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Is this interview question offensive?

Is this interview question offensive?

- "Do you have any reservations about my ability to do the job?"

I ask this question to clear up any doubts the interviewer may have about my abilities, but I certainly don't want to offend anyone with it.  Would you, as an interviewer, take offense to this question or would you use it as an opportunity to clear up any misunderstandings?

Discover... LIMPI...
Tuesday, February 24, 2004

I don't think it will "offend" most interviewers but the results are not going to be terribly informative.

In my experience, most interviewers hold their cards very close to their chest, and with this question you're also depending on their ability to be candid and communicate clearly in a situation that is somewhat adversarial. Also, if the interviewer thinks that you're their man/woman, you will pretty much know it, whereas if they are unsure, then they will need time to think it through, and the answer you will get will be premature. 

What is the purpose of this question? To find out how you did early? To extract a commitment?

I would say - formulate a better question, such as asking the interviewing organization at the end of the interview process when you can expect to hear a definite answer. Get a commitment on a decision process, don't try to force the process itself.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, February 25, 2004

I've seen this recommended a lot, but as someone who's done hundreds of interviews, when hiring dozens of candidates, I think it would seem too aggressive.

What interviewers really want is someone they thnk they can get on with and who will "fit in" well with the team.

(Obviously, they need technical stuff too, but that's not always the issue, as generally there are a number of suitable candidates, on paper.)

It does sometimes happen that you interview someone and they're just so good a fit that you offer them the job at the interview, but this is very rare. In other cases, you must keep your options open. With this in mind, at best you're going to get a meaningless "well, we'll certainly keep you in mind" comment.

On a more serious note, I have heard of cases recently where a candidate has sued an employer for not giving them the job.

This was not due to anything like the fact that the candidate was discriminated against (i.e. for race, sex, disability, etc), but was simply that someone else was chosen. This is in the UK, but I presume it would also happen in the USA.

In this kind of environment, asking such questions could be even more inappropriate.

Steve Jones (UK)
Wednesday, February 25, 2004

I would not be offended.  I also would not answer the question. It's a ridiculous question to ask someone in an interview.

It's ridiculous becase OF COURSE the answer would be "yes".  I haven't recommended anyone yet whom I didn't have _some_ reservations about, because _I'm_ not a perfect interviewer.  I have reservations because even if I think you rock, I might be making a mistake.

After all, that's why we have multiple people do interviews!  When I'm done interviewing someone, you'd better believe that I'm immediately on the phone with the next few people on the interview loop describing my reservations and identifying holes in the interview so that they can dig into them and dtermine whether they're deal breakers or not.

Eric Lippert
Wednesday, February 25, 2004

To be honest, that kind of question comes down to 'do you like me?'.  Which given all other factors being equal is what its going to come down to, but when did you ever warm to or respect someone that needed reassurance that they were liked and acceptable?

What is allowable is some kind of question about how committed the employer is to the job.  From the interviewer's point of view it becomes 'how committed are you to me?'.  That can be useful (its useful in selling situations and is a way of closing a sale), but with the wrong interviewer and the wrong environment it can become a turn off.

So its horses for courses.

Simon Lucy
Wednesday, February 25, 2004

I assume that the point of the question isn't really to get that 1-bit "yes" or "no" (well, actually it's more like a 0.0015-bit "yes" or a 10-bit "no", since 99.9% of the time the answer is "yes"), but to elicit some information about *why* the answer is "yes". Perhaps with the idea that then you try to convince the interviewer that the specific reservations they have are unnecessary. So the fact that the answer is almost universally "yes" isn't a reason to avoid the question.

I still agree with the people who say it's not likely to be a very helpful question. I certainly wouldn't be much inclined to answer with an analysis of all the ways in which I found the candidate unconvincing, and if the candidate tried to "push" me into giving details I would find that very disagreeable. When you're being interviewed, you don't want to make your interviewer feel uncomfortable.

But no, it's not *offensive*.

Gareth McCaughan
Wednesday, February 25, 2004

As an occasional interviewer, it seems more sensible to ask "why not" if you don't get the job. That way you don't interfere with the flow of the interview, are unlikely to offend, might get more honest/considered answers. Of course, often you would not get any response still, but you just have to accept that.

Aaron Lawrence
Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Perhaps a better question might be.

"I'd like to take this opportunity to clear up any reservations you have about my ability to do this job. Is there anything you would like me to clarify or expand upon?"

Even if the answer is no, the interviewer may walk away with a sense that he's been able to conduct a complete interview with no unsanswered questions.
Wednesday, February 25, 2004

No, it's not offensive. Asking questions like that is a standard part of business transactions intended to catch any unexpressed reservations, and to then deal with them if possible.

Eg "You're a bit light on linear math." Then you explain what linear math you've done etc ...

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

I am one of the proponents of this type of question at the end of an interview.

I have interviewed candidates before, and don't find it offensive at all.

I think a half intelligent interviewee can tell how well an interview is going by the time they get to the "Do you have any questions for us" stage.

I tend to save this question for last.  Like someone said, it does give you an opportunity to rehash, and sell strengths that you might not have emphasized on the CV or during the interview.

The classic is "we like you but were looking for someone with a bit more experience in ....". This is the bit where you can pull out projects that did not make it onto the CV but do have a direct bearing on the subject.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Sorry, it comes off as a little desperate-sounding to me, more like "gimme another chance to tell you what you apparently want to hear."

If the job requires linear math, and you've demonstrated during the interview you're weak in linear math, what good is saying "you're weak in linear math" then having you explain some more? Why not explain it all the first time?

And "ability to do the job" is not what most interviewers are looking for... a lot of people out there are able to do the job. It's "will you excel at this job", "will you fit in the company environment", etc. Those aren't things you can explain away at the end of an interview, so you should demonstrate it DURING the interview.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004


It is amazing how many things are implicit in conversation.

Not sure where you are, but say you are American, try watching hard core British comedies. Most of the jokes will be lost on you because they are context driven. Ditto the other way.

Interviews are the same thing. Some companies will list requirements as XYZ, assuming that everyone knows that XYZ comes with ABC, because that is the way they know it. The problem is that sometimes it does not, and while they have not mentioned ABC, if they do not see it on your CV they might knock you down for it. You might have thought ABC too trivial/old/whatever to stick on the CV, so unless you get them to raise it, you could be marked down.

A good salesman always asks the customer if there is something else he wants to know about the product, or indeed what are the gotchas that all things being equal, might prevent a sale/purchase.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

As an interviewer, I would be offended, but I would be very uncomfortable answering that.  Honesty is great and all, but I don't know the interviewee well enough to objectively criticize them to their face at that point.

I'm betting the vast majority of people would feel the same way.

So, I'd say no, never intentionally put the interviewer in a position to feel uncomfortable with you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Strangely enough I got asked exactly this question today.
To tell the truth, it basically made me feel like a rabbit staring down the headlights!
I mean, what can you say under those circumstances? You can't really say anything too negative off the cuff without the chance to think about it a bit more and you can't say nothing at all (I mean, how pathetic is that?).
Luckily he rescued me by suggesting something a bit negative but not too bad from his CV and I jumped on that... so allow me to cast my vote against using this question. As someone else said, all you'll do is make the interviewer uncomfortable which will have at best no effect.

And no, I didn't ask him if he was a JoS reader... ;-)

Friday, February 27, 2004

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