when an interviewer asks “why shouldn’t we hire you?”

A reader writes:

My friend was asked a question during a phone interview and we were both stumped on a good answer. It was “Why shouldn’t we hire you for this job?” She answered that eventually she wanted to go to graduate school, so if they were looking for someone with longevity, she wouldn’t be their gal. It must have gone over well enough, as she was asked for a second phone interview.

I see this question as a less effective variation of “describe a weakness” or “what about this job concerns you?” These other questions I don’t mind, as they allow me to give a more well-rounded picture of myself, to describe how I have overcome challenges in the past, etc. However, I can’t really see a positive to the “Why shouldn’t we hire you?” question and don’t really know a good way to respond.

What do you think is a good answer for this question? Is it not as bad of a question as I think it is?

Yeah, it’s not a great question and it has all the marks of an interviewer who has lost sight of the fact that interviews are a two-way street. I suspect this interviewer would bristle if a candidate asked, “What are some reasons that I shouldn’t want this job?”

Just because someone is sitting in front of you discussing a job doesn’t mean that you can subject them to any question you want. You do need to probe and really get beneath the surface, and you need to be really sure that someone is the right hire before you make a job offer, but there are plenty of ways to do that without questions like this.

For instance, if interviewer was trying to uncover fit issues that she might have missed, she could have instead asked, “What’s your biggest reservation about the job’s fit?”  Or, “Tell me about some times in the past when you haven’t felt a job or an organizaton’s culture was a good fit for you.”  Or, “In assessing the job, where do you see the strongest areas of fit and where might it not be ideal?”

Back to your question about what a good answer to the original question would be, I think your friend’s answer was just fine because it was honest. You should be honest in interviews, because you want to be screened out for jobs where you won’t be a good fit — because you don’t want to be miserable or get fired later on. And there’s always some way in which you’re not a perfect fit for a job, and it can be useful to surface it and talk about it. So I’d do that, prefacing it with a comment like, “Well, I think we’re both looking at fit throughout this process” to reinforce the idea that it’s a two-way street and that candidates aren’t just waiting to be picked — they’re evaluating and assessing the fit right back.

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. A Bug!*

    “Because I need to be able to respect my superiors and I can’t do that if they are twits who ask ridiculous interview questions.”

    1. Sophie*

      If only we could have those responses! I suppose we could, but then we wouldn’t get a call back…

      1. A Bug!*

        No, we wouldn’t, because it would be really rude to actually say that in an interview! I imagined myself saying it to somebody’s face and then I felt bad.

        1. ARS*

          I don’t ever feel bad about imagining what I wish I could say. Your interior voice can give you a lot of satisfaction you can’t get out loud. :)

      2. Boina Roja*

        I once answered the question “Do you want kids?” with “Only with you darling” while giving a wink.

        I must say I decided 5 minutes before the job interview, that I didn’t want the job at all.

        1. saro*

          I would’ve given you the job – that’s the type of graceful wit that makes working with others fun and friendly.

          1. Boina Roja*

            I decided the job was not for me because while I waiting for the interviewers. I witnessed to 2 seperate cases of verbal abuse; screaming( done by 2 men towards 2 employers). Turned out I had the interview with both screamers, I was so shocked that my response was to laugh hysterically. Which I prevented by biting my lower lip all the time.

  2. Bridgette*

    When I first saw this question, I interpreted it as more of, “You sound awesome! Why wouldn’t we hire you?”, like they were excited about the candidate and not just asking a really bad question. So I suppose it depends on the context of the conversation…ick, phone interviews. I hate talking on the phone because of the ambiguity of what people are saying, no non-verbal cues…I would have bombed that interview lol.

    1. Anonymous*

      Phone interviews are the bane of my existence. I’m someone who can pass for normal in most social situations despite having major social anxiety, but when it’s on the phone, my anxiety and inability to know the intent and cues makes it hard for me to do well on phone interviews. I wish employers didn’t do them, but I understand they’re necessary to weed out applicants that aren’t good fits.

      1. Esra*

        I don’t like them either. When I can’t see a person’s face/body language, I tend to ramble. It’s really hard to control on a phone interview, because it feels so disconnected. It has all of the disconnection of email interactions with none of the perks (ex, being able to draft and review).

        1. Doug*

          When I did phone interviews, I found that using a bluetooth headset helped me feel more comfortable. When I would hold the receiver to my head, I would end up feeling mildly fatigued and would be unable to take notes during the interview. With the headset, I can move my arms like I naturally would during a face-to-face conversation, and I can write notes and look up things on my computer.

        2. Anonymous*

          Same here. I end up rambling and due to that, sounding a little desperate for the job when in reality it wasn’t the case.

          With the job I recently started, the phone interview I did was on the fly and I fortunately aced it. Usually I feel a lot better when I’m prepared, but I think just doing it off the cuff really helped me with the flow of it.

      2. Not usually Anon*

        I hate them, too – no matter what side of the table I’m on.

        I did one earlier today and have another later this afternoon for a contracted position for a short term project.

        You’d think the pressure would be off as I only have two candidates and it’s just a small project – but I hate interviewing alone because I kinda suck at it. I’m fine when I’m being pulled in to other people’s hires…just to vet their tech skills or give my opinion. Then I can sit quietly and only speak when I have something particularly helpful to say.

        When it’s just me it’s kind of like chasing a playful dog who is running towards home. I’m going in the right direction and no one is getting hurt – but it’s not the straight and leisurely path I intended when I set out.

        If it makes people feel any better there is a good chance your interviewer is just as uncomfortable as you are.

        Oh and a couple of things. Seriously listen to Alison about eliminating long paragraphs from your resume. One I read several times and still had no idea what she had done since I kept getting lost in a wall of text. I had to reformat the resume myself into bullet points just to prepare for the interview.

        I’m glad I don’t have to do this often, because if after all these years of reading AAM I’m still this awkward about it I don’t think I have the gift for interviewing.

      3. Laura L*

        Oh man, I’m totally the opposite. I’m fine over the phone (as long as I’m not the person who has to initiate the phone call), but in-person I’m extremely nervous and speak more quietly and monotonously than I normally do and I come across as not excited about the job.

        I feel you, though. It’s hard.

  3. Sabrina*

    I got asked this question once and it through me for a real loop. I don’t remember what my answer was, but I got the job. I did ask what the company did poorly and what she didn’t like about working here, and wouldn’t let her tell me “Oh nothing, everything is perfect.” Which I hear more than I should. So I kind of feel like I gave as good as I got.

  4. Anonymous*

    Ugh. I recently got asked ‘what are you least looking forward to about this job?’. I wanted to tell her that if there was something major I wasn’t looking forward to, I wouldn’t be wasting my time interviewing! But instead I stumbled over some inane answer. I didn’t get job. At least I was able to spit out some kind of answer – I don’t think I would have been able to answer this one. Why do interviewers get such a kick out of questions like this?!

    1. Anonymous*

      I think they do it to weed out those who can’t think on their feet and can’t come up with a good answer in a certain limit of time. Lots of jobs require to think on your feet, so maybe they do that to see who can sink or swim.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This question is a bit different; they’re asking because some people will actually answer that they’re not enthusiastic about something that’s a really key portion of the job. It’s a check to make sure that you’re not fooling yourself into thinking that the parts you don’t like won’t be significant pieces, if indeed those are key parts.

    3. A Bug!*

      I feel like interviewers like this think they’re being quite clever and hard-hitting, and that putting an interviewee on the spot, regardless of the reason, is a good thing.

      But newsflash to those interviewers: “Oh dang, that is a good question and I am not prepared for it; you have exposed a weakness in my candidacy” is not the same as “Uhh… what kind of question is that and what in the world are you hoping to learn by it?”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I actually don’t think these interviewers are trying to put people on the spot to see how they’ll respond. In the case of the question Anonymous was asking about, I think they’re genuinely checking to make sure of the answer, like I explained above. But in the case of the question that the OP asked about, I think they have a fundamental misunderstanding of what interviewing is about.

  5. Anonymous*

    For something like this, I’d probably personally just answer the classic “weakness” question instead, and then follow up with, “Did that answer your question?” If they don’t like the weakness then they’ll rephrase the question for you, hopefully in a slightly better way.

    Sometimes, you can get away with answering the question you wish they’d asked instead of answering the exact question they asked. It’s risky because the interviewer might decide you’re a bad listener, but it’s a good way to steer a conversation away from completely awkward subjects.

    1. Catherine*

      That is risky, especially if you are interviewing with someone like me, who pays an inordinate amount of attention to whether or not you actually answered the question. However my manager, who leads these interviews, is a bad communicator and typically doesn’t answer the questions himself, sometimes puts people in that position. He works better from a script, which is required of HR in order to treat all candidates equally.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That was my thought too — it’s a major concern for me if a candidate doesn’t answer the question I asked, because it signals that they’ll do that on the job too, which can be a huge problem. Answering the question you want to answer, rather than the one asked, is a good strategy for interviews with reporters, but not for job interviews.

  6. Kristi*

    I can honestly say I’m not sure a prospective employer would want to hire me if they knew I wasn’t a “Yes Man.” My opinion may differ on a variety of topics/decisions, but at the end of the day of course I go with the final decision of the CEO, board, upper management, etc. and make it happen.

    I wouldn’t describe this as disagreeing with my immediate supervisor, just a difference of opinion. If I can reference “Lincoln and his Team of Rivals” I may be able to sell this in an interview.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You don’t want to work for an employer who has a problem with this anyway, or you’ll end up clashing with them, it sounds like. The key is just describing it in a way that doesn’t sound like you’re going to be a pain in the ass once a decision is made.

  7. Heather*

    I will admit that I totally ask this question–although never in a phone interview. It comes nearer the end of a 1-1.5 hour in person interview where there have already been many fit questions for both the duties of the position and the work environment in general. The reason I ask it is because I am trying to get to their weakness for applying for this specific job. The reason I don’t like the typical weakness question is almost always interviewees say “I’m too much of a perfectionist.” The people who have gotten the job/fellowship with me actually do answer the “why shouldn’t I hire you” question honestly while also demonstrating why they want the job. e.g. “I have a degree in this, so I could see you being worried that I will run off for a professional job. For this reason I could see you might want to hire someone without a degree. However, I just graduated from school and don’t have the skills doing X. This specific job will give me the experience I need in this and I am committed towards staying in this position for the year that is required should I receive it.”

    I have found when I ask someone point blank “Can you commit to staying here for the entire fellowship?” or “What are your career goals?” they don’t always answer honestly. Those who wind up saying something other than “no reason” to the “Why shouldn’t I hire you” question have followed through on whatever they said after they got the position, are tremendous workers, and grow their skill set to a significant degree while with me. It has always showcased who wants THIS job over those who are looking for A job.

    I recently went through my questions with someone I hired awhile ago, who is comfortable with giving me honest feedback when I ask for it, and she liked every question still. I am happy to change the wording of the question, as long as I get the same result. Perhaps part of the reason why it hasn’t been a problem is that I have gotten feedback that my interviews are “rather fun,” even though I am getting so much useful information about how they have behaved in past jobs, what their real goals are, and so on. I ask this particular question knowing (and believing) that an interview is a two way street.

    BTW I have gotten, and totally love, the question ” why shouldn’t I want this job” from those who are interviewing (and I tell them honestly why not). So please help me fix this question if it seems problematic. I always want to make my interviews with candidates better.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you’re trying to get at real weaknesses, I would (and often do) ask: “If I were to talk to your most recent manager, what would she tell me you excel at and what would she say you could work on improving in?” You get some really interesting answers to this.

      However, that question wouldn’t get at things like the degree issue in your example.

      1. Heather*

        I ask the question “If I were to talk to your most recent manager, tell me three things that they would say you need improvement on.” which is a similar question.

        But yeah, the degree thing is the biggest hurdle and the one most people (for obvious reasons) don’t want to answer honestly.

  8. Lena*

    How about responding, “If you have a stronger candidate”? It answers the questions, but maybe not how they want.

  9. Grey*

    I was asked this one. I answered with what seemed obvious to me: “Because you found a better candidate for the job”. I smiled and said it with a sense of humor, and my interviewer just moved on to the next question.

  10. The IT Manager*

    Lena, Grey great answer. I do not think fast on my feet verbally so I would have been thrown for a loop by this one if I had encountered it before now. My first thought was to say that there’s no reason for them not to hire me. I would not be interviewing if I did not think I was capable and that I would do a bad job. I like your answers better though, “a better fit” or a “stronger candidate” is a valid reason. I’m not so vain to think that that’s impossible, but I wouldn’t interview if I had any glaring disconnects. Other than that though I would not give up any more info because I think it’s kind of dumb.

    IMO this is not the same as the much more common weakness question which deserves an honest but well thought out answer.

  11. Louis*

    My first reflex is to answer “Job security, I’m so good that I might actually take your place someday”.

  12. Marcia*

    Well that is a breath-taking question that makes one think they are not worth to take-up the position.I think i’d say”you know better since you’ve been interviewing a lot of people”

  13. Edierson O. Baliguat*

    maybe you can answer:

    ” I don’t settle for mediocrity. When I’m assigned on a team and be their leader, I tend to work them on the double. They will difficulty in reaching my standards because I want to do the assigned job 110% of my capabilities.”

    I think that would do.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I wouldn’t present it quite that way — it will raise concerns that you’ll have a tyrannical management style with unreasonable expectations (which will drive away good people).

      1. Edierson O. Baliguat*

        I think you are right. But. they asked me the same question and I answered this. They accepted it.. But that was only a mock job interview. I dont think this will work in the real job interview.

  14. Ed*

    I was interviewed for a manager position. I thought I did great with the questions except for this one. It took me 30 seconds to answer the question. I panicked and answered “I think you have no reason not to hire me”.

    I think that time I don’t want to be THAT honest which is the reason why I did not get the job. Lesson learned!!! Be honest and the interview will flow smoothly.

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