The worst tech interview questions

I have a slightly unfair advantage over most tech recruiters in that I was once a developer (albeit a pretty terrible one) and as a result, I’m able to empathise with the majority of the issues they face on a daily basis. Ever since I transitioned to the dark side many years ago and became a recruiter/talent/people professional, I’ve become increasingly bitter and cynical of basic hiring practices in the tech industry. Here I outline some of the worst interview questions I see perpetrated time and time again.

The reason I consider these ‘classics’ to be some of the worst questions you can ask, comes down to the inherent vanity of the questions. They are one stop short of asking you to blow smoke directly up their collective arses and almost never result in an applicant replying truthfully. It is, quite literally, an obedience test. Employers that ask these questions learn nothing more than how willing you are to sacrifice your dignity for their benefit.

That or they are just really lazy and bad at interviewing.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

What they want you to say: I want to develop my strengths, address my weaknesses, become a better, more rounded developer, take on more responsibility and eventually work my way up into a managerial role where I can build and lead a great team with a company that will support my ambition.

What you would say if you were being 100% truthful: I haven’t a clue. Five years is a lifetime in tech. The average time spent with each company in the UK is approximately 4 years so honestly, I’ll probably be working for your competitor for way more money and spend my days bitching about how miserable life was at my last job.

What you can say: That’s an incredibly difficult question to answer accurately given how quickly this industry evolves. If you want to know what I aspire to then <insert personal, realistic aspirations here>.

What would your colleagues at your last job say about you?

What they want you to say: They would say that I’m reliable, easy to work with and that I have a strong work ethic. Hopefully they would tell you how I’m usually the first at my desk and the last to leave and that it’s rare to see me grumble and moan.

What you would say if you were being 100% truthful: They would tell you that I have mastered the art of instantly posting relevant, cat based reaction gifs in slack. Hopefully they would tell you that I’ve never murdered anyone and that I don’t smell too bad.

What you can say: It would be very conceited of me to assume they would say lot’s of wonderful things. I made a lot of great friends in that job and I can honestly say that I’ve never had a falling out with anyone in the company. If you do ask them, I’d love to hear the feedback.

What’s your biggest weakness?

What they want you to say: I have a propensity for refusing to leave a job unfinished. Often that means I work late and even tackle problems over the weekend as I can’t rest comfortably until I’m certain I’ve nailed the right solution to the problem.

This question essentially begs you to suggest that you have no weaknesses, only strengths hidden behind a thin veneer of perceived weakness.

What you would say if you were being 100% truthful: Pop Tarts.

What you can say: In all honesty, as my career progresses, I’ve learned that I occasionally struggle with <insert actual weakness here e.g. time-keeping, focus, communication skills, etc.> however I sincerely believe you never stop learning and one of my personal goals is to eradicate that particular weakness.

Why should we hire you?

What they want you to say: I’ve thoroughly researched your company. I’ve spoken to some of your current employees. I’m extremely familiar with your work and your culture. Everything this company represents is what I’ve worked towards over the past X-years. I’m not looking at this as a job opportunity, for me, this is a career opportunity. <pause for applause>

What you would say if you were being 100% truthful: I need money for Pop Tarts and rent. Right now, you’re offering more money for Pop Tarts and rent than your competitors.

What you can say: It’s time for me to feel challenged again. I want to work with a company that respects me as much as I respect them. I’m sure you’re speaking to a lot of fantastic candidates for this role however, what I can say with absolutely certainty is that I’m confident that I’m more than capable of doing an excellent job here.

How many golf balls does it take to fill a school bus?

What they want you to say: What they want is a thoroughly considered, logical approach to producing an answer that sounds at least plausible. Why? Google asks Fermi questions and we want you to think we’re as clever as the folk over at the google.

Problem is, Laszlo Bock (SVP, People Operations at Google) has banned those questions a long time ago and categorically stated “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart”.

What you would say if you were being 100% truthful: Remind me where the exit is please.

What you can say: May I ask what the purpose of the question is? The reason I ask is because significant industry research clearly indicates that Fermi questions such as these serve little to no purpose in revealing my potential suitability for the job.

A final caveat

Being asked one or two of these questions isn’t inherently a sign of a bad company. Most people (myself included) are guilty of asking questions like these at some point in their career. The point I’m making is simple. Interviews should never leave the interviewee feeling compelled to impress the interviewer. It should be a mutually respectful discussion that allows both parties to glean enough information about each other in order to make an informed decision as to whether or not you want to spend at least the next few years working together.

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