Friday, August 12, 2011

Great comment, great question

Anon081120110853p writes in with a great response to "What are your weaknesses?":
Can I just say I f-----g hate that interview question? I hate being asked it, and I hate asking it. And at my workplace - a National Laboratory - it is damn near impossible to get through an interview without it. Of course we also ask their strengths, because, duh, by the latter part of the interview if that's not already apparent, we've really been wasting our time.  
One question I really enjoy asking: Think of a supervisor that you had an excellent working relationship with. What did they do that made it successful?  
(You'd be amazed at how many people also feel compelled to describe their worst boss, in excruciating detail, when asked this question).
It's so difficult to come up with good interview questions. I seem to rely on the time-honored "Tell me about a time when..." or "I'll bet that was a difficult solution to come up with -- how did you do it?"

I remember being asked by a hiring manager at a major chemical company to tell me about my earliest memories of middle school and high school. I think I looked at him as if he had three eyes.

Readers, what's your favorite interview question?


  1. "What is your most significant accomplishment so far in your career?" By listening to what the accomplishment was, how they achieved it and what parts they get excited talking about, I really get a good sense of what it is they really love to do, and what really motivates them.

  2. I remember when I went for the 2nd interview for the job I'm currently in (technical project management). I was still employed at the bench with a big pharma company at the time and desperate to leave. The hiring HR person in the room looked at me eye and said "You have a good job at a leading blue chip - why do you want to leave?".

    I responded with "where do I start?" All the technical people laughed. I got the job.

  3. The funniest question I was ever asked was

    "If you could be any Disney charcter, who would you be and why?"

  4. About two or three hours into a cruel technical interview, in the midst of drawing mechanisms on the whiteboard, this came out of nowhere: "Who is the best comedian in the world?". I said "Eddie Izzard", the CEO said "correct answer" and I got the job.

  5. I put perspective employees on the spot just like I get put on the spot by our clients: "Here's our problem. What's the solution?" I usually have a sample of a customer's material that we've worked on in the past too.

    I'm actually not looking for the solution, but rather trying to see how they react, mostly can they ask intelligent questions. The easiest way for a candidate to fail is to say that they would take if back to the office and ask other colleagues what they think.

    When you ask intelligent questions, it can show that you are already hypothesizing on solutions. Taking it back to the office? Any fool can do that.

  6. During lunch the CTO asked me "So, tell me how you think."

  7. A2:00p: What did you think of that question?

  8. I once got asked what I would do if I had to promote a policy I didn't agree with. After that question, I sincerely hoped I didn't get the job (I didn't).

  9. The biggest mistake I ever did was ask a candidate to ask me any question he liked at the beginning of the interview. He filibustered 15 minutes of my 30 minute slot.

  10. On one interview with a big pharma company, I was getting those stupid questions from the HR lady. 'What is your greatest strength?' I replied, 'I'm stubborn. I never give up.' She then asked, 'What is your greatest weakness?'. I replied, 'I'm stubborn. I never give up.'

    I didn't get the job and I was very glad. The company in question has one of the worst reputations in big pharma right now, although the competition is steep in that regard.