15 of the worst interview questions

Last updated:
January 18, 2021
December 15, 2021
min read
Brendan McConnell
Table of contents

Interviewing is the most important part of the talent acquisition process. It’s a chance for both you and the candidate to figure out if you’re the right fit for each other.

Getting this phase right is important, but that’s often made harder by interviewers and companies who ask the worst interview questions imaginable.

Like with everything, there are good and bad ways to ask interview questions. It’s your job as an interviewer to know what the right question is and which ones you should avoid altogether.

To help, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of bad interview questions you should avoid at all costs. But first, let’s back up and discuss why you should avoid the worst interview questions and what they look like.

Let’s get started!

Why should you avoid bad interview questions?

Because they’re bad, but, in addition to being bad, the worst interview questions may actually be harmful to your brand, unethical and unfair to your candidates, or potentially downright illegal.

Here’s a list of reasons why you should avoid bad interview questions:

  • They can put your company reputation and employer brand at risk
  • They will likely harm your candidate experience
  • They often show the inexperience or unpreparedness of the interviewer
  • They may be illegal and could expose your company to litigation
  • The best candidates simply won’t put up with them

Bad interview questions should be avoided for a wide variety of legal, ethical, and reputational reasons. But in addition to those reasons, these types of questions simply run counter to the purpose of the interview in the first place.

If you’re spending the time and resources finding quality candidates and then falling back on bad interview questions and experiences, then you’re simply not running an effective recruitment strategy. In other words, stop asking bad interview questions, and start asking the right ones.

That, of course, begs the question: how do you know if an interview question is bad?

What do bad interview questions look like?

For the rest of this article, we’ll talk about bad interview questions in two contexts: illegal questions and ineffective questions. Let’s quickly define both.

Illegal interview questions refer to any line of questioning that solicits information from a candidate that can be used to discriminate against them based on their status in a list of protected classes.

The specific protected classes that you should be aware of will vary slightly depending on your country and local laws, but in general, they include the following:

  • Sex (gender, sexual orientation, gender identity)
  • Race
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Citizenships
  • Disability status
  • Familial and pregnancy status
  • Genetic information

Questions that solicit information pertaining to any of the above traits are illegal and should be avoided.

We encourage you to check your local laws to make sure that you, and your interviewers, are familiar with what qualifies as a protected class. Then, take steps to eliminate these bad interview questions from your repertoire.

Ineffective interview questions, on the other hand, don’t rise to the level of being illegal but can still harm your hiring process. This list is a bit more subjective and will depend on the company, role, and seniority of the position. In general, ineffective interview questions may be:

  • Overly aggressive, pushy, or dig too deeply into a candidate’s personal life
  • Designed to intimidate or “trip up” the candidate
  • Unrelated to the job at hand
  • Cookie cutter, and can be practiced in advance and recycled for each interview
  • Lacking in value to the interview or hiring team (aka. a waste of time)

In 99% of cases, your interview questions should have clear intent and be designed to solicit answers and information that help the hiring team make the right decision. If your questions aren’t doing that, then consider them to be bad interview questions.

Now that we’ve established why you should avoid the worst interview questions and what they look like let’s jump into some examples.

Examples of bad interview questions to ask candidates

As mentioned, these bad interview questions will be split between illegal and ineffective. For each, we’ll provide some guidance on what you should ask instead.

Illegal interview questions

“Where do you live? What’s your address?”

Why it’s bad: A little creepy, but it could also because of a discrimination complaint. This information can be used to discriminate based on location and socioeconomic status.

What to ask instead: Does this location work for you? Would you be willing to relocate if necessary?

“What country are you from?”

Why it’s bad: This directly solicits information about citizenship, race, and country of origin, all of which are protected classes.

What to ask instead: Are you authorized to work in this country?

“What is your current salary?”

Why it’s bad: This may be protected by local laws that protect against soliciting salary information.

What to ask instead: What are your salary or total compensation package expectations?

“What year were you born?”

Why it’s bad: This usually represents a blatant attempt at age discrimination, which is a protected class.

What to ask instead: How does your job experience make you a suitable candidate for this job? What are your goals for the next stage of your career?

“What year did you graduate?”

Why it’s bad: This is a more subtle way of soliciting age information from a candidate. Graduation year can be used to highlight a candidate’s age, which is a protected class.

What to ask instead: Stick to questions about past experience and future goals.

“Are you married? Pregnant? How many kids do you have?”

Why it’s bad: Familial status, on all fronts, is a protected class. Asking these questions during a formal interview can open you up to legal risk.

What to ask instead: If the concern is that the candidate will miss time due to their home life, ask if they foresee any issues with being present during working hours or in fulfilling their job requirements. Otherwise, save these questions for informal conversations once they become a new hire.

“What are your child care arrangements?”

Why it’s bad: This question also solicits information about the familial status.

What to ask instead: Focus on questions that gauge the candidate’s ability to do the job.

“Do you observe any religious holidays?”

Why it’s bad: This falls firmly into the protected class categories and can be used to solicit information about a candidate’s religion.

What to ask instead: Avoid questions about religious affiliation entirely.

“Do you have a disability?”

Why it’s bad: Again, disabilities are a protected class. It’s illegal to solicit information about a candidate’s existing or past disabilities.

What to ask instead: Avoid questions about disability status entirely.

“Have you ever been arrested?”

Why it’s bad: Unless the job in question involves security clearances, law enforcement, care of the vulnerable, or any other profession that requires a clean criminal record, this line of questioning is likely, not appropriate for an interview. In most cases, unless there is a strong reason and mandate to do so, you should rely on the background check to confirm this information.

What to ask instead: Avoid questions related to arrest records, and use a background check to uncover this information if needed.

Ineffective interview questions

“Tell me about yourself.”

Why it’s bad: This is a common go-to for interviewers. It’s also one of the worst interview questions to ask off the top, often wasting time. That’s because the question is too open-ended and provides no direction for what the interviewer wants to know about the candidate.  

What to ask instead: After some small talk at the start of the interview, launch into your list of prepared questions. Don’t spend time on open-ended questions that are often a regurgitation of the candidate’s resume.

“What’s your biggest weakness?”

Why it’s bad: This is another common and overused question. The intention is to ask the candidate to give themselves constructive criticism, but the result is usually a canned response that doesn’t provide any real value to the interview process.

What to ask instead:  Ask situational questions about overcoming a challenge, such as “Tell me about a time that you saw an opportunity to improve. What steps did you take, and what were the results?”

“What’s your biggest strength?”

Why it’s bad: Likewise, this question often elicits a canned response. It’s a cookie-cutter question that usually gives cookie-cutter answers that provide no new information or value.

What to ask instead:  Again, focus on situational questions that relate to the job at hand, such as: “Java programming is a major component of this role. Can you tell me about a project you worked on that leaned heavily on Java? What role did you play, and what were your results?”

“How does your experience relate to this job?”

Why it’s bad: If the candidate is sitting in front of you for an interview, you should already know the answer to that question. This question shows that you either didn’t read the candidate’s resume or didn’t take the time to prepare useful questions. Both of these send the signal that you don’t value the candidate or their time.

What to ask instead:  Skip this question altogether and focus on situational and follow up questions that provide real-world examples of the skills and experience mentioned in the candidate’s resume.

“I’m interviewing other candidates for this role. Why should I hire you?"

Why it’s bad: This question can come across as overaggressive and a bit arrogant. An interviewer’s job is not only to screen and question a candidate. They’re also tasked with selling the job and company. Questions like this can be a big turn off to a candidate, especially if they’re interviewing with multiple firms.

What to ask instead:  Focus on situational and personality questions that help you differentiate this candidate from the others that you’re interviewing. Provide time, in the end, to discuss the role and company culture in more depth to ensure that both parties have enough information to make an informed employment decision. This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many different ways to ask a bad interview question. As an interviewer, your job is to take the time to learn and refine your skills to ensure that you’re asking the right ones. This comes down to knowing what good interview questions look like and knowing how to avoid the worst interview questions altogether.

How to avoid the worst interview questions

Being aware that not all interview questions are created equal is a great start. If you’re reading this article, you likely know that bad interview questions exist and should be avoided.

Next to awareness, preparedness is the other key to avoiding bad interview questions. Take time to review candidate profiles and resumes and create interview processes and questions that directly relate to the job at hand. This will help ensure that your questions are directly relevant - and useful - to make an informed hiring decision.

In addition to awareness and preparedness, you should always ensure that your interview questions are:

  • Within the legal parameters of the interview
  • Relevant to the job requirements and/or company culture
  • Complimentary to the information you already know about the candidate
  • Framed as an open-ended or situational question that elicits an original response
  • Designed to extract value from the interview that can be used to make a hiring decision

To accomplish the above, it’s critical to know what you’re looking for in a candidate, and that you ask the right types of questions, and listen intently so that you can ask meaningful follow-up questions.

Remember: interviews are the most important part of the hiring process. Asking bad interview questions can cause a variety of headaches for you and your company, especially if they open you up to legal risk.

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