Top 10 most clichéd interview questions still have a purpose

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candidates waiting for interview

We all know the familiar grumbles: interview questions are so clichéd; they don’t mean anything, any candidate with half a brain can look up the answer on the internet. But what these Doubting-Thomas’s fail to mention is that even the most blindly-obvious interview question in the box serves a deeper purpose. Want to know how you can transform a clichéd question into an unbeatable recruitment tool? Here’s how:

“Tell me about yourself…”

This question has been side-lined recently as an obvious (and dull) opener, but really it’s one of your greatest tools. With this simple invitation, you can watch a bad applicant drift off on a tide of their own ego, or see a good candidate demonstrate flawless communication skills and some humility to boot.

“What is your greatest weakness?”

No candidate is going to answer this by declaring “I hate authority!” and giving you the finger, so why do we persist in asking it? Simple: it gives a good candidate the chance to demonstrate their strengths. Someone of potential will give you an honest assessment of their flaws, followed by excellent examples of how they’ve turned them to their advantage in the past.

“Why do you want to work for us?”

An old one and a good one; this evergreen question ensures candidates have a genuine interest in your company and have researched it properly. Drop it in early to weed out the uninterested from the potential stars.

“Can you explain our company’s goal?”

Used as a follow up or alternative to the above question, this one helps filter out those who understand your company from those who just see gigantic ££ signs hovering over their new desk. Is your interviewee showing real interest in your company goals, or just reeling off stuff from your website? If the latter, you can subconsciously slip their CV into the ‘no’ pile.

“What kind of work are you looking for?”

This is another great filtering question. It divides up those who genuinely, desperately want to fill the advertised position from those who already have one eye on transferring to a different department. Simply hand out the rope, and watch the unsuitable candidates hang themselves.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

This is another question so clichéd that hipper companies like Google have ditched it altogether. But it gives you an invaluable insight into the sort of person you’re hiring. Everything can be found in their answer to this one: your candidate’s ambition, the extent of their ego, their knowledge of your corporate structure and how good they are at recognising their own strengths. In short, the return information on this one is potentially invaluable.

“What is your greatest achievement?”

This one’s fairly self-explanatory, in that it shows a candidate can apply their own strengths to your particular company. But it has another purpose. Listen carefully to what your interviewee is saying. It may just be that they accidentally reveal a bloated ego or lack of confidence which could affect their future performance.

“How would your co-workers describe you?”

Another way to test a candidate’s ego and self-awareness is through this little gem. Although you probably won’t discover what their co-workers really think of them, you’ll certainly get a flavour for how they think the world sees them. Listen out for traces of egomania or doubt; this question is perfect for exposing such unwanted characteristics.

“Why did you leave your last job?”

A no-brainer: give them the opportunity to bad-mouth an old boss or company and unsuitable candidates will probably do so. At that point you can mentally remove them from your ‘maybe’ pile.

“Do you have any questions?”

The perfect way to end: it tests that candidates have been listening, that they can think on their feet; that they know what’s relevant to the job on offer and that they’ve planned in advance. No matter how clichéd it seems, never forget this one.

What questions do you like to put to potential recruits? Let us know in the comments below!

Author Adam Smith works for Talent Puzzle, a recruitment agency recommendation site.

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6 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Essential questions in my view although non PC and legal are:
    – how old are you?
    – is your domestic situation stable?
    – are you financially stable?
    – what commitments do you have, financial or otherwise?
    – are you physically and mentally stable?

  2. Should you be the successful candidate, what would be on your first 100-day plan?

  3. Brian, you can’t ask any if those questions!
    I always ask the weakness question, this is a skill it shows if they have identified and solved their only weaknesses!
    I also ask:
    – how would you go about integrating yourself with the team
    – what can you bring to this role
    – why should we take you on

  4. Brian,

    How will asking any of those questions enable you to decide who is the best candidate?

  5. Good article and interesting insight into the mind of a recruiter.
    However, it appears to me that it has overlooked a few important aspects:
    1. Any candidate worth their salt will have read numerous articles like this and have already prepared answers for these (and more) possible questions. We all know about these questions now, we all know what the recruiter is after and it is very easy to “blag it” – as in offer whatever it is that the recruiter is looking for that specific role.
    2. Most candidates who either have just finished university and don’t have much experience or have been out of work for a while will be very nervous at interviews. No matter how much they know, no matter how confident they are on a daily basis, due to nervousness they are bound to come across as anything but what you want to see. Those questions do not show which person is actually good for the job, but show which person is good at sweet talking the interviewer.

    But hey ho, if recruiters think that these questions bring them the best candidates, who am I to argue with them? 🙂

    P.S.: Brian Stahelin: it is against the law (Equality Act 2010) to discriminate against people with physical or mental disabilities when it comes to employment. Therefore, your last question would get you into a lot of trouble, I wouldn’t use it if I were you.
    Also, the age question comes under the same Act.
    If I were asked questions like those in an interview, I would stand up, thank for the time given to that point and then say good bye.

  6. Great list.

    Anyone going for a job interview will need to have something prepared for these, or at least be aware that they will probably have to answer them.

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