May 22, 2019 | 02:04 PM

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30.04.2014How to Answer Stupid Job Interview Questions

A job interview is a strange kind of business meeting

Liz Ryan, Forbes.com

A job interview is a strange kind of business meeting. As a serious job seeker you’ll spend hours preparing for the interview. Despite your research,  intelligence-gathering and thoughtful preparation, you’ll typically have little to no idea what you’re walking into.

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One day you’re invited to an interview with smart and interesting people who can’t wait to hear your opinions on your industry, their organization’s progress and your own career. The next day, you might interview with a clan of Neanderthals who leave you sitting in the reception area for forty-five minutes and then pepper you with insulting and brainless questions that would make a fourth-grader wince. A job interview is a pig in a poke. As a job-seeker you have to be ready for anything.

When you run into tired, idiotic job interview questions like “Why should we hire you?” and “What’s your greatest weakness?” you may have to fight the urge to sigh, grimace or ditch the interview altogether. You’d think that after fifty or sixty years of articles about how to interview people, we’d have evolved past these Mad-Men-era interview questions, but not every hiring manager and HR chief is clued in.

The craziest thing about brainless interview questions is that there are so many alternatives. We can ask job-seekers “If you were our CEO, what’s one thing you’d do differently?”

We can ask them “What’s your greatest professional accomplishment so far, and why?” or “How do you break down a large project and manage it over time?”

You can ask a candidate about his or her life and career goals. The array of pithy and substantive topics we can address with job-seekers is almost limitless. So why oh why would anyone resort to an asinine question like “With all the talented candidates, why should we hire you?”

The truthful answer, “How the heck should I know, Jackson? You’ve met the other candidates, and I haven’t!” is likely to bring the interview to an abrupt end. We coach our clients to answer the “Why you?” question thoughtfully without resorting to a grovelly answer like “Because I’m smart and hard-working, I’m loyal and thrifty, and I walk old ladies across the street.”

“Why should we hire you?” is a stupid interview question because it asks — demands, in fact – that a job candidate roll over and submit to the alpha dog interviewer.

The interviewer has your resume and has you in the room, sitting there waiting to be asked anything s/he can think of. So why would an interviewer ask you to compare yourself to people you haven’t met and most likely never will? That’s an invitation to grovel. Pass on the invitation and say this, instead:

“That’s a great question. I think that’s why we’re here, in fact – to determine whether I’m the right person for this job and whether you’re the right organization for me. I honestly can’t say that you should hire me, because I don’t know the culture and the goals here the way you do. You know the organization, you know yourself and your leadership style, and now you know a little about my background and my perspective. I’m confident you’re going to hire the person who’s the best fit for this position, and that if the universe wants the two of us to work together, it’ll happen.”

Right behind “Why should we hire you?” in the Stupid Interview Question line-up is “What’s your greatest weakness?”

That’s  a very personal question, and an impertinent one. Does everyone on earth have to come with weaknesses? What if we’re actually sent down to this planet fine and whole, perfectly suited for our work here? The concept of inherent weaknesses and the struggle to improve on our deficits is a tired and unhelpful Puritan notion. We should have junked it years ago. But interviewers still ask perfect strangers “What’s your greatest weakness?” in job interviews every day.

You can say “Chocolate!” with a big smile to fend off further intrusive questions, but an interviewer who’s comfortable asking candidates about their weaknesses isn’t likely to be thrown off the track that easily. If pressed, you can smile and say “I used to obsess about my weaknesses when I was younger. I read books and took classes to correct what I thought were my deficiencies.

Over time I’ve realized that my job is not to get slightly better at things I’ll never be great at, like [fly-tying] and [Morse code]. My job is to get better at the things I’m already good at that I can use to help myself and other people, like graphic design and copywriting.” If your mojo is up on the interview day, you can follow with “What’s YOUR greatest weakness?”

Some intellectually challenged interviewers will ask you “If you were an animal, what kind would you  be?” If you have a cynical bent, you can say “I’d be a shark, so I never have to sleep and I can work all night long.” You can say whatever you want. When you go home and think about the interview and the prospect of working in that company, you may decide that life is too short to work among people who would ask questions like “What kind of animal would you be?”

I’m all for having fun in the right times and places. A job interview is not the place for kindergarten what-if questions that can’t remotely help a company make a better hire. If you want to attract and snag brilliant people in your company, your first priority is to treat them like adults.

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