Interviewing 101: When You Ask Stupid Questions You Will Get Stupid Answers

Lately we have been hiring for quite a number of positions at the company where I work.  I have been conducting interviews on my own open positions plus I have also been asked to sit in on other interviews for other groups to provide some added expertise. As I have been sitting in on these interviews and hearing the questions being asked, one thing really struck me: when you ask stupid questions you get stupid answers.

I can remember some of the questions I have received in the past when I have interviewed for different positions. Yes, you get the technical questions such as “How many bytes are in an Integer?” but you also get questions such as “When was the last time you made a mistake?” What is the interviewer trying to determine about my skills? Do these questions really give them a clear picture of my ability to do the job?

When I choose interview questions, these are some of the guidelines I follow.

If you do not know the answer to the technical question, don’t ask it.

I’ve seen this before where an interviewer asks a candidate to compare two different technologies. First, it was an unneeded comparison and second, the person asking the question would not have been able to answer the question either. If you do not know the answer then you do not have a proper way to judge the candidate’s response.

Know why you are asking the question

I have a set of questions I like to ask each candidate I interview. Each question is designed to tell me something about the candidate and their skills. These questions might tell me about the person’s work ethic, people skills, leadership capacity, team fit or career goals. Some questions are direct, some are indirect. The point is to plan ahead what you will ask and what the answer reveals about the candidate.

Ask open-ended questions

I never ask a question where the candidate can answer with a yes or no. If I want to know their experience with relational database, I’ll ask them “Tell me about your experience with Relational Databases.” (OK, I know that is actually not a question, but you know what I mean) Allow them to answer the question. By asking open-ended question, you allow them to either sink or swim in their answer. It also gives you a better understanding of their communication skills.

Do not use tricky questions

Ask direct questions. How was the candidate supposed to answer “When was the last time you made a mistake?” If they said they couldn’t remember, they could be considered arrogant. If they rattled off some of their most recent mistakes, they might be considered incompetent. Remember, not only are you screening the candidate for your position, they are determining if your company is one they want to join


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