Stupid Interview Questions—Trying to Find the Right Employees

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I was driving into the office this morning, and as I do whenever I’m in the car, I was alternating between NPR and Mike and Mike on ESPN Radio (professional sports are an interest of mine). Anyway, Mike and Mike were discussing a recent story about the Cleveland Brown’s asking their potential draft picks questions such as “Name all of the things you could do with a single brick in one minute?” I’m not sure about you, but I’m not sure how that translates into hiring the most effective person to snap a football and then block a raging defensive lineman, but hey I don’t work in football.

What does this have to do with football?

Bad IT Interviews

I do, however work in IT—and I’ve interviewed for a lot of roles, as well as interviewed a lot of people for roles. Fortunately, for my current role I was hired through people I had worked with in the past, and there was barely a formal interview process. Even my previous role for the internet provider many of you are likely reading this post on, the interview process was straightforward and consisted mostly of conversations about technology and style of design. I actually have to think back to many moons ago to one particularly bad interview, with a director who thought he was the be-all and end-all of IT management. Some of the questions where:

  • How many gas/petrol stations are there in the United States?
  • Why is a manhole cover round?
  • How many pieces of bubble gum are in this jar? (Ok, I made this one up, but you get the idea)

To this list I would like add the following questions, which I hope are destined to the waste bin of history:

  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • How did you hear about this position?

None of the above questions really help me (as the hiring manager) determine if a person a qualified for a role as a data professional (or frankly any other job). They are filler, and additionally any halfway prepared candidate is going to have prepared answers for them.

Building the Better Interview

I’ve been trained on a large number of interview techniques, between business school and corporate America. There is no magic set of interview questions—however, my favorite way to interview a candidate is to get them talking about a technology they’ve worked on and are passionate about. This serves two purposes—it lets me see if they are really into technology, or if it’s just a job to them, and additionally I can pretty quickly gather their technical level with follow on questions. Conversations are much better than trivia e.g.—”What is the third line item when you right click on a database in SQL Server Management Studio?”

One other thing I’ll add is make sure you have qualified people to do an interview—if you are trying to hire a DBA, and you don’t have any on staff, consider bringing in a consultant to do interviews—it’s small investment, that could save you a lot of money down the road.

So what stupid interview questions have you heard? Answer in the comments..

6 thoughts on “Stupid Interview Questions—Trying to Find the Right Employees

  1. Karen Lopez (@datachick)

    I hate the syntax trivia questions. It’s not what I spend my brainpower on.

    My favourite are the deceptive ways of asking illegal questions:

    “Lopez, that’s a odd name*. Where does it come from?” There are almost three quarters of a million Lopez’s in the US. It’s the 21st most popular family name. It’s not an odd name.

    “So does your husband work in IT, too?”

    “What do you do on weekends?” – often used to find out if there are spawn.

    Yes, they could just be normal conversations. And I have all the “right” answers to some of them. But it still makes my cringe.

    1. jdanton1

      So one thing I didn’t mention in this interview and that Karen is touching on here, is that HR departments mainly exist for one reason. To prevent companies from getting sued for asking questions like the above.

      Things you aren’t allowed to ask about:

      Are you married? Divorced?
      If you’re single, are you living with anyone?
      How old are you?
      Do you have children? If so, how many and how old are they?
      Do you own or rent your home?
      What church do you attend?
      Do you have any debts?
      Do you belong to any social or political groups?
      How much and what kinds of insurance do you have?

      Don’t ever ask any of those, or these.

      1. Justin Dearing (@zippy1981)

        I thought debts/credit rating was ok, and that background checks included credit checks. Its never something I’d ask. I’m nto a manager. I just tech people out and if asked directly I’ll give a “warm fuzzy” opinion about “team fit” I just assumed bean counters all got credit checks when they were hired.

  2. JD

    Database developer interview questions I was asked:

    What is your favorite book to read?
    Name a figure in politics today (other than the President) you would like to have a cup of coffee with?
    Name a figure in politics today (other than the President) that you would refuse to have a cup of coffee with?
    Are you allergic to dogs?

  3. Justin Dearing (@zippy1981)

    > Conversations are much better than trivia e.g.—”What is the third line item when you right click on a database in SQL Server Management Studio?”

    The correct answer is “I only use powershell or sqlcmd with SQLCMDEDITOR=vim.” If you disagree, Were not a good fit for each other.


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