There is very little in life that is more uncomfortable than a job interview. Even the most confident person in the world has to find them squirm inducing. You walk into an interview with no idea whatsoever who will be your judge and jury. Will you get someone dedicated to being fair and impartial or a hanging judge who will decide that they won't hire you based upon how you wear your hair or whether or not they like or dislike the color of your tie? The whole experience is horrifying.
It never ceases to amaze me how stupid the questions can be in an interview, especially if they are some kind of stock questions that the interviewer has to go through and check off a list. This always makes me wonder what marketing or human resources consultant managed to make a boatload of money by dreaming up the most stupid questions possible and convince the company that they were meaningful.
One of the stupid questions that is typical of these packaged interviews is, “Tell us about a time when you were faced with a major change on the job and how did you deal with it?” This is a ridiculous question for so many reasons. For one thing, what if you never really faced a major change on the job? It isn't like every company in the world makes huge changes on a regular basis. And what kind of thing qualifies as a 'major' change? A new boss? Some other company buys out your company? Redecorating? New computers? A new uniform? When it comes right down to it, how does anyone deal with change? They either adapt or quit and find another job.
Another good one is, “Tell us about a time when you had a conflict with another employee, and how did you handle the problem? Let's face it, unless some other employee stole your paper clips or tried to run you over with a delivery truck most office conflicts come down to personalities or the fact that pretty much everyone thinks that they are the only person actually working. It generally boils down to the basics of the worst of human traits. Jealousy, envy, gossip, or just plain all around nastiness. When I have been asked this question I usually make something up off the top of my head since the majority of my problems with other employees are the same ones I have had with humanity in general and aren't really worth remembering.
My absolute favorite stupid interview question is, “Describe a time when you have been faced with something painful or tragic and how did you deal with it?” Really? That is way too personal a question. I'm a private person and I don't go around discussing the most painful and tragic events in my life with anyone, especially someone I have just met and for whom I might work. What is anyone hoping to learn from this question anyway? What I always want to do is make up some awful story that is like something out of a Shakespearean tragedy and follow it up with the fact that I completely fell apart and ended up a hopeless drunk who hears voices and tries to jump off a bridge, and then laugh just to see what would happen. It would certainly be one way to tell them to mind their own business. One time I did ask the interviewers whether they were interested in hiring me or psychoanalyzing me. Obviously, I didn't get the job, but I was OK with it. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to work for anyone who would ask me such a stupid question anyway.
Being interviewed is a drag, but being the interviewer who is forced to ask these stupid questions can be worse in some ways. For one thing, you have to demean yourself by asking a bunch of stupid questions you would never ask in a million years if someone weren't forcing you to do it. I've done a lot of interviewing and I have found that people are so nervous that even if they had a thousand instances they could talk about any other time, all of them tend to fly out of their heads under the pressure of an interview. My policy has generally been to get the interviewee to relax enough that they respond naturally to any questions I ask them. I find that this method is far more effective in determining the reality of what you need to know about someone you are looking to hire for a position. When you ask stock questions you tend to get stock answers. When I interview people I start out by telling them that I have to ask them a bunch of stupid questions but that I will try to make them easier to answer. This usually makes people laugh and relax and also makes it a lot easier for me to find out who they really are.
I was once told at an HR conference that people make the decision whether or not they would hire you within the first 17 seconds. If that is true, then going through the long list of questions is just killing time and the same thing could be accomplished by having a cup of tea and playing a hand of gin rummy. At the very least, it would be a lot more fun.