Right away, a confession. At the beginning of my career, I asked potential employees almost all of the questions below. Well, except for number one of this list. Gaining experience and becoming wiser, I, fortunately, have learned that these are the worst interview questions, the most counterproductive ones, and stopped with this bullshit.
I apologize to all the people I’ve asked any bad interview question. I was young and frankly stupid. Having said that, let’s enjoy the hit parade of crappy job interview questions!
10. How many gas stations are there in New York?
This is not the worst interview question ever, but we’ll get there eventually.
There are hundreds of questions like that. How many ping pong balls do you need to lift a Ferrari from the bottom of a lake? How many people have lived on Earth during the entire existence of the planet? How many tons of shit do zoo elephants produce in a hundred years?
All these riddles are aimed to reveal the person’s creative nature. The candidate is expected to look smart and find beautiful solutions to the problem, demonstrating an IQ above 140 to their future boss. The candidate is seriously expected to be counting the Earth population, cars, mileage, the lengths of all roads in New York, and the efficiency of elephant’s gastrointestinal tract.
My opinion on such a hypothetical question? I hate these riddles fiercely. I partly hate them because I don’t have an IQ above 140 and can’t solve them quickly and elegantly. But I also strongly doubt the correlation between solving puzzles and solving actual software development tasks. Why the fuck do we expect programmers to love rebuses, crosswords, and puzzles? Is it a job requirement, or can we keep things reasonable?
9. Why are you looking for a job in software development?
An interviewer asking this is trying to understand a person’s motivation. The expectation is that cool programmers have, from early childhood on, programmed calculators and drew on mom’s punch cards. The expectation is that cool programmers come to software development to improve the world. They know who they want to be at twelve already.
My dear friends, bad news. All of this above is probably right when we talk about absolutely ingenious programmers—and there’s about 1K of those in the world. In daily life, people come to the industry because of money. Or even by accident. And these people can be an equally good fit for your opening.
It’s thus vital to understand: there’s nothing wrong with it. I became a layout designer almost exclusively because of money. Well, it was more or less interesting to create websites, yes. But if at the first interview I was asked why I came there and if I were to answer honestly, I would say, “I’ve got bills to pay, and I know a bit about websites. But you can hire me as an assistant to the system administrator too if you want.” Unfortunately, when you give such an honest answer, you’re asked to get the hell out of the interviewer’s face. So you have to cheat. Don’t make people cheat you.
8. What is your biggest weakness?
Obviously, from someone who really wants this job, you will hear something like: “I’m too lazy, so I really like to automate everything.” Or “I don’t like routine tasks, and I’m not willing to deal with them for more than fourteen days in a row.” Or “I get too carried away by my tasks, and I don’t notice the time, so I absentmindedly leave at about 23:00, forgetting to turn off the light.”
No one will ever tell you about their actual personality flaws and professional disadvantages. First of all, why would they? Second of all, talking openly about such things requires a high level of trust and sincerity. It’s a very uncomfortable question, right? When you see a person for the first time, are you sincere with them? Thought so.
7. What are your greatest strengths?
That’s the reverse side of the same crappy idea of asking about a person’s greatest weakness. By asking this you will either get a dumb list of positive qualities (purposeful, fast-learning, responsible, honest) or about the same list but more elaborate and formulated pleasantly. It’s not a badass, tough interview question; it’s just some bullshit harmful to the whole interview process.
You need to find out about your potential employee’s strengths by asking questions about work situations, examples, and facts. Especially about facts.
6. How do you see yourself in five years?
In all honesty, I’ve no idea what I will be doing in five years. No job candidate does. I might move to the moorlands to take a break from humanity. I might as well start something in biotechnology. I might start drinking heavily. Or write a book. Or learn to sing and will play guitar in a park to make ends meet.
If I don’t know the answer to this question, why would I torture a potential employee with it? This question is almost meaningless because nowadays, we can hardly plan further than a couple of years. University graduates rarely practice what they’ve specialized in. Companies change their strategy yearly. Do we expect a job candidate to lie about their planning?
5. Why are you the best candidate for this job?
Such a fucked up question. Why am I not? It’s your job to find out why you want to hire me, not all those other candidates. Do I know other candidates personally? How can I compare myself to them? I’ve read the text of this vacancy, checked out the site and the product, and I came to the conclusion I might like it here. Do I need to tell you how to do your job now?
In the best case, this question looks like a little twin of the “what are your strengths.” But why would you want to repeat yourself as a potential employer?
4. Why do you change jobs so often (so rarely)?
How does that matter? If I am a match for the company in terms of qualifications and personal qualities, how will my job history and reflection help? I changed jobs every year or so. Is that “often” or “rarely”? What’s wrong with changing jobs frequently?
A person might not have found a place they feel really, really comfortable with. Or have grown too fast. Or did not get a raise they wanted. In any case, you won’t hear a for-real answer to this question, only cliches about personal growth and stepping out of the comfort zone.
3. Do you have bad habits?
Are you unwilling to hire people with addictions? Don’t you have addictions yourself? Coffee? Nicotine? Social media (anyone)? Porn? Online gaming? Good old friend alcohol?
No one will admit the depth of their addictions to someone they’re seeing for the first time in their life. Are you seriously not hiring a good programmer who happens to smoke? What, you will? So why the fuck then ask this question then?
2. How long do you plan to work with us?
A crude attempt to replace question number 4. The correct answer is: the fuck do I know! For sure, you’ll never hear it. You’ll hear a pretty lie about a person willing to stay for two or three years at least. Any candidate would do everything to not frighten the interviewer and to soothe their agitated mind.
1. Have a family/children? How does this affect your work?
This is absolute evil and the most complete bullshit. The worst question you can ask. I’m happy to say I’ve never asked this. I can’t even wrap my head around how it can even occur to an interviewer to ask such questions.
The only worse option is asking female candidates if they’re planning a pregnancy (luckily, this one is an illegal question in most places). Such questions clearly demonstrate that the company does not give a shit about you as a human and is only interested in earning money by using you.
Here’s a simple algorithm for any potential employee who gets any of these questions (and especially number 1):
- Facepalm visibly
- Exhale deeply
- Stand up
- Look the interviewer deep in the eye
- Abruptly say goodbye
- Leave without looking back
- Remember the name of the company
- Never go there again. Tell your friends to never go there either.
P.S. Don’t be the worst boss asking shitty questions. Be kind. Respect people. ❤️!