Can You Answer This CEO’s Favorite Interview Question (That Everyone Gets Wrong)?
Before your next interview, heed the advice of 16 CEOs and business leaders and learn how to answer the tricky questions that stump everyone.
If I asked your colleagues or current boss, how would they describe you?
Vasyl Dzesa, Chief Operating Officer of Coding Ninjas, always starts an interview with this question. What does he expect? “An honest and adequate evaluation of the person’s strong and weak sides.” For future reference, here are 8 ways to build trust with your coworkers. Additionally, Dzesa asks candidates what they are currently reading and what the last book they finished was. “Lots of candidates can name only something from the school program, which is always a bad sign,” he says. So pick up a new book and be ready to talk about it and the impact it is having on you as an informed, interesting, and well-rounded person.
Tell me something you have learned or discerned during your interview process that you think I may not want to hear?
Adrienne Cooper, Chief People Officer at FitSmallBusiness.com, concludes her interviews with this doozy of a question because she “values coworkers who aren’t afraid and are well-adept at addressing uncomfortable feedback out in the open.” While Cooper actually dislikes trick questions, she does “want to challenge desirable applicants with the task of providing feedback that might make them, or myself, uncomfortable—all the while viewing how they think on their feet.” There’s no perfect answer to this tricky interview question, but, she says, “it’s important to hear the ‘why’ behind the applicants’ feedback as they deliver constructive criticism about the interview process.”
What can your hobbies tell me that your résumé can’t?
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Company Folders has made Inc.‘s list of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in America for three consecutive years, so founder and CEO Vladimir Gendelman knows a thing or two about the hiring process. He considers this question crucial to understanding a candidate, but not for the reason you might think. “I don’t care about the candidate’s hobbies, but when they have one, it’s a good sign because people who have hobbies are more likely to have goals and a love of learning new things,” he explains. Plus, how serious candidates are about their hobbies can provide insight into leadership, learning, and problem-solving skills. If their passion doesn’t come through when discussing a hobby, it likely won’t come through at work either. If you want more work-life balance, this is the most flexible job, according to a recent study.
What’s your biggest weakness?
Jill Gugino-Panté, director of the Lerner Career Services Center at the University of Delaware, knows full well that this question “causes a lot of clients to panic because you’re supposed to put your best self forward in an interview and not talk about your weaknesses.” But it cuts to the chase and reveals a lot about a candidate. “We all have weaknesses, and no one is going to match 100 percent of the job requirements listed,” she says. “And having self-awareness of your weaknesses is a good thing, and something employers look for in a candidate.” It is a smart idea, however, to flip your weakness into a strength by discussing in clear terms what demonstrable steps you are taking to improve. You can also improve your chances of getting hired by saying these 11 words during a job interview.
What do you think about our company’s values?
The CEO of Transformify, Lilia Stoyanov, is looking for a candidate who’s done his or her homework. That’s what a person’s answer to this tricky question will reveal. “If the candidate has not done any research and has no idea what our brand stands for, s/he is not a match,” she says. “Lack of engagement and curiosity early on is a red flag. [This question] also reveals the values of the candidate and if s/he can express these values openly.” So, before you sit down for an interview, spend some time on the company’s website, reading about its philosophies, values, and history. Then use your newfound knowledge during the interview to demonstrate your thoughtfulness and commitment. That said, it’s important to be curious about the right things. You should never ask these 7 questions at a job interview.
If you could work anywhere, where would it be?
According to Kate Zabriskie, founder and CEO of Business Training Works, an HR consultancy in Maryland, answering this question can be tricky because “unless you are interviewing at your dream company, you can give an interview-ending answer.” For example, “I’d be a Broadway star” could easily lead to a potential employer saying, “You do realize this is an accounting firm, right?”
Zabriskie suggests answering this question by “focusing on the kind of place you want to work rather than a specific company.” Speak in broad brushstrokes, saying things like: “I have an entrepreneurial spirit, and I like challenge and change. For that reason, start-ups are where I do my best work. There is something about building an organization that gets me excited each morning when I work in a start-up environment.” Of course, that only works if you are indeed applying to such a business.
What questions do you have for me?
While Gary Fortier, the Chief People Officer at Cengage, may not actually ask this question outright, it is one of the things he pays attention to most. He’s not looking for a particular response to a particularly tricky question; he’s looking at the process and logic that a candidate applies when crafting a response. “It’s very rare for me to set up a question that has a distinctive pass/fail answer associated. Rather, I pay attention to people’s ability to apply reason to difficult situations,” he says. “[I want] candidates who think critically about the components of a question, and in return, ask me questions—a lot of questions.” To that end, here are 7 questions you should always ask at a job interview.