3 Types of Interview Questions NOT to Ask

Stephanie TroianoCandidate Selection Process Strategy, Finding Top Quality Candidates, Initial Interviews, Interview for Achievement, Interview for Culture Fits, News

An employee interviewing a potential candidate for a job.

There are many guidelines and resources to help you choose the best interview questions. By exploring this advice, interviewers can benefit of others’ experiences and research. What often isn’t addressed is the fact that there are some questions that you should not ask – at least in a certain way.

Some interview questions waste time or distract you from more important information. Others will make you vulnerable to claims of discrimination or are simply inappropriate. If your interviewing appears to be unprofessional, the most talented and sought-after candidates may be turned off. You may even muddle the insights gained from your strongest questions by confusing interviewees and getting unclear replies in return.

Seems Useful But Not Really

Some common interview questions seem useful, but in fact are best asked in a slightly different way. Popular ones like “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” or “What is your biggest goal?” are good examples. After all, it is reasonable to want to know a candidate’s priorities and ambitions. Simply asking for these future goals outright, however, has little predictive value. Candidates can also easily lie about their hopes and plans.

Reframe your words to focus on past behaviors first. Past performance (not simply behavior) is perhaps the best predictor of future success. Ask questions about a goal that the candidate has already achieved. How did they do it? If you ask about a future goal, ask what they have already done to work towards it. You will learn about their goals while also gaining insight into their thought process, motivation, and ability to actually work towards an achievement.

With experience and practice, reframing questions to get you the most useful answers will become easier.

Goofy and Off-The-Wall

Some interview questions are best avoided altogether. This category includes questions of very little value that have somehow come to be used by a surprising number of companies. Those who use the questions may argue that these questions show a candidate’s ability to think on their feet, but there are far better, behavior-based inquiries that evaluate that quality. A commonly cited example is, “If you were an animal, what would you be and why?”

Google has received some publicity for ending its practice of asking brain teaser and oddball questions. Critics argue that not only are these questions poor predictors of success, but that they can be used simply to make the interviewer feel smarter or to quickly eliminate candidates with little basis. These tendencies are detrimental to finding good employees.

Don’t Lead Me On

Another common mistake interviewers make is projecting the answer by prefacing a question or leading the candidate to provide a certain type of answer. Combat this by simply asking your questions, there is generally very little need to ad a commentary like our company is very team work oriented how do you function in team environments? Instead ask give me an example of a time you worked with a team? What was the project and what was the outcome? Why was this significant? Instead of hearing about the candidates perception of how great they are working with teams, you will learn more about how they have actually performed in a team environment.

Don’t Take a Walk On the Wild Side

The other type of interview question not to ask is one that is prohibited. It may not be illegal to ask, but you could be vulnerable to discrimination complaints. As Joseph Anthony points out, employers need to learn to filter out these questions. You don’t want to make unfair or discriminatory decisions, but sometimes the questions that seem biased may hold vital information.

For example, you should not ask if a candidate has any children or what their childcare arrangements are. Instead, ask about their schedule and availability directly. Completely prohibited interview questions include ones asking about age, marital status, religious affiliations, and membership at private organizations (such as a social club).

Make sure that you don’t detract from your best interview questions by asking risky or irrelevant ones. You will save time and avoid making decisions based on questions with little predictive value.

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