Job interviews can be make or break situations.
It’s your first face-to-face meeting with a potential employer so you want to seem enthusiastic and engaged, as well as curious and eager to make an impact. For some this appears to be a tough balance to find.
We asked 21 successful Australian executives for the worst thing a job candidate has asked during a job interview.
Some of the answers are surprising, others mortifying and many hilarious.
Here they are.
Sabri Suby, CEO of King Kong
The worst thing a job candidate has asked me in an interview is whether he could have the contact details of a female employee he saw on the way into the interview, as he “liked the look of her”. I ended the interview right there. There’s a time and a place for inter-office romance and your initial interview is not the place!
Alexandra Tselios, CEO of The Big Smoke
The worst thing I have been asked in an interview is whether or not they would have a male to report to, rather than me. When I asked why would that matter, he said, “Women bosses can be real dragons” and laughed as if I would want to high five him. I didn’t high five him, nor did I hire him. But I was grateful for his question, as it is not often you get a glimpse so early on in how someone could potentially impact your company’s culture or their own personal bias that is likely to impact their relationships with those around them.
Taryn Williams, CEO of TheRight.Fit and WINK Models
“What music do you play in the office?” was their first question when I asked, “Do you have any questions for me?” Like that might be the best thing about coming to work each day? I’m not sure what they thought it would display about them, or if they were trying to find out about company culture, but it was a definite NO to that candidate for me!
Anna Thomas, COO at Stockdale & Leggo
“What’s the salary for this role?” While this is an important part of the process, I’m more interested in candidates who are wanting to work for a company for other benefits such as training, mentorship, career advancement and support rather than primarily accepting a job based on who is willing to pay the most.
Renee Carter, CEO at Adopt Change
The time a candidate kept trying to conduct the interview themselves with their own questions including “tell me about yourself” and “what are your goals?”
Anthony Halprin, co-founder and MD at Sense
“When you imagine your business, what color is it and what does it smell like?” I wasn’t sure where to look or what to say.
Rob Hango-Zada, co-founder of Shippit
We usually hold three interviews before making a hiring decision. One candidate passed our phone screener so we brought him into the office for a situational problem solving interview. At the end of the interview his only question to us was “If there is another interview do I really need to come back to this office? It’s just a bit far from my house and it would be better if I knew whether I’d pass before coming all the way out here again.” Shippit is based in the inner-Sydney suburb of Surry Hills.
The reason why this was such a bad question is because it demonstrated two things:
1) The only question asked was in regard to minimising effort.
2) It didn’t show us this candidate would be willing to take risks to learn and fail fast which is so crucial to our business.
Tony Wu, head of growth at Weploy
“What does your company actually do?” It shows me that they are not prepared and not actually interested in the role, ultimately wasting the interviewer’s time and wasting an opportunity for someone else who is passionate about the role.
Ben Brophy, CEO and co-founder of Upwire
“How many days of sick leave? What are the working hours?” The question about working hours is the one that bugs me the most. We have adopted unlimited holidays because our team is dedicated to the success of Upwire and works until the project is complete. We’ve created a family-like culture where our staff work because they love what they are doing, and they are rewarded as such. Having a mindset of working the minimum is a big issue for us.
John Bush, co-founder of easyshare
Personally, not asking any questions is more of a red flag for me, however I’ve been asked by a candidate when they would receive the “next promotion” and it was a little off-putting during the interview.
Russell Francis, CEO at Velpic
“I love the job, but do you mind if I have a one month holiday before I start?” When we find the right candidate that can make a big difference in the business, we want them to be motivated to get started immediately. The difficult thing with this question is having to strike the right balance between being an understanding employer with a well-rested, engaged new employee and taking the business to the next level quickly.
Jeff McAlister, CEO at TryBooking
I’ve had some candidates ask “when do I start?” at the end of a bad interview.
Tim Parker, CEO of Gruden
I can’t think of a particularly poor question, but I do recall receiving a bio from a young lady who described herself as “an experienced café worker and barrister” (Sic). I thought she’d be well credentialed in our coffee-loving but litigious age!
Daniel Simic, CEO of Fantasy Sports Global
“Can I come to work in my pyjamas?” The person was applying for a programming role and thought that he could get away with working in his PJs. At first, I couldn’t quite determine if he was joking or serious but after thinking about it for a few days, I thought it was actually a bold thing to say in an interview, so I hired him. Why? Because we value people that are not afraid to question the status quo.
Petra Gross, VP of Product at Expert360
In my early years while working at eBay, Meg Whitman, the CEO at the time, was one of the hottest executives in Silicon Valley. She has since gone on to become CEO of Hewlett Packard, after running for the Governor of California, among other things. Meg was everywhere and her quotes were legendary. I was interviewing a candidate at eBay, talking about the high calibre leadership team, and halfway through our discussion he asked, “Who’s Meg?” One of the worst things a candidate can say in an interview – lesson learned, do your homework before you interview for a position!
Karen Lawson, CEO of Slingshot
This one is really from our chairman Gary Flowers. He was serving as CEO/MD at a company which will remain nameless. He was interviewing for a senior role in his team and the candidate asked him “Can you tell me what you do here?”
They didn’t get the job.
Creel Price, CEO of Investible
“Can I bring my dog?” Whilst it was certainly an unexpected question (and not one I had been asked in an interview setting before), said dog “Roxie” is now the company mascot.
Michael Jankie, chief executive of PoweredLocal
We were hiring for a general manager and offered a standout candidate the role. Then they asked, “Can I have equity?”
This forced me to redouble my due diligence. I tried connecting with them on LinkedIn. Didn’t exist. I Googled the candidate’s name. Nothing. Googled their phone number, there was an obscure hit, slightly different name. I’m sure you see where this is heading.
The lesson learned here was probably not what you think, it’s not to never trust anyone but it’s the old fake it till you make it. While we did not hire the candidate, it was because they should have done a better job at creating an online presence for this persona. I still sometimes think back that we should have hired them.
My point here is that in disruptive companies, experience is generally only important for getting an interview, but not for taking on the world. For that you need hustle and street-smarts.
Dr Marcus Tan, CEO and Medical Director of HealthEngine
“What is the title of this position?”
Asking this question gives me a strong sense this person is probably not a good fit for us, culturally. I believe the work you do is much deeper than a title or position; it’s about the promise you make and impact you have on fellow employees, the business, our users, and our customers. At HealthEngine, high performers are recognised by the growth and value they have created and promoted through new responsibility, managing direct reports, being asked to attend more senior meetings or input into planning or strategy. So, while there is certainly room to develop, it’s less about the title you keep and more about appetite for learning and growth.
Sandra McLeod, CEO of Travelport Locomote
It wasn’t a bad question necessarily, just a strange one that has stuck in my mind.
During an interview, I remember being asked whether our business was pet-friendly. A simple enough question. I liked the idea of the candidate bringing his dog into the office every so often – everybody loves an office dog.
However, when I probed a bit more, I was taken aback to hear he wanted to bring his pet ferret in.
I think we’d have been one of the first tech businesses to have an office ferret and I’m not too sure what it would have done for the office culture…
Mark Hawthorne, CEO of Guzman y Gomez ANZ
“Can you explain GYG to me as I have never been to one of your shops?”
Culture is critically important to us at GYG and at its heart is a love for the GYG food and brand. We look for candidates who share our entrepreneurial spirit as well as our values including being all about food, making each customer love us and keeping it real. We must ensure each candidate loves GYG and will contribute to the culture by being aligned to our vision and values as a business. This question reveals a lack of interest and passion for GYG and it’s pretty hard to come back from that!