What to Say When Candidates Ask the Darndest Things

May 28, 2014 at 6:00 AM by Kathleen de Lara

questions asked by candidatesRecruiters usually have the upper hand when it comes to interviewing, right? You've broken the ice with an open-ended question along the lines of, "Tell me about yourself," and your interviewee is on his way to sharing a revealing tale of trial and error.

Then, out of nowhere, a left-fielder. The candidate floors you with a strange question about the company, and you're stuck between a rock and a hard place. Cat's got your tongue. You struggle to deal with the rude awakening and mumble something passive.

We've rounded up several of the most outlandish questions asked by candidates and put them to the test with Entelo Recruiter Evangelist Loni Spratt. Read on to get her advice on dealing with awkward interview questions. 

Could you tell me about the last person you fired?

Actually, we'll vote that you can't. Recruiters should strive to protect the privacy of employees and former employees, and refrain from sharing details on terminations and resignations. Want to smoothly shift the conversation to the next topic? Allude to the company's low turnover rate or high employee satisfaction.

Would it be alright if I connect with you on LinkedIn?

Short answer: It's completely up to you. Some recruiters may argue that connecting with a candidate post-interview is jumping the gun on your professional relationship with the individual, especially if you don't end up hiring the candidate after you've already hit "Connect." Others may say that it's an acceptable way to keep in touch with the interviewee when the timing is right, and to leverage talent's network of other potential hires. One option is to wait until after the hiring process is over to decide if it's appropriate. Whether or not you choose to connect with a candidate, remember to pay close attention to your brand's online presence, as it signals things like company culture and tech savviness.

What don't you like about working here?

Before you throw a coworker under the bus, keep in mind that at the crux of this question is a candidate who wants to learn more about the cons of working for the company straight from the source, someone who's already in the biz.

With this question, you can be transparent. Candidates will appreciate the honesty, although it's recommended you don't say anything that would damage the company's reputation. 

It's rare to find any team that runs without a hitch, but use the sandwich method to deliver your feedback with a softer blow. Here's the CliffNotes version: Compliment, critique, compliment. "For the most part, the team communicates pretty seamlessly on projects. I've noticed that sometimes, two or three people diverge from the group and take the project on their own course, but our manager does a great job of getting the team refocused on working together."

Can't wait for our next post? Don't forget to subscribe to the Entelo Blog!

Do you drug test employees?

Some hiring managers may red flag this question as an indicator of an unsuitable employee, but it's a fair question on company policy. Be honest and and let them know what the rest of the background check and reference process will entail.

Why are all your managers white males?

(Or a similar question about the company's supposed lack of diversity.)

On the contrary, however, just because a team looks the same, doesn't mean they are necessarily alike. Diversity isn't just defined as gender or ethnicity. It also entails differences in experience, age, and work background. Highlight these aspects of your team to get candidates on the same page of the wide variety of aspects encompassed by the term 'diversity'.

Also, mention your diversity programs, recruiting and hiring efforts, if you have them, and explain how the company is actively working to build in more diversity. You may also want to mention others who have been in those roles in the past or offer an opportunity for them to speak to other members of the team so they can see the diversity within various departments of the company. 

Who else is interviewing for this position and what can I do to guarantee I'm selected for the job?

A candidate who's bold enough to gauge what the rest of the competition looks like is also figuring out a way to seal his or her impression on you and the rest of the team. It's okay to let them know how many other candidates are currently in the running, but don't forget to disclose there are no guarantees and that many factors are considered in determining who is selected. It's also helpful to mention when they can expect to receive feedback, and if they are not selected for this role, that they'll be considered for future opportunities.

Does the company track employees' internet history?

Again, this question concerns company policy and shouldn't immediately come across as a signal of an employee who's more interested in online shopping than work. Employees are entitled to a certain degree of privacy, but because companies often provide the team with a work computer, there's a chance that, as the organization's property, managers have the right to monitor an employee's computer and to notify employees of the privacy policy. Explain why these policies are in place and ensure they're included in the written contract to avoid legal issues.

Who's the weakest link in this office?

Sounds like you've got an underminer on your hands! Avoid this question and let them know that the company is comprised of people with many different backgrounds and types of experience. Everyone contributes in their own way and the team strives to only hire top performers. This is a fluffy answer for a ridiculous question.

What's the starting salary? What perks are you offering?

Candidates want to know what they're getting themselves into, and waste no time getting to the point most folks are concerned about — compensation. Propose a range in salary for the position to showcase the potential pay, but be prudent in stretching too far because some will expect an offer at the top of the range. If they do not receive that, you'll probably have to explain why. List all the perks large and small. You'll be surprised at how many people love the small perks that might not be mentioned on the careers page or job postings.

Why did you choose me as a candidate?

This is the time to flatter the candidate. Let them know what you saw in their background that seemed like a great fit, whether it be professional skills or good culture fit.

Why didn't you choose me for the job?

It's perfectly acceptable for a candidate to follow up with your rejection email asking why he or she wasn't selected for the position. Let talent know the company receives many applications for every position and that every candidate is considered the same way but, unfortunately, there was another candidate who was a better match for the role at the time. It's always good to restate that you will keep them in mind for future opportunities.

This kind of feedback is a mutual benefit: Candidates get an idea of how they can be more prepared for their next opportunity. Recruiters get into the habit of following up with interviewees and can ask for ways to improve the interviewing process — both of which are part of building a positive candidate experience

What's the weirdest question you've dealt with during an interview? Tell us your cringeworthy stories (and solutions) in the comments or send a message to kathleen@entelo.com!

entelo webinar