, have proven leadership skills and yet can work side by side with anyone. Go ahead, ask me the tough questions.
The company bottom line will be glad you did.