Job interviews aren’t particularly fun for anyone. The questions are redundant. The conversation is disingenuous. And at the end of the day, they’re just straight up boring. In light of all that, our readers submitted questions to our #Interview prompt, including this one:
So we asked our staff to opine, and here’s what they said.
What is your greatest weakness?
Every candidate worth their weight in TPS reports has prepared for a cliché meatball like that. Every single one of them will snap into a Pavlovian explanation about a time they erred inconsequentially but then overcame the moment with a heroically valuable solution.
Because here is the best answer for that question: My greatest weakness is interviewing for a job with a superior or hiring manager that thinks that an unoriginal question like that has any use. But you can’t say that and get the job unless you are someone with the self-destructive tendencies, brass balls, and incompetent bosses of Anthony Scaramucci, and we all saw how that worked out.
I don’t know if this counts, but I had to take some basic literacy tests when I interviewed with a large law firm for an entry-level admin job.
It seemed totally appropriate at the time, but I later found out none of my contemporary hires had to take a similar test. Then I found out that a black coworker hired about 5 years before me also had to take the literacy test.
It’s plausible to me that this was just inconsistent hiring practice. It’s also plausible to me that my name has a “strange” J in it and I may have appeared /ahem/ urban on paper.
Here’s a couple:
When they lead off with the overused, unimaginative “So tell me a little about yourself.” I’ve always responded to this by doing a quick run-through of my education, experience, and interests, all of which is on my resume which they have right in front of them and presumably read at an earlier time in order to select me for an interview. What other info are they looking for with this question? They seem to like it when I conclude by throwing in some stuff about how I like to take the initiative, love to collaborate with others, and would say that I’m more of a leader than a follower. Which is pretty much what most people say.
Towards the end of one interview, I was asked if I like jazz music, while the interviewer turned up the music that was already playing in the background and appeared to be trying to dim the lights in his windowless office. Creepy. I quickly extricated myself from that one!
I hate job interviews and trying to figure out the “question behind the question.” (For reals—maybe just ask what you want to know?)
So the worst job interview question I ever got was, paraphrased, “How seriously do you take yourself?” This question was slipped in at the end of a job interview. Immediately I could tell if there was some issue of fit with the previous person in the position, and either they took themselves too seriously or not seriously enough. And the way it was pulled in at the end let me know it was probably really important, even though it was almost forgotten because it wasn’t a “standard” interview question. Also, the interviewer asked it nervously and worded it strangely, so as I was answering I remember feeling on very thin ice.
I remember hedging my bets with a safe answer about taking the work seriously but looking for ways to reduce stress. It must have worked, because I got the job. But I agonized for a week over my answer to that question.
They’re all terrible. I hate interviews because I hate having to sell myself to someone in the hopes that they’ll give me money. It’s all so inauthentic because you can’t be like “Look, sometimes my mental disorders make it impossible for me to be around people all day, but I know my shit and also I want to continue to afford my rent.” Because an honest answer to “What’s your greatest weakness?” would be “I dunno. I’m garbage; why are you even talking to me?”
But, I *will* say that the best question I’ve ever been asked is “What fictional character do you identify with most from Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or Game of Thrones.” I didn’t get that job, but I appreciated that the question was asked to ease the tension of the group interview model (bleh).
It may seem like a benign question, or maybe even a benevolent one, but it sticks out for me because I blew it so badly.
“What,” the attractive, late 20s Account Director asked, “is the most important thing you want out of your next job?”
Desperately trying to claw my way out of a Marketing Catch-All position with no job description or set responsibilities, I waxed about how luxurious it would be to have a little structure around my role. “…and training, too,” I concluded.
“Well,” she began, adjusting the Hermes bangle around her slim wrist, “That’s not really what you’re going to find here.”
My heart sank, taking my posture with it. “NO!” I wanted to scream. “I’m a fast learner, too. I can be independent if you need me to be. I can be whatever you need! Just get me out of this hellhole!”
More than 10 years later, this innocent enough question sticks with me. While coming from a good place, I think asking an interviewee point blank what s/he wants to get out of a position is borderline entrapment. Instead, the answer to that question should present itself organically throughout the conversation.