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2 Interview Questions I Can't Stand

These two questions should be banned from job interviews. Yet they're perennial favorites.
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Now that I’m the CEO of an asset management firm, I often view myself as an escaped refugee from traditional Wall Street. I can tell you firsthand that there is a big problem with the way most financial companies interview job candidates. When you structure interviews around clichés, you either end up hiring by stereotype, or you wind up with a staff full of people who think just like you. Memories of the stale responses of interviews past still make me shudder. More importantly, they can’t generate a vibrant team with energy and fresh perspectives.

Were you on a sports team?

Supposedly, this hints at whether someone can work well in groups. I, for one, dislike team sports, but am a very good collaborator: I grew up one of four kids who had to share her room, and everything else. I can get along well with others and enjoy a layer of controlled chaos.

So what does this question actually tell you about a person’s ability to be an effective contributor to your unique staff? It tells you little more than the pastimes someone enjoyed at age 14-18. Frankly, I don’t care about childhood hobbies. Do you really think they magically extrapolate a decade into the future and offer insight into one’s potential as a collaborative employee?

Tell me your greatest strengths and weaknesses.

This question doesn’t work because candidates will give a response they think you want to hear. It’s like an online dating profile--who would voluntarily advertise their truly negative qualities?  What you’ll get is an answer worthy of a Hallmark card, not one that lets you accurately judge how well this person will fit with your team and your company. If you want employees with creativity and the ability to think quickly, ask imaginative questions.  

Lexion Capital Management is extremely mission-driven. We look for individuals who live by a similar code of ethics. I always ask applicants what their personal mission is and what kind of impact they want to have on the world.

Study after study shows that the people who perform the best in interviews don’t necessarily perform best in a given position - and vice versa. It’s not possible to get an accurate sense of someone’s work ethic just by meeting them once.

One way to supplement an interview is to administer personality tests like the Myers-Briggs assessment. That can help you hire and plan your teams strategically, based on each person’s innate strengths. Personality types can be thought of as skill sets. You wouldn’t hire a reclusive introvert for a sales job. Instead, you want to stack your team mindfully to play to each person’s innate skills and strengths.

When you ask questions to which everyone knows the “right” answer, you are essentially asking, “Can you give me the standard, canned reply?” When building a company, you are only as strong as your weakest link, so interview with thought and originality. Your future team will reflect that.

IMAGE: iStock
Last updated: Feb 6, 2013

ELLE KAPLAN | Columnist | CEO, Lexion Capital Management

A finance expert and self-made entrepreneur, Elle Kaplan is the CEO and founding partner of Lexion Capital Management, the only 100 percent woman-owned asset management firm in the U.S.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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