Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
INTERVIEWS / NOV. 18, 2014
version 2, draft 2

How to Get Smart about Dumb Questions

We all know the lines: Your interviewer asks a stupid scripted question, and you give the expected, stupid scripted answer. But…what if you didn’t? What if you didn’t follow the script and, instead, said what you really think? Here are some smart answers to typical stupid interview questions:


“Why should we hire you instead of one of the other candidates?”

Scripted answer: Describe your skills, your years of experience, etc., etc.

Smart answer: “That’s for you to decide. I don’t work here yet. I don’t know your culture; I don’t know the skill sets that are fully represented and the skill sets that are lacking. I don’t know what your goals are for the next few years. What I can do is tell you about my skills and experience, and, if it’s a match, I think we’ll both know it.”


“What is your greatest weakness?”

Scripted answer: “I’m a perfectionist,” or “I don’t know when to quit and go home.”

Smart answer: “I’ve realized that it doesn’t really accomplish anything to obsess about my weaknesses. That just fosters a “can’t do” attitude. “I’ve had much more success concentrating on how I can maximize all of my skill sets. Besides…if you really think I have a weakness that’s critical to success in this job, you shouldn’t hire me.”


“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Scripted answer: “In your job.”

Smart answer: “Well, this job is perfect for me right now. It combines everything I’ve learned with everything I want to learn. What I want to do next will depend a lot upon what I learn in this job, and, since I haven’t learned it yet, it’s hard to predict.”


“What is your least favorite thing about your current job?”

Scripted answer: “When it takes too long to get anything done.”

Smart answer: Be honest, but follow with how you realize you need to buck up: “I hate it when we switch computer programs when it feels like I just mastered the old one. But then I realized that how I feel about the old system is completely irrelevant; we’ve switched to a new one, and I need to learn how to master it.”


“If you were an animal, which animal would you be?”

Scripted answer: In theory, this question is supposed to say something about your personality. If you choose a shark or a mountain lion, for instance, it’s supposed to indicate that you’re ambitious and assertive. On the other hand, if you say you’d be a sheep or a llama, that’s supposed to be evidence of a passive personality.

Smart answer: The reality is that, unless your interviewer is highly trained in a few very narrow fields of psychology, he has no business trying to interpret any answer to that question. Instead of answering it directly, you may be better off simply calling him on it by saying something like, “I’ll be happy to answer that question, but I need to understand it a little better first. Could you please tell me about your criteria for interpreting the answers?”


No matter what your parents or high school teachers might have told you, there really are stupid questions. And there are some really stupid interview questions. Fortunately, you now know some smart answers. You just have to decide whether you want to spout off one of the safe, expected answers or shake things up by offering a truly smart answer to a dumb question. 

Image: question mark, by Karen Eliot, via Flickr

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