6 Well-Meaning Interview Questions That Actually Repel Candidates

by Dora Wang on Sep 8, 2016 8:00:00 AM

Interview questionsSure, employers hold the power during interviews with new candidates. They're the ones in the driver's seat when it comes to hiring or passing on potential recruits day in and day out.

However, acting too blasé can have a serious impact on recruitment strategies and finding the right person for the job. The truth of the matter is that well-qualified candidates have options available to them, and saying the wrong things can send them running into a competitor's arms.

Sometimes, even seemingly innocuous comments can send off flags. We're here to help make sure you don't lose out on talent because of accidental foot-in-mouth syndrome. Here are the types of questions managers and hiring personnel should avoid asking in the interview process:

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01. "Remind me of your name again?"

This one should be obvious, but not knowing the name of the person you're interviewing tells them right off the bat that you're not invested in them as an individual. It sets an off-putting tone and turns what could be an engaging and personal process for both parties into a rigid affair. Don't make recruits feel like they're a chore. According to a study by Elance-Odesk, finding and retaining millennials is hard enough, with 53% of hiring managers claiming to have trouble with it. So there's really no need to stack the odds against yourself.

Go above and beyond. If they have a last name that's unfamiliar to you, ask whether or not you're pronouncing it correctly. Or, if there's a connection you make with their name (perhaps it's the same as your aunt's), point it out to them. Let them know that you're really considering the human being in front of you, and you'll be doing your part to set the course for a successful interview.


02. "Which school did you go to?"

Similar to asking for their name, this question makes it clear that you haven't spent much time looking over your recruit's resume. It's just as important for the employer to be prepared for an interview as it is for the candidate. Not knowing even this level of detail is an immediate red flag, and it can also come off as elitist depending on the context in which it's asked.

Know which school they went to, know their job history, and instead ask informed questions about how their prior experiences are related to the position they're applying for.


03. "We don't have time for people who are X here . . ."

nopeSOURCE: giphy.com

Unless it's something as simple as "lazy" or "unmotivated," using this type of language can signal to prospective employees that your company's management style is dogmatic and unfeeling. Instead use language such as, "we really value hard work," or "we love new ideas!" Your recruitment strategies should show them what you're enthusiastic about without giving the impression that you're a totalitarian regime.


04. "I'm not entirely sure what your position does, but . . ."

If the hiring process has gotten to the point of an in-person interview, whoever's delivering it needs to have a connection to the department. If a manager isn't familiar with the position they're conducting an interview for, they're the wrong person for this task.

Consider this study from Ed Assist & Bright Horizons, where it's stated that given the choice between two jobs, 60% of millennials would choose the one with a strong potential for growth rather than a job that offered regular raises. If this is the first interaction a prospective employee has with a manager that could potentially influence their development path, they're not going to want any part of your company.

Instead, make sure the interviewer is well-versed in the position and can walk the candidate through what a typical day in the life looks like. That way they can clear up any lingering questions and help assure the candidate that this is the role for them.


05. "Who are you as a person?" or "What's your defining feature?"

who are you?SOURCE: giphy.com

While the premise of questions like these is nice — essentially getting to know candidates beyond their interview personas — they're too much, too soon. Few people could accurately answer if given a week and a Macbook, so getting someone to deliver a coherent treatise on the core of their being in the high-stress environment that is a job interview is a little more than ridiculous. More often than not, they're going to fumble their words and try to deliver lines they think you think sound good. They'll end up feeling confused and uncertain about the interview process.

Instead, focus on asking questions related to the job and allow them to describe how they'd react under these specific circumstances. You're not interested in how well their zodiac sign fits their personality; you're interested in how they'll perform day-to-day in their role.


06. "Our last interview was a joke. You're so much better!"

While this may be meant as a compliment, the subtext can leave candidates feeling confused. On the one hand, they'll find it encouraging to know how they're stacking up against the competition. At the same time, they have no way of knowing whether or not you'll be saying the same thing to the next person who comes in. Even worse, it can give off the impression that you're hypercritical and insensitive towards others — neither of which are especially appealing traits in a future manager.

Instead, let them know what you really enjoyed about their interview specifically. If they asked a lot of insightful questions, or they had an infectiously exuberant personality, let them know! Making them feel appreciated can really turn the tide in your favor if their decision comes down to your company or another.

When it comes to the dos and don'ts of a job interview, the important thing to remember is that this is your first chance to make a positive impression on a potential future employee. Don't scare them away with negative language or by focusing on questions that are unrelated to the position they're applying for. When in doubt, be specific, be personable, and be positive. Doing so could just land you your next rock star.


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2015 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.   



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This post was written by Dora Wang

Dora is an employee engagement researcher for TINYpulse and managing editor of TINYinstitute. Having grown up in Texas, she is now firmly settled in Seattle, where she spends her free time reading comic books, wrangling her three cats, and (of course) rooting for the Seahawks.

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