Are you gearing up to hire for a new position in your small business? The interview process can be intimidating– not just for your potential hire, but for you, too. What are the best questions to ask during a job interview? What are the worst interview questions to ask?
We asked small business professionals what questions they never ask during the interview process. We’re sharing their answers below along with other questions you’ll want to avoid.
Mr. Asa Leveaux, Chief Strategy & Revenue Officer, Leveaux Group, Inc
The number one question that I would never ask is, “What would you tell me about yourself growing up?” I’ve been asked that question and would never ask this because it doesn’t speak to the results that someone can provide or what personality traits they have developed by being an adult.
Steve Silberberg, Fitpacking Fat Loss Backpacking Adventures
Why in the world is that pertinent? The only reason people ask this is to lowball you. Or if your answer is too high, they’ll eliminate you from consideration because they’re not going offer that much. It is a horrible, undignified, irrelevant eliminator question.
Tim Shanahan, Registered Principal, Compass Securities Corporation
Also, if you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?
It’s a stupid question and even more stupid to answer.
Sonja Hastings, Sales Recruiter, Optimal Sales Search
x=book, car, actor, song, etc…
It’s creative, sure. But what is inferred from the answers has little to do with on-the-job performance. Clever answers have their charms but are often not worth trading for highly skilled employees who lacked the ability to be quick on their toes with sharp answers that day to an irrelevant interview question.
Ellen Jovin, Principal, Syntaxis
I despise this question. You are almost never going to get an honest answer to a question like that. Why would anyone tell you their worst flaw at an interview for a job? For one thing, their biggest weakness may well be really embarrassing; most great weaknesses are. Maybe they eat with their toes or compulsively steal beef jerky from gas station convenience stores or have 53 cats. Asking a question that will almost surely elicit a lie sets a bad precedent: it encourages dishonesty between interviewer and job candidate. In addition, it is none of a potential employer’s business what a stranger’s worst flaw is. It is the interviewer’s job to ask questions that organically reveal the character, strengths and weaknesses of the person they are thinking of hiring.
Colin T. McLetchie, PCC, BCPP, President, Five Ways Forward
By far, the worst interview question is one that far, far, far too many people use, and I suspect it’s because they have never really developed the skill of interviewing.
Here you are in a room with someone you’ve known for 10 seconds, you have their resume and have likely googled them or looked at their LinkedIn, and the best you can do is, “Tell me about yourself”? This question is awful for two reasons: It demonstrates a lack of interest, skill or preparation on the part of the interviewer, which doesn’t leave a good impression on the candidate; interviewees are already nervous and looking for some sense of where you’d like to take the interview, and this question is so open ended no one knows where to begin. It almost always leaves the interviewee needing to ask a follow-up question like, “Where would you like me to begin”? or similar.
Peter Rosen, HR Strategies & Solutions
I would not ask a trick question with no purpose other than to put the candidate on the spot. Speaks poorly of the culture of the company.
And here are a few other questions you’ll want to avoid in your interview process (and what to ask instead):
8. Are you a team player?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: How can anyone possibly say “no” to this question? Furthermore, most people think they are a team player, even if they haven’t actually exhibited this skill.
Here’s what to ask instead: Can you tell me about a time when you worked with a colleague or team to solve a problem?
9. Tell me a time when you failed.
Here’s why this question is ineffective: This question is hopelessly vague, and it lacks context. Be specific to work history; otherwise they could pull an example out of high school or their personal life.
Here’s what to ask instead: In your last position, have you ever failed to live up to your own expectations, and how?
10. How old are you?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: According to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) which protects those over 40 from employment discrimination, this question is illegal.
Here’s what to ask instead: Can you tell me about your experience with (topic)?
11. Are you thinking about retiring any time soon?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: This question teeters on ageism. You cannot hire (or not hire) someone over the age of 40 based on age.
Here’s what to ask instead: What are your long term career goals?
12. Why do you want to work for us?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: To answer this question, the applicant will usually gush about why you’re such a great company, which doesn’t do much to explain why they choose you in the first place out of all their options. This will help you gauge their knowledge of your company.
Here’s what to ask instead: What drew you to our company specifically?
13. Are you married?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) outlaws discrimination in hiring on the basis of sex or gender, so this question could get you in legal trouble.
Here’s what to ask instead: Have you worked under another name? (It’s okay to ask this question to verify past employment history).
14. Were your parents born here?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: You can be genuinely curious about someone’s ethnic background but you cannot ask this question during the interview because it can subconsciously impact your hiring decision.
Here’s what to ask instead: What languages do you speak or write fluently?
15. What is your sexual orientation?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: This question cannot answer whether or not your interviewee will be a good employee. It’s also illegal to base hiring decisions on a person’s sexual orientation.
Here’s what to ask instead: There is no alternative question to ask.
16. Do you have any children?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: Also, “Do you plan to start a family?” It’s illegal to ask about family planning in a job interview. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act forbids discrimination against an applicant due to pregnancy or childbirth.
Here’s what to ask instead: Are you available to work overtime?
17. Have you ever been arrested?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: You can ask about convictions, but not about arrest records. According to the law, you are innocent (even if you’ve been detained by the police) unless you’ve been convicted of a crime.
Here’s what to ask instead: Have you ever been convicted of a crime? Before asking this question, make sure you check with your state employment agency. Some states place limits on how employers can inquire about or use criminal history in employment decisions. Also, you may not need to ask this question if you run criminal background checks on your applicants.
18. What country are your from?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: Also, “where are you from,” and “what is your ethnic heritage?” fall into our list of the worst interview questions. This may seem like an innocent enough question, but it is inappropriate to ask a candidate this and could land you in legal trouble. Your ethnicity or cultural heritage can’t determine your qualification for a job.
Here’s what to ask instead: Are you authorized to work in the US? (this will allow you to determine if you would need to sponsor the job applicant)
19. Do you like drinking socially?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: This question and its subsequent answer are inappropriate in a job interview because it does not give insight on the applicant’s qualifications for the job.
Here’s what to ask instead: Have you ever been disciplined for violating a company policy that prohibits the use of alcohol or tobacco?
20. What is your religion?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: You cannot pry into someone’s religious background, and you can’t use that information to determine their worthiness to do the job. This is prohibited by law.
Here’s what to ask instead: What days are you available to work?
21. What holidays do you observe?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: This question, as innocent as it may seem, intrudes on the interviewee’s personal beliefs and is dangerously close to the prohibited question about religion.
Here’s what to ask instead: Are there any days or times when you cannot work?
22. Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: This question is unrealistic because few people can see that far into the future and they usually have grandiose ideas that aren’t grounded in reality.
Here’s what to ask instead: What are your career goals, and how will this position help you reach those goals?
23. Do you have any disabilities that can prevent you from doing this job?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: This question can suggest discrimination based on perceived physicality. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination as long as they can perform a job with reasonable accommodation.
Here’s what to ask instead: Can you stand for X hours per day?
24. Are you a U.S. citizen?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: You cannot legally ask about someone’s birthplace or even if they are a U.S. citizen.
Here’s what to ask instead: Are you authorized or legally eligible to work in the US?
25. What is your salary history?
Here’s why this question is ineffective: Also, “what salary do you expect?” These questions fall into our roundup of the worst interview questions because they tend to make interviewees feel defensive. Candidates may not be sure whether you will lower the salary offered based on their answer. They may even inflate their salary expectations.
Here’s what to ask instead: There is no alternative question to ask. The best practice is to make an offer based on your company’s financial situation and values.
Over to You
Do you have a cringeworthy interview question to add that we missed? Share it in the comments below.