Hiring staff isn’t just a one-way activity – it’s a contract between two parties. So when interviewing candidates, it’s as much about advertising your organization as it is for the candidate to advertise themselves.

Job candidates love modern, quirky companies that think outside the box, so asking dated, age-old questions can misinterpret your employer brand instantly.

For example, here are five (5) interview questions to avoid, and what asking them of job candidates really says about you:

1 – Sell me this pen

This one is a classic among sales hiring managers. It’s age-old, was previously used to identify the sales strategy of a candidate, and most candidates will always have an answer for it.

It’s famous. What may seem like an intriguing question actually says that you may, as an interviewer, lack the initiative to create your own questions and ideas, or to tailor an interview to the chosen candidate. It could be seen as a bit of a “box-ticker.”

How else can you identify such strategies? Here’s how: Ask the candidate about their hobbies and interests, something they have some strong knowledge in. For example, let’s say that the interviewee has a keen interest in cars. A good question to ask would be;

“If you had literally just developed the perfect line of car parts, what problems would you look to address, and how would you sell this to the market?”

Product knowledge is a huge part of selling. Sometimes candidates simply won’t know the problems an industry is facing and why your product addresses those issues.

By creating a scenario in which the candidate holds this knowledge, you’re setting it up so that you’ll clearly be able to see how they would follow through on the sales process. Not only that, you’re engaging the candidate and showing interest in what they enjoy or believe in outside work. This puts your employer brand in a fantastic light from the word go.

2 – Why should we hire you?

Again, this is a classic question that leaves job seekers trembling in their chairs. It also inserts a hint of arrogance into an already outdated question.

An employment contract binds two parties, so if you’re happy to ask this question, be prepared if the candidate turns it around and asks, “Why should I work for you?

If this question would make you feel uncomfortable, the feeling is probably reciprocated by the candidate. People work their best when they’re feeling relaxed and focused, and asking something like this could really change the atmosphere during the interview. Chances are that you’ve already made your decision based on their available skills and compatibility for the role, but a question like this could cause you to lose a top candidate.

Here’s a different question you could use to work around this issue. Although there’s no real substitute, something like this could work well:

“We’re hiring and you’re looking for a job. What would stop you from accepting a job with us, should you be offered one?”

This is much more positive in a couple of ways. It allows you to give power to the job seeker, with a real hint of positivity, and it also allows you to gather insights into what sort of barriers there may be in hiring the candidate. These barriers could include the expected salary, working hours, and employee benefits. Knowing this sooner than later will save you time when it comes to the actual offer and subsequent onboarding process.

This question should be used if you’re happy with the interviewee and their skillset/compatibility for the role. Then again, if you feel that this question is too promising for the prospective candidate — that is, you are concerned it might make them feel they already have the job — chances are you have already wrapped up the interview and can skip it altogether.

3 – What’s your greatest weakness?

This is another unusual question, and rarely will you get an honest answer. “Well Steve, in all honesty, I’m never on time, I savagely underperform without fail, and I struggle thinking outside the box. When do I start?

What you’re most likely to get is something like, “My biggest weakness is loyalty to my employer,” or “My biggest weakness is working too hard.

Answers like those will be used to dodge a question that simply has no good answer. A genuine weakness within one job may translate to a profitable trait in another because every company has a different work culture and a different way of utilizing employees.

A way to proactively identify any weaknesses is to collect a few references. You could ask a previous employer what the candidate struggled with and what they excelled in. This will give you real insight into their skills — if the references are detailed. A substitute question to ask would be:

“What sort of training or help would you need from us to be most comfortable?”

This is a great way to identify their self-proclaimed weaknesses, but at the same time, make it clear that you’re happy to provide anything required in order for the employee to be comfortable within their role. Again, it’s a much more positive question that still gathers the information you require.

If the candidate replies with, “I wouldn’t mind shadowing some of your top performers and seeing the different techniques they use to close Sales contracts,” you know the candidate is keen to learn and perhaps has a weakness in the latter part of the sales process. If the candidate replies with, “I’d really like constant review of my work to address areas where I can improve” – you know that the candidate may require additional praise in order to keep their motivation high.

4 – Where do you see yourself in five years?

I struggle to think of anyone I know that hasn’t been asked this question. “In all honesty Steve, in five years I see myself with a new job, a new house, a wife and kids, a small Labrador, and a membership in the local chess club.”

Life and careers change so often now that the days in which an employee would only work for two or three companies within their entire career are long gone. Positions available for promotion today may not be available in five years, and positions not currently available now may develop in time.

A suitable substitute for this ancient interview question would be:

“What sort of timeline for promotions would you expect from us, and how could it be fulfilled?”

Again, this offers a line of positive discussion and allows the interviewee a chance to see that you understand what’s required of an employer to motivate staff, and provides the candidate the power to write their own terms.

It’s a great piece of enablement that further illuminates your employer brand.

Cameron Briggs

Cameron Briggs is the Founder and Managing Director of www.Select-Jobs.co.uk, the UK Job Advertising site, listing currently over 350,000 vacancies. You can follow Select Jobs on Twitter @SelectJobsLtd or you can connect with Cameron on LinkedIn.