Why do interviewers ask questions that do not pertain to the job? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, Author of Cracking the {Coding Interview, Tech Career, PM Interview}, on Quora:

I've done lots of interviews, lots of interview coaching, and lots of interviewer training. People on all sides want to do a good job, but they often have a very silly idea of how to get there. They might also have silly ideas as to what actually constitutes a good job.

I've seen, for example:

  • A hiring manager who repeatedly--for the same candidate--scheduled interviews and then cancelled them at the last minute. He wants to be sure the candidate was really committed to the job.
  • Interviewers who made critical comments towards candidates in order to stress them out. They want to see that ability to handle stress is important, because the job is stressful.
  • Companies that put multiple interviewers in a room specifically with the goal of unnerving candidates. They felt like candidates are too "practiced"--already knowing the solutions to problem solving questions--and they want to shake them up a little. They felt that this would get away from the "practiced" situation.

These are all absurdly bad ideas. But, as horrendously executed as they are, the goal in all cases was to select people who would make good employees.

You can trust that, when an interviewer asks a question that feels unrelated, they're doing it with reason. It's probably to select for particular skills, and sometimes it's just to put you at ease (which is still to select for good employees).

Remember that when an interviewer is interviewing, they are almost always operating outside of their core skillset. More or less, the only people who have a skillset in interviewing are recruiters. Your interviewer is trained in marketing or coding or design or finance--and now they're asked to hire. It's not what they're employed to do; it's just a side effect of their jobs.

And, for the most part, they aren't even trained in how to interview. The company might offer legal-style training ("Don't ask if they're married!"), but most don't even do that. Very few interviewers--even at huge, well known companies--have actually been trained in how to conduct a good interview for their role. And in the rare case that their company offers role-specific interviewing training, it's usually bad training.

So why do interviewers ask questions that don't pertain to the job? Because they think they do, and no one's ever told them how to do a good interview.

It's okay to be frustrated by this. But also, give your interviewers a break.

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