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The 3 interview questions job candidates dread most and what they reveal


Nobody enjoys job interviews. For the job candidate, they’re a time of high tension that can affect the rest of their lives. For the interviewer, the stakes are just as high. Make the wrong decision or miss an important piece of information and the results could be disaster.

This is why smart interviewers ask open-ended and potentially revealing questions, and why smart job candidates often dread answering those same questions.

To help alleviate some of that anxiety, Christopher Dwyer, a lecturer at the Technological University of the Shannon in Ireland, has assembled a list of five highly annoying questions that are asked in almost every job interview, what the answers can tell you about a candidate and the psychology underlying them.

Though the list is written for job candidates to use, it’s just as useful if you’re the one asking the questions.

You can find all five in his post at Psychology Today. Here are three that candidates are likely to hate most.

  1. “Tell us a little about yourself”

Of all the questions an interviewee must face, this may be one of the most perplexing, because it’s so open-ended.

Someone could talk about their childhood or the movie they saw last weekend or their favorite pet and strictly speaking, they’d be answering the question.

Most job candidates are smart enough not to do that. But some of them make the mistake of listing their past jobs and experiences, essentially providing in verbal form information that the interviewer already has because it’s on their resume.

So why would you ask this? Because it “subtly allows the panel to see if you’re clear in your thinking and answering,” Dwyer writes.

The ideal candidate will talk about a few skills or experiences that are relevant to the job, as well as some of the work that they enjoy that may line up with the job requirements.

They may throw in a few personal experiences that illustrate the points they’re making, and they’ll make it succinct instead of eating up half the interview answering what is often the opening question.

  1. “Why do you want to work here?”

Everyone understands that the odds of getting a truthful answer to this question are low. So why ask it?

Mostly because it’s a great way to find out how much they know about your company and how good they are at doing their homework. It will also tell you if they properly understand the job they’re interviewing for.

Look for candidates who are prepared for this question and can talk about the work your company does and why it’s important or the exciting new technology they’ll be working with or even the value of work-life balance if that’s a known value in your company’s culture.

If your company is high-paying and focused on money, then a candidate who acknowledges this and talks about the great compensation might be a great hire.

Look for an answer that tells you that the person understands your company and the job, gets your values and would be a good fit for your culture.

  1. “What is one of your weaknesses?”

Most people would prefer to do almost anything rather than discuss their own weaknesses, so this may well be the most dreaded question of all.

Someone who answers, “I can never meet deadlines or get anywhere on time,” is letting you know they have issues around what’s appropriate to communicate and a poor understanding of workplace requirements.

Someone who says, “I’m too much of a perfectionist”. (an answer Dwyer says he’s heard often) may be warning you that they have efficiency and time management issues.

And someone who tells you their weakness is that they’re too devoted to their job is very possibly lying. After all, if they’re so devoted to their current job, why are they interviewing for yours?

The right candidate will tell you about an actual weakness – one that isn’t a dealbreaker. And then, importantly, they’ll tell you how they’re working to improve in this area and perhaps how they discovered the weakness.

An answer like that tells you several good things about a candidate. First, they have self-awareness, which some believe is the single most important quality to look for when hiring. And second, they have a growth mindset.

They believe in their own ability to learn and improve over time. Both qualities are important for success in any organization.

Often, they text me back about their own thoughts and experiences. Many are entrepreneurs or business leaders who’ve experienced first-hand how stressful job interviews can be, no matter which side of the table you’re on.

Understanding these dreaded questions, why it’s important to ask them and what you can learn from them, can make the whole experience just a little easier.

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