Ten Interview Questions You Should Never Ask
(and What to Ask Instead)
Asking a Bad Interview Question: What’s the Big Deal?
You might be thinking, “Is it really that consequential to ask a bad interview question?” Well, it depends on what you ask. At best, you could simply fail to make full use of the allotted time, but at worst, you could land your company in a discriminatory lawsuit. Let’s run through some examples and their implications.
The innocently asked, yet bland and predictable interview questions found from Google searches such as “Top interview questions and answers”. These questions will often get you canned responses – the candidate will have likely researched the ‘perfect’ response and will have answered the question the same way a million times. In short, you’ll be hearing what you want to hear, rather than an insightful answer.
Going from bad to worse, next in line are the pointless questions. These are the questions that could be answered in a variety of ways, and it won’t really matter how they’re answered, because they have no relevance to the job. Oftentimes, companies will try to inject a bit of humor or showcase their company culture with off-the-cuff, irrelevant questions. Unfortunately, all they really do is throw off the candidate and waste everybody’s time. If you’re not sure how to evaluate an answer to your interview question, chances are it was a pointless question.
Now for the worst type of interview questions – the ones you can actually be penalized for. Due to federal and state laws, certain questions are totally off-limits because they’re discriminatory and cannot be used as a reason to hire (or not hire) a person for a job. If you’re caught asking a discriminating question, your company could find itself facing a costly lawsuit and a bad reputation.
What topics are illegal to ask about in an interview?
It is illegal to ask a candidate personal questions about the following:
- Country of origin
- Citizenship status
- Sexual orientation
- Race or ethnicity
- Family structure or children
- Marital status
- Mental or physical health
- Appearance, height, or weight
- Pardoned offenses
- Financial status
What Are Some Interview Questions You Should Never Ask?
Here are some examples of some interview questions that are either overused, irrelevant, or down-right illegal:
What do you like least about
your current job?
Asking someone to potentially bad mouth their current employer is seen as unprofessional and can be a touchy subject, leaving the candidate in a tough spot. This question is also a little vague – are you looking to uncover why they’re leaving or if they’ll face a similar issue should you hire them?
If you’re trying to find out why they’re looking for another job, ask them without the negative spin: “Why are you considering leaving your current role?” If you’re looking to find out if they may have a similar issue at your company, ask “What is the most challenging aspect of your current role?”
I live close by!
Do you attend the church on the corner?
Firstly, it’s discriminatory to use someone’s religious beliefs as a reason for or against their fit for a role. If, in small talk, you happen to find out you live around the corner from your interviewee, don’t use it as leverage to uncover personal details – especially when you’re touching on potentially illegal interview topics.
Small talk is fine – especially as you’re settling into the interview – but it’s best to keep it very high level.
The only time it’s acceptable to speak about religion is after an offer has been made. It’s the candidate’s responsibility to bring up any accommodations they may need, and, at this time, you can decide whether those accommodations are possible given the role.
What would you do if a talking dog asked you where the nearest park was?
Some interviewers like to spice things up by asking seemingly extremely random questions to lighten the mood. These questions can throw off a candidate’s flow and won’t provide any relevant details about their fit. If you’re using questions like this as an attempt to understand their inner thoughts, think again. Unless you’re a skilled psychologist, you’ll probably be unable to correctly interpret their answer.
We suggest skipping this question. However, if you really want to uncover character traits, get candidates to complete a personality test during the hiring process.
Why should we hire you?
This question is asked pretty commonly and it provides a good summary of why they’re qualified, but it’s a very broad question and it can put a candidate on the spot – particularly if they’re inexperienced in interviewing.
Ask a variation that focuses on the job requirements: “This position requires X, Y, and Z. What skills or qualifications do you have that demonstrate you’d do well in this role?”
I can see a child’s drawing on your wall. How many kids have you got?
There are two faux pas here, so we’ll discuss them separately. Firstly, asking whether the interviewee has children, or is planning on having children, isn’t a topic up for discussion. Even if you’re asking from a totally innocent standpoint, if they don’t get the job, they could look back on that question as discriminatory. Secondly, if you’re conducting a video interview, do not comment on what you can see in the interviewee’s background (unless it’s a cameo appearance from their fluffy friend). It looks incredibly nosey, and besides, their surroundings are irrelevant to their skill set.
Nothing, keep your questions focused on the candidate.
Children, like many other responsibilities, can make it harder for candidates to be flexible with their availability. If your role requires a lot of flexibility, clearly address that. A candidate will determine whether they can make it work.
If you were a superhero,
what would your superpower be?
Similarly to the talking dog question, this question really doesn’t give you any insight into the candidate’s fit for the role. Besides, a candidate will very likely give a safe, canned response, based on the fact it’s often used in ice breaker exercises.
We advise you to skip this question as it isn’t possible to relate an answer to the candidate’s ability to perform the job.
How would your last manager describe you?
This is very tough for a candidate to answer, as they may have no idea how they’d be described by somebody else – particularly if they didn’t have a close relationship. Chances are the candidate will have to make something up, so save this for the reference check.
Save this one for now and get an accurate answer during your reference check.
Where do you see yourself
in three/five/ten years?
You may have asked this question before but, nine out of ten times, it simply won’t give you an insightful response. Asking about long-term professional plans can have a tendency to make candidates lie, as they’ll automatically want to express their loyalty to the company for whatever duration you give to help their chances.
If you want to uncover more about their career path, ask them how this job could help them stay on track: “How would this position assist your long-term career plans?”
Describe yourself in three words…
This question is pretty limiting, plus there are about 20 buzzwords candidates will use and they’ll be based on what they think you’ll want to hear. By the end of the interview, you should have enough insight to determine if a candidate is “driven”, “passionate” or “helpful”.
If you’d really like the candidate to share something about themselves, make it about something that isn’t obvious by the end of the interview. At the end of the interview, ask them “Tell us something about yourself you haven’t had the opportunity to touch on during this interview.”
We saw on your Instagram page that you love to travel, how will you balance this with our 2-week paid vacation allowance?
It’s no secret that businesses check potential employees’ social media accounts, but it’s quite creepy to admit you’ve been scrolling through their personal profiles, even if they are public accounts. If you do look at social media to learn more about candidates, keep it to yourself. Secondly, remember that social media doesn’t give you a full story and you shouldn’t rely on your findings to determine their relevant skillset.
If you want to find out whether the candidate will be able to commit to your schedule, simply let them know about your time off allowance – they’ll determine if it fits in with their lifestyle: “We offer a 2-week paid vacation allowance to all new employees, along with [list other benefits]”
Prepare Yourself With Good, HR Approved Interview Questions
Similar to interview advice we give to candidates, it’s always best to prepare ahead of time if you’re conducting interviews. Make a list of questions you’d like to ask, and run them past your HR team to ensure you’re not asking anything that you shouldn’t be. You’ll then have a set of good questions you can ask each candidate, giving them an equal and comparable interview experience.
And lastly, if you’re unsure whether an interview question should be asked, it’s always best to leave it out.