Main image of article Interview Questions to Never Ask a Job Candidate

Despite improvements to the interviewing process, a few cliched interview questions are still quite common. Not only do these interview questions reveal very little about your candidates, but they also have the potential to alienate you’re the professionals in your hiring funnel.

Who’s Really in the Hot Seat?

As an interviewer, you are responsible for leaving candidates with a positive impression of your business – and how it treats those looking to join. This an important thing to remember, especially during a tight labor market. Yes, you have a job to offer… but so do many other companies. And while you are screening the candidates, they are also screening you.

Many interviewers ask questions that are designed to put the candidate in the hot seat. For example:

  • Why are you leaving your current company?
  • Why are you the best candidate for this job?
  • What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?
  • What are your salary requirements?

Yes, each of these interview questions has some merit, but it all comes down to how you ask, as well as when you ask. Phrased as an accusation, these questions come off as not only clichéd, but also a bit too “gotcha.”   

Your goal is to get as much relevant information as possible during your 30-minute conversation. This isn’t accomplished by making candidates feel like they’re on the defense with each question. Rather, it’s the exact opposite: Make your candidates feel comfortable and encourage them to speak at length and really provide honest and thorough answers to each of your questions. In many ways, your interviews can be more like conversations.

The Problem with Open-Ended Questions

The good news: You asked an open-ended question in the interview. The not-so-good news: It wasn’t specific enough, particularly to the job for which you are hiring.

Just because you ask an open-ended question doesn’t mean you’re getting what you need. Be specific. Link it to the skills needed for the position. For example, don’t ask: “What has been your greatest success?” (In life? In work? Yesterday?) Instead, ask: “Give me an example of a successful project you led using Agile. What was your role in the success? What did you do specifically? How would you go about this differently looking back?”

Another popular open-ended interview question: “What is your greatest strength and your greatest weakness?” But think about it: Can you really trust the answer to this question? Most candidates know some variation of this question may come up, so they put together a well-rehearsed answer they think will please, instead of giving you something truly honest.  

Instead of asking for strengths and weaknesses, ask how your candidate has leveraged their strengths in past situations. Not only is this a more approachable way of phrasing the question, but it also allows your candidate to connect their strengths to a scenario they’ve been in. And with every question, the more specific detail that you can get, the better.

What are Your Salary Requirements?

You have dozens of résumés to sift through, and you settle on fifteen that you feel are promising. But you don’t have eight hours in your schedule to interview all fifteen professionals. A common practice is to ask the candidates to state their salary requirements up-front. In this way, you figure, you can eliminate the ones who are well above your offering.

It’s a reasonable step and if candidates do their homework and research the going rates for the position, they should be able to give you a number. But it’s also a tricky situation when phrased as an interview question.

Simply put, the candidate doesn’t want to go too low for fear of cheating themselves out of a good salary. But if they go too high, they might not make the cut.

Rather than create a situation where candidates feel like they either eliminate their candidacy or leave money on the table, provide applicants with a transparent snapshot of the budget for the position. This way, you can keep talented candidates engaged, and if you’re below their target salary, you can make your offer more attractive by including unlimited PTO or remote work options.

Be careful, too, of your wording when inquiring about salary. Asking about salary expectations is acceptable, but in an effort to address pay equity, it is illegal to ask for a candidate’s pay history in many states and cities.

Asking Good Interview Questions

What are good interview questions? In short, those that gather information specific to the position. Develop interview questions that go to the skills and competencies you want; ask candidates to speak about past behaviors and situations where they exhibited that skill.

This method, known as behavior-based interviewing, gets you the best interview. If you can understand a candidate’s competencies, working style and goals rather than a canned hypothetical, you’re going to get a better sense of how they will or (won’t) benefit your business.

But can’t the candidate also fake their way through these questions? Maybe… if they are an exceptional storyteller. In the end, trust your gut. If it’s telling you that something doesn’t jive, go deeper and ask the candidate for more specifics. And at any point, feel free to ask more technical questions that only an experienced professional can comfortably answer.

You only have so many candidates to interview throughout the day. At the same time, you only get one opportunity to make a positive first impression of your business and hiring process. Rid your process of vague, cliché and off-putting interview questions and replace them with conversation points and specific question that unearth competent professionals that are right for the role you’re hiring for.