A Job-Seeker's Lament

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I was recently asked in a job interview, "On a scale of 1-10, how lucky are you?"

I responded cautiously, noting my health, my home, my job, and the relative well-being of my family and friends.

"So what number would you say?" she asked again.


The woman nodded, face blank, and jotted something down.

I am no stranger to unconventional interview questions. Having been asked about my spirit animal, my favorite song, and my desired super power, I've become acquainted with this quirky method of weeding out the unqualified.

There is a time and place for creativity during the interview process. But let's be honest: are these questions serving to reveal anything about the candidate other than their ability to think outside the box?

In my most recent job search, I've found not only is this method being over-used, but interview questions, in general, don't seem to be doing much of anything other than quizzing the applicant on their capacity for dishonesty. About a month ago, I received a call in the middle of the work day from the HR director at a publishing company I had submitted an application to. What followed were thirty minutes of the most grueling interview questions I've ever encountered, none of which seemed particularly relevant to how my experience measured up to the open position. The most absurd? "Name your five biggest weaknesses."

In my interview preparation, I had perfected one weakness. I had identified my biggest professional flaw, polished it up a bit, and written it down several times so I could call upon it without hesitation. But five?

A few weeks later, I interviewed at another company, one of an astounding number I came across whose website flaunted stylish interfaces and engaging employee profiles, but specified nowhere what exactly it was the company did. I accepted an interview hoping to learn more about the actual operative bones of the organization, but was met with more of the same.

This time, it seemed the interviewers were more interested in the trivial specifics of each role rather than the larger contributions I had made. I was asked what materials I had used for book displays during a job I had working for a library curator, but not about the aspect of work I enjoyed most. I was asked how many dollars' worth of artwork I had sold during my time as a gallery assistant, but not about the kinds of interpersonal skills I had learned that were transferrable to the position for which they were hiring. I was asked to describe my current boss, but not asked to describe myself.

There wasn't anything innately objectionable about these questions. After all, there is validity in testing a job candidates' reaction to any question (within reason). But in these cases, they were posed not to supplement the usual inquiries, but rather at the expense of the oldie-but-a-goodie "tell us about yourself," "why do you want to work here?" "why should we hire you?" "what can you bring to the table that no one else can?"

It seems like it's become less about your qualifications as a job candidate, and more about how skillfully you answer a set of questions specifically designed to frazzle you, presumably an already nervous interviewee.

Does being able to pinpoint five professional deficiencies make you more qualified for a job? Does ranking your luckiness in life a 10 as opposed to an 8 have any bearing on how well you'd perform? I am young, relatively inexperienced, and trying to find a career, along with millions of other individuals, new and old to the work force. But are we doomed to fail if companies don't take the time during the interview process to try to get to know our credentials in a real way? Conversely, if potential employers are aiming to get a sense of the candidate's personality, they should rethink their tactics: if you want to know my sense of humor, don't ask me to lie, because what's my spirit animal? A gremlin. What's my ideal super power? Being able to throw people off the sidewalk who are walking too slow. What's my favorite song? Something so shameful I will only play it when my Spotify account is private.

I vote for a return to the basics. Rather than searching the internet for interview questions that will reveal some latent characteristic of the job candidate's psyche, or shooting questions rapid fire to see how well we keep up, ask why we are qualified, why we want to work for you, because rest assured, we do, and will gleefully outline the ways we would excel at the job. That is, assuming you are interested in hearing them.