I imagine a great number of people feel that questions asked of them in interviews are dumb and serve no real purpose. At least that’s what over 90% of the people said in a group I belong to on LinkedIn when posed with the question, “What are the dumbest, silliest and most stupid questions you have been asked in an interview?” by the group leader. The group has a tremendous following and I’m concerned that the leader is just getting people riled up for his own personal agenda rather than educating them on why interviewer may be asking these “dumb/silly/stupid” questions.
I’d like to request interviewees judge and assess a bit less. They may be asked for very specific reasons, unbeknownst to you. Sometimes questions are asked to see what type of reaction you provide. Sometimes they are a test. I spend a good deal of time with my corporate clients determining and aligning cultural fit in a number of areas, and many questions provide insight about how you may or may not fit with them. There’s nothing worse for a company who’s spent time and money to interview candidates only to realize they hired someone who isn’t a cultural fit with the organization.
That said, I definitely agree that there are interviewers around who don’t have a clue how to ask smart questions in an interview. I pulled the following examples directly from the aforementioned group discussion that I perceive as ridiculous questions:
1. What do you look like when you get mad? (Seriously? This is just plain stupid. I can’t even figure out a good reason to ask this question.)
2. Who wrote your resume? It doesn’t look like something you were able to compose. (This is offensive and argumentative. Why did this guy stay in the interview? I know I wouldn’t want to work for a company who spoke to me in such a disrespectful manner.)
3. After 4 years in the active Army, 4 years in the reserve, 10 years at one company and married for 16 years, I was told they wanted someone who showed a willingness to commit. Really? (Exactly! Really?)
4. Do you own or rent your home? (Totally inappropriate. It’s just not their business. Maybe he should have responded with, “Why do you ask?” to see how they would respond? )
5. You look a little old for this job. How old are you? Asked by a Board of Director member assigned to interview. (Obviously illegal. The board member is clearly out of touch.)
It’s obvious that the folks who shared these questions/comments had been interviewed by people that are far from professional within their industry. Let’s look at some other questions that were shared as being dumb or silly and why they’re not bad questions, but actually very smart questions:
1. After going over my background with the HR Director and highlighting the fact that I’ve spent the last 12 years leading major operational turnarounds, his next question was ‘So, how do you work under pressure? (This is a great example of an individual not understanding the line of questioning. Spending 12 years leading turnarounds shows you can lead turnarounds. It does not tell anyone your style under pressure. Not following up the conversation with this type of question would mean the interviewer was assuming how you work under pressure. And we all know about assuming, right?)
2. If you could have a discussion with anyone past of living, whom would it be? (Why would this individual think this is a dumb question? The answer would provide insight into who you are and what interests you. That’s about cultural fit.)
3. If I asked you to find me the hottest toy item out for Christmas what would your strategy be and at what cost? (This was put into discussion by an HR person. It’s obvious to me this person doesn’t understand the first thing about behavioral based interviewing. This question directly relates to an individual’s problem solving skills, which are critical in most, if not all, business environments.)
4. How many gas stations are there in America? (This is another great example of a problem solving question. How an individual goes about solving it gives a very good window into how they think and problem solve. Again, directly related to certain traits a company may be looking for.)
I’d ask you this…If Google asked any of these 4 questions in an interview would you be criticizing them for asking dumb questions? Or would it occur to you that it’s just one reason they’re so successful?