Bad interview questions don’t give you valuable information about a candidate and can reflect poorly on you as an employer. You need to be strategic with the questions you ask applicants, as you have limited time with each one. By avoiding time-wasting questions, you can get to the point faster and narrow your list of candidates down with ease.
What follows is a list of the worst interview questions to ask, a brief explanation of why, and alternatives. Make sure you’re also steering clear of illegal interview questions to ensure you don’t subject your company to a lawsuit.
1. Where do you see yourself in five years?
While this question seems like it can provide insight into where an employee wants to go with their career, all it does is position the candidate to answer that they want to be with the company for that time. This does not give you insight into the applicant’s career desires or, more importantly, their ability to do the job.
Instead, ask: Where does this position fit along your long-term career path?
2. What is your biggest weakness?
This provides no insight into an applicant’s skills and is so common that many candidates have canned responses ready to go—many will say they’re too much of a perfectionist or too dedicated. It’s better to ask an open-ended question that allows applicants to display self-awareness about their potential growth.
Instead, ask: If you encountered X situation, what steps would you take to resolve the issue? Or what professional development would make you a more effective employee?
3. Why should I hire you?
This question puts the applicant on the spot and can back them into a corner. Asking a variation of this question can give you insight into how well the candidate understands the job requirements.
Instead, ask: How does your previous job align with the duties for this position?
4. Where do you live?
Many interviewers like to ask this question to get an idea of where a person lives in relation to the work location. However, it borders on illegal. You want to know if commuting will be an issue for the candidate, so you can ask this question differently.
Instead, ask: Are you comfortable with the work location?
5. How did your childhood shape your professional life?
This borders on an illegal interview question and should be avoided for that reason alone. Plus, the answer will not give you insight into how the candidate will perform in the role, making it a waste of precious time. You really want to know how their prior experience aligns with the job you need to fill.
Instead, ask: How does your experience prepare you for this role?
6. Describe yourself in one sentence
You’re the interviewer and should already know how candidates would describe themselves. Open-ended questions can be good to spark conversation and give you insight into a person’s experience and character, so there’s no need to waste time trying to get an applicant to describe themselves in what will probably be a run-on sentence.
Instead, say: Tell me something not on your resume that aligns with this job.
If you need more help with hiring, check out our guide on how to hire employees.
7. What would your arch-nemesis say about you?
Some people like to ask this question because they think it shows the applicant’s self-awareness. In reality, all it does is welcome lies and misstatements because someone’s arch-nemesis likely has nothing good to say about anyone—but that’s how most candidates will try to spin their answer. This theoretical question wastes time, and you have no way of verifying the answer.
Instead, ask: What are the areas of professional growth you recognize you need to improve?
8. Why do you want this job?
Candidates want a new job for countless reasons. Better pay, better benefits, they don’t like their old manager, they’re moving—the reasons are endless. None of the answers give you valuable information that will help you make a hiring decision.
Instead, ask: As you understand this job, what is the biggest attraction to it for you?
9. What did you like least about your last job?
People change jobs most often because of a poor manager. Don’t ask a candidate to discuss poor management or even trash talk their previous employer. A different open-ended question about the applicant’s prior role would be better suited to give you valuable information.
Instead, ask: What aspects of your previous position did you find most professionally challenging?
10. What would your former manager say about you?
This question puts a candidate on the spot to either lie or make something up. Plus, your job is to conduct a reference check, so you will hear directly from their former manager exactly what they think about the applicant.
Instead, ask: Would your former colleagues describe you as a team player?
11. If you could choose a different career, what would it be?
Most people who receive this question answer with either an altruistic motive or a selfish one. They either say they would want to invent something to help society or go into a field that allows them to make more money and retire sooner. No matter the answer a candidate provides, it gives you no information about how they will perform in the job with your company.
Instead, say: Tell me about a challenging project or work experience you had to overcome.
12. If you were stuck on an island and could only bring three items, what would they be and why?
This theoretical question does not give you any information about the applicant’s ability to do the job. It might seem like a fun ice breaker, but you can ask a different question that will yield more valuable information.
Instead, ask: On your last day of your current job, what three things would you tell your replacement?
13. If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
This is another theoretical question that provides you with no valuable insight, so avoid it altogether. Most applicants will have a canned response, and it will simply waste your time.
Instead, ask: If you could have one additional skill to do this job better, what would it be, and why do you think it would be beneficial?
14. Imagine you’ve been pulled over for speeding. How do you try to get out of a ticket?
This question is an amateurish attempt at a behavioral interview question. Unless you’re hiring for a traffic cop or a bootlegger, this question has no connection to the job you need to fill.
Instead, say: Tell me about a time you had to push back on a manager who asked you to do something unethical.
15. What was the worst trait of your previous manager?
A poor attempt at understanding how the applicant likes to be managed, there are better ways to get an answer. Phrasing the question like this only encourages a candidate to bad-mouth their previous manager.
Instead, ask: Do you prefer to be told what needs to be done and figure out how to do it, or do you like to follow an established process? Please give me an example.
16. Batman or Robin: Which one are you?
This question does not relate to the applicant’s ability to do the job at all. The intent of the interviewer might be to see what type of work ethic the applicant has based on perceptions about these two fictional characters. If they answer Batman, they’re trying to show that they are a driven leader. If they mention they’re like Robin, they’re saying they are supportive and follow direction well. In other words, the candidate will give you a canned response that still does nothing to help you make the right hiring decision.
Instead, say: Tell me about a time when you had to be both a leader but also a supportive contributor to get a project done on time.
Interviewing someone for a job is a tricky task at which you will get better with practice. You have limited time to speak with each candidate, so you must make every question count by asking only the best interview questions. Avoiding ineffective and downright bad interview questions can give you the information you need to make the right hiring decision.