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Five Interview Questions No One Has The Right To Ask

I write about bringing life to work and bringing work to life. Full bio

I was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for ten million years, but I was an opera singer before I ever heard the term HR. The higher I got in the corporate world, the more operatic the action became. I started writing about the workplace for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997, but it took me ages to find my own voice. Now I write for the Huffington Post, Business Week, LinkedIn, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post and Forbes.com and lead the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. Stop by and join us: http://www.humanworkplace.com


You have to be ready, because you’re going to hear obnoxious and intrusive questions on a job interview. You have to be ready to answer them, and that’s why I’ve supplied answers to each of our five disgusting job interview questions below. Before you read the answers, though, it’s important to understand why these questions are so inappropriate.

You are a businessperson, and when you apply for a job, you send in a piece of business correspondence. Your resume or application is no different from a vendor sending in a proposal in reply to an RFP (Request for Proposal) that a company advertises.

When a business decides that it needs a new office cleaning company, it will publicize an RFP and various vendors will respond to it. The RFP document sets out the requirements for any office cleaning company that wants to bid on the available project.

The RFP might say “We need to know how long you’ve been in business, how many employees you have, what kinds of cleaning equipment you have available and how many other offices you are already cleaning.”

They will collect that information along with the pricing for each vendor’s bid, and they’ll make a decision about which office cleaning company they want to hire.

That process is very businesslike. Why should it work any differently in employment?

We are used to hearing interviewers ask us intrusive questions, so we think it’s normal. It’s not! You are applying for a job, not applying to enter the priesthood. There is no reason for someone on the other side of the interviewing desk to think that they have the right to ask you questions about your innermost thoughts and concerns. That’s why “What’s your greatest weakness?” is a wildly inappropriate question to ask on a job interview.

You’re too polite to say it, but “It’s none of your business!” is the answer you’d give if someone asked you this question in any other business setting, apart from a job interview. It truly is none of anyone’s business what you believe to be your weaknesses, if you believe you have weaknesses at all.

I realize that I barely know you, but I don’t think you have any weaknesses. You only have talents you’re already developing and others that you’re exploring for the first time.

If an interviewer isn’t comfortable having you turn around and ask him or her “What are YOUR greatest weaknesses?” then they shouldn’t ask that question of you, either.

A job interview is a meeting between two people, and if anyone is too zombified to show up at that meeting as a human being rather than a corporate or institutional robot, they should leave the interviewing duties to someone else.

recruiting with a human voice for linkedin

Here are five interview questions that no one has the right to ask you (but they will ask you, anyway!):

  1. What’s your greatest weakness?
  2. What’ is the lowest salary you would accept?
  3. What will you bring to this job that no one else will?
  4. How badly do you want the job?
  5. Where do you see yourself in five years?

The “weakness” question has nothing to do with business. It’s a religious question, because it springs from the non-scientific belief that people naturally have weaknesses they must expend energy to correct. We destroyed that question over here. 

If someone asks you “What’s your greatest weakness?” you can laugh and say “Chocolate!” or you can say “I used to obsess about my weaknesses years ago, but now I focus on getting better at things I love to do and do well — like econometric forecasting, in my case.” If your mojo is high that day you can add “What about you?”

“What’s the lowest salary you would accept?” is incredibly rude. Why should you give up your negotiating leverage? If you feel spicy, you can say “Make me an offer and we will find out together!” Otherwise, you can say “My salary target is $X.” This off-the-wall and impolite question is just a rephrased version of “You already told me your salary target, but what would you REALLY accept?”

It’s a question that shows an interview’s unfortunate early training. I don’t want you to work for rude people. You can’t grow your flame working with people like that. If the interviewer is very young, you can give him or her a pass. Otherwise, you might decide to conclude the interview then and there and go find a nice gelato.

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