Liz RyanInfluencer

CEO and Founder, Human Workplace

Our client Angela went on a job interview.

“It’s supposed to be a Marketing Manager job, but they sure talk a lot about graphic design in the job ad,” said Angie. “And the job’s been posted on the company website for six months.”

Angie went to the interview and sat in a lobby for half an hour. A nice woman came to get her and deposited her in a small interviewing room. A not-as-nice lady came in and started grilling Angie with questions, taking notes as Angie spoke (no eye contact – all business!).

“Tell me about your experience with Adobe Illustrator.”

“Tell me how much you know about InDesign.”

“Tell me what you know about search engines.”

Wait a second, thought Angie. Something is off – this lady is just reading questions from a script. She doesn’t know how the pieces fit together. She doesn’t know anything about this job!

Angie is a marketer, not a graphic designer. She knows tons about search engines, but none of what she knows would have impressed her interviewer, who kept her eyes glued to her notepad and scribbled furiously throughout the interview.

“May I ask a question?” asked Angie finally. “Sure,” said the lady.

“This job has been open for a while,” said Angie. “What would you say is the reason it’s taken some time to find the right person?”

“I’m choosy,” said the interviewer, and that was that.

Angie never heard from the company again, but she hadn’t waited around after the interview, either. She could see in a flash that no one with spark and self-esteem would thrive in that company. As far as I know, that job is still open.

A job search is a test of your fortitude. The struggling economy doesn’t make it easy, and an even bigger challenge is the dysfunctional recruiting process used by nearly every medium-sized and large employer.

I want you to keep in mind that it’s not you – the system itself is broken beyond repair. You are fine. It’s the combination of talent-repelling job ads, Black Hole application systems, and thoughtless, soul-crushing interview processes that make a job search so hard on your emotions.

The good news is that slowly, the tide is turning. I’ve been writing about putting a human voice in business for twenty years, but since we put a name and mission to the the Human Workplace cause in 2012, the pace of change toward a mojo-fueled work world has accelerated dramatically.

These days, we get as many inquiries in our office from employers looking to boost the mojo level in their organizations as we do from job-seekers looking for Human Workplaces to join.

Still, you can’t assume that when you go on a job interview, your interviewers will be as Human Workplace-aware as you are. They may be just the opposite, like Miss Choosy in our story above.

They may ask you idiotic interview questions and work hard to make the relationship “I’m in charge – you’re dogmeat” abundantly clear throughout your interview conversation.

When you’re asked a foolish, irrelevant question on a job interview, it’s hard to know how to respond. Do you answer the question sincerely, ironically, or a mix or the two? Is it best to play the part of the The Good Little Interviewee and give no sign that your time is being wasted and your IQ is seeping out through your ears?

If you play that part too well, you may get hired into a job that will suck your life force away. So what do you do, when the brainless interview questions start flying?

Here’s our guide to stupid interview questions, to bookmark and pull out before your next job interview.

1. If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?

This question is so pointless and by extension, insulting (Do you have a job opening to fill or not? Why would you use our precious time together asking me fanciful kindergarten questions?) that it’s a red flag.

Either this firm lets its interviewers ask any random questions they want on a job interview, or they’ve actually talked about it and decided this question is worth asking. Either way, if a fresh-faced baby interviewer or HR screener asks you this question, I’d hate for you to get up and leave before you’ve made it to the hiring manager, the person who has the Business Pain we came to learn about.

(If your hiring manager asks you this question, you have my permission to get up and leave. Just say “Oh, look at the time! So sorry, I forgot that I have an appointment in eight minutes. Lovely to meet you, though!”) Hit the road, and go get yourself a nice gelato.

You might want to answer this way: “I’d be an ebola virus, and infect your competitors!” but I fear your interviewer wouldn’t pick up on the satire. Better to answer the question with a short answer and then ask your own question, like this:

INTERVIEWER: If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?

YOU: Hmmm, probably some kind of wild cat, like a jaguar – I enjoy the hunt. Can I ask you a question about that?


YOU: I’m always interested in the interview questions that companies ask. Is that your own addition to the company’s interview script, or does everyone here use that question? I’ll bet you hear some fascinating answers!

A human being in the chair across from you will enjoy telling you about all the wild and domestic animals s/he’s met on past interviews. If your interviewer can’t handle unscripted conversation and looks panicked at your question, you can just say “That’s okay! We can talk about that later.”

During your job search, you’ll decide whether and how far to push the frame “I’m the interviewer — I ask the questions, and you answer them!” over and over again. I encourage you, if you haven’t done it already, to try a meta-question like “I’m curious how that question helps you make better hires?” if you can ask it with a smile on your face.

I understand that if you’ve recently endured a string of interviews studded with stupid interview questions, that smile could be hard to maintain.

2. With all the talented candidates, why should we hire you?

This interview question comes from the genre called “How badly do you want it?” that still plagues corporations and institutions decades after we all realized that the most-grovelly applicants don’t make the best hires. We still love to test job-seekers on their DESIRE for the job, asking insulting questions like this.

I hate this interview question, because it asks a job-seeker to do two awful things. First, the question asks a job-seeker to assume a supplicant position and beg for the job. Secondly, it asks a person to compare him- or herself to people s/he’s never met and likely never will.

Here’s how you can handle this one:

INTERVIEWER: With all the talented candidates, why should we hire you?

YOU: Great question, and I think that’s really the point of our conversation today — to determine whether I’m the person for the job and whether this is the job for me. It might be that you should hire me. I love this field and I’m excited to keep growing muscles in it. That being said, I haven’t met the other candidates and I’m sure there are smart and capable people in that group. That’s going to be your challenge, to consider what’s ahead for you and which person can best fill that role. I have total faith that if we’re supposed to be working together, we’ll figure that out.

3. What’s your greatest weakness?

This question comes down from our Puritan forefathers, who saw life as a joyless quest to surmount personal deficiencies and weaknesses. Cheery vision, right?

I reject the view that people have weaknesses. People come in a fascinating array of types, and part of the fun of being alive is that we get to figure out where we shine and maneuver ourselves into that spot.

The old idea of weaknesses-to-correct is giving way to the new idea ‘figure out what you love to do, and do it all the time.’ Who has time to work and work to get slightly better at things we’ll never love and never be great at?

I recommend that you handle this horrendous question this way:

INTERVIEWER: What’s your greatest weakness?

YOU: Great question! I used to obsess about my weaknesses when I was younger. I took classes and read books like you wouldn’t believe, and then over time it occurred to me that I should be focusing on the things I do well, like designing financial reports. Other things — graphic design, for instance – aren’t for me, so I steer myself toward the work that jazzes me and where I can make the biggest impact.

4. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Really, are people still hearing this ancient interview question in 2014? Yep, interviewers still pull out this lame Mad Men era question and ask it, so you’ve got to be prepared. The truth is that no one can make a five-year-horizon career plan in 2014 (maybe the Pope – and maybe not even him).

This may have been a great question to ask when The Beverly Hillbillies was filming new episodes. Today, it’s a waste of interview airtime, but you still have to answer it.

Try this approach:

INTERVIEWER: Where do you see yourself in five years?

YOU: I love Finance, and I don’t have plans to move out of it but then again you never know what influences will hit you. I’m interested in getting my MBA, so five years from now I could be one year out of school and I may think totally differently at that point than I do now. The things I can say for sure are that if I’m alive five years from now, I’ll be working hard at something I love and supporting the people around me. For me, the team is as important as the work.

What interview questions should replace these stupid, old ones?

When you get into your new job and start interviewing people yourself, what questions will you ask them? When you adopt the Interviewing with a Human Voice approach, you won’t ask lame interview questions like the ones on our list. You’ll ask job-seekers to bring their questions to the job interview instead, and invite them to go first, asking questions of you to start the interview.

You’ll learn much more about your candidates from the questions they ask you than you ever would from their answers!

Once the applicant’s questions are exhausted, here are some questions an interviewer can pose:

1) Given what you know about our company and this role so far — and this is your chance to ask me anything you want to know, by the way — what would you see as the most likely goals for the new hire in this position, over the next six months?

2) Here’s what we’re dealing with in Tech Support. (Explain your situation.) What would your approach to that set of conditions be? What would be your attack plan, if you got this job?

3) How does this job mesh with your career plan for yourself? How will it grow your flame?

Job interviews can be fun and enriching for everyone involved — and they should be!

When we interview folks at Human Workplace, we tell them “This is a job interview, and potentially a coaching session. We have an opening to fill and you might be interested in that job, but that is just our starting point. If this isn’t the right job for you, let’s talk about you and your career instead.” Sometimes, candidates say “I’m not sure I want this job, but I wanted to meet you guys.” We say “Cool! We had booked the time anyway. It’s great to meet you.”

Fifty percent of our interviews veer into career coaching and that’s absolutely wonderful. After all, a job is just a job. Your flame is everything!

Our company is called Human Workplace. Our mission is to reinvent work for people!

We help job-seekers grow their flames and get great jobs with employers that deserve their talents. We help employers brand themselves and reinvent their recruiting processes to snag and keep smart and capable people and we help them grow the Team Mojo on their teams. We invite everyone to step into the Human Workplace. We launched in November 2012 and have over 200,000 members already. You can join us, too!

Here is Liz Ryan’s podcast “I Hate This Job, But I Need the Money!”

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Our Get a Job No Matter What Starter Kit includes four of our most popular job-search ebooks in a special discounted bundle ($40.84 of eBooks for $6.89)!

Or Get a Job No Matter What MEGA Package has a massive amount of job-search advice and instruction (including a 65-page online course, Put a Human Voice in Your Resume) that we sell individually for $298, on sale for $99!

Our new 12-week virtual coaching groups beginning March 22, 2014 are:

Get a Job No Matter What Boot Camp

Interviewing with MOJO

Launch Your Consulting Business

Job Search after Fifty

Reinvention Roadmap, and

Grow Your Thought Leadership Flame

Our 12-week virtual coaching groups are super-popular, flame-growing guided self-study programs. Each week in one our 12-week virtual coaching groups, you’ll receive a new lesson with exercises (like the exercise “Your So-Called Weakness” above) to work on as it suits your schedule throughout the week. You’ll ask questions of the Human Workplace coaches and your fellow participants and share your “Ahas!” as you go. Got a question for us? Reach us here!