Dear Evil HR Lady,

In the past, I have been frustrated with the silly, inane, irrelevant, and insulting questions that some of your HR brethren throw at me. It is almost as if interviews are a game to them and I am a performing chimp, wearing a silly hat and riding a unicycle for their amusement.

How much did you make at your last position? (None of your business.) Why did you leave your last position? (Again, none of your business.) Where do you see yourself in 5 years? (Let me get out my fricking crystal ball…) If you could be any animal, which one would you be? (Ok… I have not really been asked this one. But my response might be, “Your dog…so I could crap on your shoes for asking me such an idiotic question.”) Why do you want to work here? (I need a job and you have an opening.) How do other people describe you? (I don’t know. I usually do not ask my friends to describe me.) What is one weakness of yours? (I have a low tolerance for stupid bullshit questions.)

Just once I would like to let these interviewers know what I really think of them. The only reason I would ask some of these questions in an interview is to find an independent thinker who would question the relevance of the interview questions. But actually, I would never play games like that because it would be dishonest and disrespectful. The interviewers, on the other hand, have no qualms whatsoever about playing these little mind games. It is hard to psychoanalyze the interviewer and come up with the “right” answer, and I am tired of trying.

Please give me any insight you may have regarding why interviewers would ask questions like these and possibly how to answer them.

Thanks for listening and for your advice.

I’m quite disappointed that I’ve already used my “Bitter? Party of one?” line in another post. This means instead of being sarcastic and a bit rude (one might say, evil), I’m going to have to answer your questions.

Some interviews are silly, but for the most part, it’s the best way people know how to evaluate a candidate. It’s actually not a very effective way (in my humble opinion) but the other ways are more difficult and (sometimes) cost prohibited.

But, to get a job, one must interview, and to interview successfully, one must not come across as bitter and angry about the process. Nor should one let on that you think the interviewer’s questions are silly.

First up, salary. Now, some would disagree with me on this, but the reason I would ask for your salary history is to determine whether or not this job is a possibility for you. If the job I have pays $40,000 a year and you tell me your current salary is $84,000, I know you won’t be interested in going any further. But wait, you say, I want to take a pay cut because I so much want to work for Evil HR Lady! Great. Then say, “I’m looking for jobs in the $35,000-$45,000 range.

And here’s where the objections come in–ack, you’ve played you hand and now you’re going to lose, lose, lose. Maybe. Feel free to counter the question with one of your own: What does this job pay?

Why did you leave your last position? This tells me a ton about you. If you go on a rant about how much you hated you boss and how he was a jerk and blah, blah, blah, guess what? You’ve just eliminated yourself from the slate of candidates! You left it for growth or opportunity? Bah, I know this is what everyone says, but fine. I now know that you aren’t stupid enough to boss bash.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Have you even thought about it? What kind of career path do you want? Do you want to head into management or are you comfortable being an individual contributor. How does this particular position play into your future plans? When I’m hiring, I want someone that will be good for the company today and good for the company in 5 years. If I can’t fulfill your 5 year plans in my company, maybe you aren’t a great fit.

Why do you want to work here? Really, why? Unless you are applying to Burger King, this matters. What is it about [this company] that you want. You better have done your research about the company before you answer this question. (And in the age of the internet, not having at least looked at website is also a career killer.)

Yes, there may be some psychoanalyzing going on, but basically, we’re just trying to see if you are a fit for the company and the job. We’re not trying to be tricky or mean or demand that you have a crystal ball. We just want to hire the right person.

We want that right person to be you, so stop being angry and stop being crabby and try to think about the interview from the interviewer’s viewpoint.

Good luck!

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14 thoughts on “Questions

  1. It is very hard to figure out within the space of an hour if a prospective is going to be a team player, or a jerk (see I moderated myself (EHR).

    You can’t ask the questions you really want to ask. (see above)so a lot of questions wind up being lame. That doesn’t mean they are screwing with you.

    It just isn’t any easier to interview people. Unless maybe you are a HR professional. Most people who interview really want to find a good candidate. They don’t want to have to work with bad fit. Pretty obvious.. right?

    Just a note of wisdom: I don’t find it alarming you find the process lame.. almost everyone outside of HR does… but your reluctance to try is troubling.

    Life is worth very little without the victory of trying.. and eventually succeeding. But succeeding all the time is a very hollow existence too. You must strike a balance. Learn to enjoy the challenge. Or get a technical job where you take tests to prove your skills.

  2. Another point – sometimes the questions are just to get the candidate to talk. Do you sound pleasant? Intelligent? Are you able to actually answer the questions asked? Are you a rambler? Do you break down in nerves? Can you think on your feet if the interviewer asks something unexpected?

    Deciding on a good fit is partially just plain old personality. There’s no way to discern your personality unless you talk. So in addition to gathering information, interviews are also just trying to get a bead on you as a person.

  3. Serious question: What if your former boss really was a jerk, and that really is why you left? Should you answer the question honestly but fairly, or just give a pat “looking for new challenges” kind of response?

  4. Job interviews are a gate keeping exercise. If you as a candidate don’t understand that and what the interviewer is trying to determine (i.e. will you fit in here and do you have the minimum skills), then you are going to have a real difficult time getting an offer. It is a dance and you are not leading.

    @ pawnking

    Try a pat answer first. It is safer for you. It is hard to keep the negativity out of any other response. I had a candidate who was very unhappy with her current employer and it came across so strongly that it hurt her. It helps to start looking for a new job while you are still in the old one (ideal and not always possible I know).

  5. One of the reasons I’m interested in staffing and recruiting is to take my years of experience in interviewing people for newspaper stories and apply that experience to candidate interviews and background checks. I agree with Evil HR Lady and everyone who has commented in terms of why some of these “typical” job interview questions get asked, but I like to think of them as preliminary ice breakers — they’re the questions that almost every candidate knows they will be asked and have most likely prepared answers for, so throwing a few “softball” questions at the candidate can actually help the candidate get on solid footing before we move into more difficult questions.

    Also, I’d agree that the answers aren’t very important unless they show negative traits (like boss bashing). Instead, the answers will open up other areas of questioning. The answer to, “Why did you leave your last job/why do you want to leave your current job?” will most likely lead to follow-up questions to pinpoint what type of supervisor, supervision, and/or workplace qualities the candidate is looking for. Those answers are the really important ones in terms of making sure the candidate and the opening are a good fit.

    I will agree that I hate the, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question. As someone who has been going through a career change, I’m smart enough to know that I honestly can’t say. Before landing my current job, I probably went on 15 to 20 interviews. I don’t know if my answer hurt my chances of getting those jobs, but that was OK with me, because I didn’t want to work for someone who couldn’t understand that I want to learn and grow and keep moving forward in the next two to three years, and not knowing where that growth might take me in the long term is actually a good thing.

  6. I always ask “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Some of the answers that I got:
    – I’d like to start my own company (and become my competitor) – no thanks!
    – I’m writing a book and I hope that it will be publised in the next year then I’ll write full time — so you can’t guarantee me that you will stay here for more than 6 months – no thanks.

    I ask to determine someone’s goals and motivations, and also to see if it is worth my time/money to invest in training.

  7. If you find yourself in a job interview going sour (i.e., the interviewer is a dingbat, or you realize quickly that you’d never want to work there no matter what), don’t be afraid to pull the plug. Why waste your time and theirs? Just say, “Thank you for your time, but I don’t think this is what I’m looking for.” Shake hands. Exit.

  8. Interestingly, my management training course is about to start on the subject of behavioral interviewing. EHRL, what are your thoughts? It seems interesting, so where would you advise I go to find out more?

    Thanks, EHRL.

  9. I’ve been involved in recruitment for 10 years (HR), and yes, I agree with Evil that the job interview is not really the best selection tool out there, candidates hate them, HR hates them, Managers hate them, and they don’t always produce the best candidate. However, they are cheap, less time consuming, and generally most companies are focused on using them for hiring. I’ve had some success using in-basket exercises, technical testing, and a few other things, but in those cases, it still always comes down to the interview and whether you would be a fit.

    That being said, I agree with all, from my perspective those “general” questions are simply to try to find out a little more about who you are, your personality, etc. to see if you are a fit within our company (who you are in an hour or less, amazing, huh? LOL). Are you extremely formal and our company is very casual? Or Vice Versa? Does the Manager (hopefully the Manager is in the interview!) feel that he/she could work with you on a regular basis? Does he/she see you fitting in with the rest of the team? etc. etc. If not, it would not be a good situation for you or the company.

    And yes, if you know nothing about my company, I’m not going to hire you, so do your research and answer the “why do you want to work here” question intelligently.

  10. Personally, I think you all are being far too nice. Let me try.

    You obviously don’t have any respect for the people interviewing you who are, by and large, good people trying to do a good job. It will be hard for them to respect you when you don’t respect them and harder for them to hire you if they don’t respect you.
    You obviously don’t understand that the interview process is a mating dance. You can choose not to participate, but don’t expect anyone to hire you. You have the freedom to withdraw and be nasty and they have the freedom to let you live under a bridge.

    You may be talented and have a lot to offer my client’s company, but business is a team sport and you seem to want us to change the game for you. Sorry, no deal.

    At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you understand why your interviewer asks certain questions. Within legal bounds they will ask what they think are good and relevant questions. It does matter that if you want to be a valuable team member you act like one from the first contact.

  11. Funny how “not a good fit” is often used to describe people who stand up for themselves and won’t take @#$%. Managers may act like they’re trying to figure out whether they can “work with” you. But what they really is to determine whether you’re a head-nodder who will take orders, NOT second-guess them, and definitely not outshine THEM.

  12. There are certainly managers like you describe. But my experience more often is that people who aren’t a good fit in one place are a superb fit in another.

  13. Too true Wally…most Managers I have worked with look for characteristics that fit the job…example..if it’s a job where you have to stand your ground and be firm with people (collection agent? Negotiator? Sales? etc. etc.), then no they are not looking for a “head-nodder”. They need someone of strong mind and spirit.

    If it’s a customer service type job, they are looking for someone that can manage people in a non-confrontational way, in that case, they are looking for a totally different person.

    If it’s a technical job, head down all day long with no contact with others, they are not going to look for someone who needs the constant buzz of interacting with people.

    That said, yes, of course there are managers that you describe, but I have found those to be few, most are truly just trying to find the best person for the job. Otherwise, they will be filling it again in a few months when the person decides they don’t like it and leaves.

  14. I know I'm kind of late to respond here, but I just discovered EHRL (sad for me!). I recently started a new position, and I was sure I had bombed the interview. However, one of the ladies who interviewed me backed up many of EHRL's statements. She said that she had thought after I left that if they didn't hire me they were crazy, because I clearly "knew my stuff." They didn't ask any of the typical questions about me that I had prepared for, but they asked lots of questions that drew out my research on the company and understanding of their goals. They didn't need me to prove that I could do the work, they had already decided that from my resume, and didn't care about all the things I had prepared to dodge or justify. They wanted to know if I was a good fit. Based on this experience I wouldn't be as nice if answering this question: I'd tell the bitter LW to stop assuming you know what they want to know and answer the dang questions they ask you. And as a side note, I looked up the e-mail addresses of all 5 (!) of my interviewers, which was easy because of the company setting, and sent them a thank you note. It was a basic "thanks for interviewing me, I'm excited about the things we talked about, I hope to work with you either now or in the future because I love this organization" e-mail, and the lady mentioned above said that it was great, it probably sealed it for me. Thank you note=great place to reiterate that you were actually listening rather than waiting for your turn to tell them what you've decided they need to hire you. Now I've started a great job that I'm a good fit for and a good fit for the organization, something that may not have happened if I had dodged questions I didn't like instead of doing my homework, being genuine, and following up.

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