The Worst Interview Question Answer Ever

During my time working in Sweden, I had the opportunity to be part of a team of scientists and engineers from around the world. The diverse nature of the team played a large role in its success and was hugely motivating. Looking back this was probably one of the experiences that led to my passion for diversity in the workforce.

“Well, actually, any country would be fine, except… Germany… I can’t stand the Germans!”

This story concerns one of my reports at the time, a German whom I’ll call “Karl”. Karl had been promoted to a leadership position and was tasked with making his first hire. Being new to hiring, Karl was extra diligent and spent hours going through resumes to create a shortlist of the best candidates. When he was confident he’d found some great candidates and it was just a matter of picking the best of the best, we brought them in for interview. As you may have guessed, they were all absolutely not a good fit for the role or the team. While every single one had the right skills and qualifications, not one of them aligned with the personality profile required for the role or were a good cultural fit for the team (in Fitzii speak, they all had the CAN but not the WILL or the THRIVE characteristics).

One candidate in particular stood out during her interview for her answer to the seemingly innocuous question: “What are thoughts on moving to and living in Sweden?” (most applicants were from outside Sweden and this particular one from France). Her answer, as best I can recall, was “I would like to live and work in a French-speaking country, like Canada or France”. When we pointed out that Swedish was generally used in Sweden, she followed up with “Well, actually, any country would be fine, except…. Germany… I can’t stand the Germans!” That’s right, in front of her would-be future manager, who happened to be German; she readily stated she couldn’t stand Germans! A stunned silence fell and her interview was brought to a conclusion fairly soon thereafter.

As well as the humor in the story, there are three key lessons:

  • The resume alone was not then and still isn’t today a terribly useful tool for determining the right candidates to shortlist. It does a good job of describing an individual’s experience and qualifications, but not much else. Tools such as video interviewing and pre-screening assessments should be used to supplement the information provided in the resume, before selecting candidates for interview.
  • The interview is naturally stressful and we should help candidates, especially the more introverted, represent themselves accurately during them. However, under stress people are more likely to “let slip” certain thoughts or behaviours that are major hiring red flags. Ignore these at your peril.
  • Hiring is difficult, especially for new managers. Looking back I probably could have done more to help “Karl” navigate his first hire. We should make sure we share our expertise with managers new to hiring to make sure they have the tools and knowledge to hire effectively.

Share your tips for determining fit before the interview, as well as any funny interview question responses you’ve heard below.