What to Ask Instead of these — 8 Most Common Interview Questions

The Internet is littered with lists of the most common interview questions—10, 20, 50, and even 150 questions. Many of these lists are aimed at hard working job seekers who want to ace their interviews. Unfortunately, this means that candidates’ responses to these questions are endlessly rehearsed.

Furthermore, the answers to many of these questions do not provide you, the interviewer, with the information you need to make an informed hiring decision. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the eight most frequently asked interview questions, as well as alternatives for really getting to know a candidate.


  1. “What is your biggest weakness?”

Though there are many contenders, this is widely regarded as the worst interview question available. To begin with, it encourages candidates to lie. No one will answer honestly, and no one should.

What you should instead inquire about is what skill you believe you are still lacking. This question is suggested by the founder of Recruiting Social. You want to find someone who values lifelong learning, is naturally curious, and is self-aware enough to recognize that there are still valuable things she doesn’t know how to do. You should probably avoid a Master of the Universe who simply needs to learn to be less of a perfectionist.

  1. “Tell me a little about yourself.”

This seemingly innocuous request is the most common way to begin an interview. However, the question is so broad that a candidate may not know where to begin. Given that the job seeker has shared a resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, and possibly work samples, the request demonstrates a lack of interest or preparation on the part of the interviewer.

Instead, you should inquire: Which values of your current or previous employer are most similar to your own?

This is a much better way to learn more about the person with whom you are conversing. Look for candidates who are passionate about their values and enjoy delving into them. Keep an eye out for people who have difficulty identifying their values, let alone those of others.

  1. “Why should I hire you?”

This is a thoughtless and unfair question. Nobody knows who else you’re talking to or what their experience and qualifications are. If you ask this question, your candidate may begin to wonder, “Why should I work for you?”

Instead, ask, “Tell me something about your experience, education, or personality that can help us.”

This provides candidates with a non-hypothetical question that allows them to demonstrate their understanding of your role as well as their relevant background or experience.

  1. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

In most cases, the question is completely off-topic. It is also somewhat pointless given how few people stay with a company for five years.

What you should ask instead: What business would you love to start?

The business a candidate would love to start tells you about her hopes and dream, her interests and passions, the work she likes to do, and the people she likes to work with. So just sit back and listen.”

  1. “What would your last boss say about you?”

For starters, this requires the candidate to speculate unnecessarily. When the hiring manager conducts reference checks, she should discover this. This line of inquiry appears to stem from a belief that bosses always have superior knowledge. In reality, a candidate’s previous manager could have been fired for incompetence, misconduct, or asking stupid questions.

Instead, ask, “What was the best working relationship you’ve had with a manager, and why did it work so well?”

A thoughtful response to this question can reveal a lot about a candidate’s values and the type of company culture in which she would thrive. Furthermore, hiring the candidate would give you an advantage in managing her.

  1. “What would you bring to our department?”

This open-ended beauty seems to invite a lot of boastful chest-thumping. It punishes both modesty and introversion.

Instead, ask, “What was your biggest accomplishment at your last job, and what role did you play in it?”

You can now see what your candidates value and how open they are to sharing credit. Listen to see if they mention how their achievement benefited the company—or if it is all about them.

  1. “What is your desired salary?”

This one reveals some misunderstandings about the roles in the hiring process. The company should set the salary, making it commensurate with what other people at the company are getting paid for similar responsibilities. Not doing that is one of the things that leads to paying gaps between men and women, between whites and people of color.

What you should ask instead: This job pays between X and Y. Will that work for you?

This approach indicates that your company has compensation standards and is trying to apply them fairly. If the range proves too low, you’ve surfaced that fact before a job offer has been made.

  1. “How many ping-pong balls can you fit in a 747?”

Okay, this isn’t the most frequently asked question, but after Microsoft and Google became famous for using them, brain teaser questions became a stock-in-trade, particularly in the tech sector. However, candidates despised them, answers became widely available (22,870,000 ping-pong balls, if you must know), and curveball questions were even less useful than traditional ones.

Instead, you should inquire: Tell me about a major challenge you faced at a previous job, how you solved it, and what the results were.

This will provide you with an example that is more likely to resemble the problems and approaches used at your company. It may reveal instances where your candidate had to demonstrate soft skills such as leadership, collaboration, adaptability, or time management.

Final thoughts: A chance to reinvent the interview

Though the majority of companies (74%) still use structured interviews, they are looking for ways to better surface soft skills and weaknesses in the hiring process while also reducing interviewer bias. According to our Global Recruiting Trends 2022, one of the trends driving today’s talent acquisition is the adoption of new interviewing tools—online assessments of soft skills, job auditions, and meetings in casual settings.

Add to that the replacement of tired, underperforming interview questions with new ones that will provide you with the insights you need to hire the best candidates and create a better candidate experience.


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