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7/17/11 - 7 Stupidest Interview Questions and What They Really Mean

Jeff Hindenach from GovCentral


If you've been in the workforce long enough, the same inane questions will continue to creep up in interview after interview. What is your greatest weakness? Where do you see yourself in five years? You know, the small-talk questions that fill up just enough time between the really important questions.  But all those meaningless questions actually have a purpose. That's why everyone uses them. But what are interviewers really trying to find out with these sometimes asinine questions? We've put together a guide of the seven "stupidest" interview questions to help decode the underlying meaning.


1. Can You Tell Me a Little About Yourself?
Why It's Stupid: The question is entirely too general. There is no way you can cover every facet of your life and personality in the allotted interview time. There is also no way for you to tell what specifically the interviewer wants to know about you without asking them to narrow their focus, which is usually the reason for the follow-up questions. 


What It Really Means: The interviewer is testing your ability to interact with others. By putting you on the spot, your answer gives the interviewer an idea of how you present yourself in a social setting and a glimpse of what you think the most important facts about yourself are.


2. What Are Your Greatest Weaknesses?
Why It's Stupid: No one is going to give an honest answer to this question. Why would you openly talk about your greatest weaknesses in front of the person who is making a hiring decision? The most common answers to this question are filled with fluff and what we think the interviewer wants to hear. 


What It Really Means: The interviewer is trying to see how honest you are, as well as trying to determine if you are able to overcome obstacles. If you say that your greatest weakness is "working too hard," that's not an obstacle. If you give a legitimate weakness, such as not being able to multi-task, then you can provide examples of how you have overcome that weakness and are now an expert at multi-tasking.


3. Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?
Why It's Stupid: No one can tell where they are going to be that far into the future. Life happens. Things change. Which is why this question frustrates most job interviewees. But the question also seems to set a trap, making the interviewee answer in terms of where they see themselves within the company, afraid that any other answer will disprove their loyalty. 


What It Really Means: No company expects you to swear a lifetime allegiance to the company during your interview. The question is a chance for you to speak to your long-term goals, give the company a better idea of your career development plan and how it could progress with the company. It also gives you a chance to speak to your strengths and highlight the areas where you believe you'll grow the most.


4. Why Do You Want to Work for This Company?
Why It's Stupid: Most interviewees get annoyed with this question because it seems redundant. You wouldn't be interviewing if you weren't interested in working for the company, right? So it shouldn't matter why you are interested, only that you fit the job description. 


What It Really Means: The interviewer isn't trying to gauge your interest in the position, but more your motives for applying. If you're just looking for a paycheck, that makes it easier for the interviewer to go with a more ambitious applicant who is excited about the opportunity. If you're applying to escape your current job, what's to say you won't be miserable with this company? It's a way for the interviewer to weed out those interviewing for the wrong reasons.


5. What Are Your Hobbies?
Why It's Stupid: On the surface, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with a job interview. What does fly fishing have to do with accounting? Or running have to do with being a designer? The question seems to cross a line between work and pleasure that the interviewee doesn't understand. 


What It Really Means: The interviewer isn't trying to pry into your personal life. They are just trying to get a more complete picture of what kind of person you are. How you spend your free time can speak to what kind of employee you are. People who have more creative outside interests might be better suited for a design position. It also gives them an idea of how you prioritize your life, and where your job will fit in.


6. How Would Your Co-Workers Describe You?
Why It's Stupid: You're obviously not privy to your co-workers inner thoughts and feelings. And even if you do know how they feel, of course you're going to pad the truth to make yourself sound better. In most cases, the interviewer will never speak to most of your co-workers, so what‚s the harm in embellishing? 


What It Really Means: The interviewer isn't interested in your little white lies, they are trying to see how you think others view you. Even if you are stretching the truth, your answer will give the interviewer an idea of how you view yourself and what you believe are your most important attributes. Considering you are discussing how others view you, it can also be a modesty test, separating those who are embarrassed about themselves from those who won't shut up.


7. Why Do You Want to Leave Your Current Job?
Why It's Stupid: It seems like a simple question. It's obvious you want to leave you current job cause you are unhappy, otherwise, you wouldn't be looking for another job. If you're qualified and ready to work, what does it matter why you're parting ways with your previous employer? 


What It Really Means: The interviewer wants to make sure the same situation that made you want to quit your last job doesn't happen in this job. If you don't see eye-to-eye with your current boss, they may question if you are a problem employee. Or if you felt like you weren't progressing, they can make sure that you are constantly challenged in order to keep you around. It's best to focus on how your previous job didn't fulfill your career goals and explain how this new position can help you grow.