Interview Questions I Hate — Part I

So, why do you want to work here?

If you’ve worked a day in your life, chances are you’ve been asked this ques­tion dur­ing an inter­view.  And, if you’re like the rest of us, you’ve said some­thing about how much you love the com­pany, it’s your dream job, you’re look­ing to really make your mark some­where, or some other hack­neyed tripe that you hope sounds good to the per­son ask­ing the question.

I’ve spent a lot of time inter­view­ing peo­ple for my teams over the years, and I can tell you that your likely first instinct is right: the ques­tion is just about as worth­less as any­thing you could be asked in an inter­view. Every­one answers it the same way–with vac­u­ous gusto–and every inter­viewer hap­pily ticks of a box as if you’ve passed some mag­i­cal “qual­i­fied to work here” test. But it’s crap and almost all of us know it.

I’ve per­son­ally never used this ques­tion in any of my inter­views, but I always get asked this when I’m inter­viewed. I hate to say it, but I really lose respect for folks when they use this ques­tion in an inter­view. I under­stand the osten­si­ble goal is to get to the heart of why this can­di­date picked your job post­ing to respond to, why they jumped through the hoops to get the inter­view, etc., but the fact is that in most cases it’s because you have a job open­ing and pay in actual dol­lars and not Monop­oly bills.

If you’re look­ing to get closer to what I assume the goal of this ques­tion is, you can change it up a bit and ask ques­tions like: “What about our com­pany intrigues you?” or “How do you see your­self con­tribut­ing to the com­pany?” or some­thing along those lines. At the end of the day, you’re look­ing to get beyond the point where you’re get­ting the same rote answer from every candidate.

Peo­ple have dif­fer­ent moti­va­tions for apply­ing to posi­tions.  Often they’re look­ing to move on because they don’t see any addi­tional oppor­tu­ni­ties where they’re at, they’re in a neg­a­tive work envi­ron­ment, or they’ve just topped out as far as the con­tri­bu­tion and value they feel they can bring to the com­pany they’re cur­rently at.  Other times it’s out of des­per­a­tion: they’ve just lost their job or feel they’re about to, they need more money for a vari­ety of rea­sons, etc.

Moti­va­tion is impor­tant, and I do under­stand the need to deter­mine the moti­va­tion of the per­son sit­ting in front of you. How­ever, I’ve always found it bet­ter to have a con­ver­sa­tion with the per­son rather than ask­ing the same ques­tions they get every­where else.  Just talk to them a bit, get to know where they’re at in their career and what they’re look­ing to do.

Oh yeah, and don’t ask any of those ques­tions like “How much wood would a wood­chuck chuck if he was on a train going 50mph in 0-gravity, upside down?”  That moves you from hack­neyed to hack job.  Just saying.