Job hunters reveal worst interview questions they are getting asked in 2020

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Bam! Just when you thought you’d made it safely through your job interview, the boss drops a nightmare question on you. A question so unexpected that you didn’t even prepare for it. Your stomach churning, you try every possible combination of all the good interview words you know. Your interviewers smile as they show you the door, but you’re sure you’ve blown it thanks to that one, demon question.

Perhaps it was a weird question. Something designed to test your creativity or probe your personality. Or perhaps it was something HR wasn’t supposed to ask you about. Your age, your children, your ethnicity. Still, it makes you wonder: was there a better way I could have answered that question?

Resume.io wants you to be as prepared as possible for your next job interview. So, we surveyed 2,000 Americans to find out the worst questions they’ve ever been asked. We found out a lot about the way interviewers think, and also about the sexism and other discrimination job hunters still have to navigate in interviews.

We also figured out the best way to answer difficult questions like these. Read on for the worst job interview questions people like you still get asked – and our new guide on how to answer them.

Key findings

  • The most difficult question to answer according to our survey is: “How many gas stations are there in the United States?”
  • Women are more likely than men to be asked why they should be hired and where they see themselves in 5 years.
  • A quarter of interviewees (25%) have been asked about their relationship, and another quarter has been asked about their experiences with police and law enforcement.
  • You are 18% less likely to be asked an illegal question at a job interview in the Midwest region.

Top 10 worst job interview questions (and how different groups feel about them)

Your job interviewer may think they’re being pretty original with their leftfield questions – but chances are, they’ve stumbled on a regular doozie. This interactive chart shows the questions consistently rated ‘hardest to answer’ by our survey participants. Click on a question to reveal the gender and age breakdown of those who rated it the worst question.

Just how many gas stations are there in the United States? It’s a bit of a trick question. Unless you’re interviewing for BP, your interviewer doesn’t really need this figure. Rather, they want to see how you think. Try to show a calm, methodical approach to guestimating the number. (The actual answer is around 111,000, but check our infographic below for a better way to respond.)

The top ten most difficult questions are divided between thought experiments like the gas stations and relatively sensible (but tough) ‘real world’ enquiries. What is your biggest weakness is the most-feared question by 11% of respondents. How to answer? Be honest about a professional weakness, but illustrate the steps you’re taking to improve.

The questions that interviewers ask women more than men and vice versa

Our survey data showed us that women and men don’t get asked the same questions with the same frequency. So we compiled a couple of charts to show what you are more likely to be asked, depending on your gender.

Women are expected to prove their ‘worth’ in job interviews. They are more commonly asked about their strengths and weaknesses, and even why they should be hired. It’s hard not to feel that “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” is related to plans for having children. Of course, motherhood doesn’t impair a woman’s ability to do her job, but it can negatively impact colleagues’ perception of a mother’s competency – and her salary.

On the other hand, “employers read fathers as more stable and committed to their work,” according to Michelle Budig, Professor of Sociology at UMass. Instead of their plans, interviewers grill men about their legal, political, and religious backgrounds. And Black men are more likely to be asked about politics than white men. It seems that interviewers are most concerned with the competence of women and the potential of an unwelcome intellectual or criminal surprise from men.

How to answer the toughest job interview questions

You can never be 100% prepared for a job interview. However, if you work hard and learn to expect the unexpected you stand a pretty good chance of making a positive impression.

Try to learn not just the answers we’ve suggested to the toughest questions, but the thinking behind our suggestions. Stay calm, stay professional, and use those burning questions as a chance to demonstrate your experience or thought process to your interviewer. Perhaps you’ll deliver an answer they didn’t expect.

How did we find out the worst interview questions?

We looked at articles on the “worst” interview questions from sources including Inc.com, Glassdoor, The Ladders, The Balance Careers and the Society for Human Resource Management (full list of sources below). From these sources, we compiled a long list of 272 terrible interview questions. We narrowed this down to 40 questions by selecting the ones that were frequently mentioned, and the ones deemed illegal or borderline illegal by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

How did we gauge public opinion?

We worked with Savanta to conduct a survey with a representative sample of 2,000 American adults (18+). Using our 40 worst questions, we asked participants to select the ones they’ve been asked in interviews and vote for the ‘worst’ question of all. Below you’ll find a breakdown of all the questions and answers:

Q1 Have you ever been asked any of the following types of questions in a job interview?

  • 33% selected ‘Previous salary questions’
    E.g. What were you earning at your last position?
  • 23% selected ‘Questions about children’E.g. Do you have children? Are you planning to have children?
  • 20% selected ‘Offbeat personality questions’
    E.g. If you were an animal, which animal would you be? If you were a superhero what would your superpower be?
  • 18% selected ‘Task-based questions’
    E.g. You have one minute to persuade me to buy this pen – GO!
  • 17% selected ‘Disability questions’
    E.g. Do you have a disability?
  • 16% selected ‘Impossible thought experiments’
    E.g. How many gas stations are there in America? How many lightbulbs are there in this building?
  • 15% selected ‘Relationship questions’
    E.g. Are you married? Are you single? Are you planning to get married?
  • 13% selected ‘Questions about clothing’
    E.g. Why did you come dressed like this today? What sort of clothes do you like to wear to work?

Q2 Have you ever been asked any of the following types of questions in a job interview?

  • 30% selected ‘Age-related questions’
    E.g. How old are you? What year did you graduate? When are you planning to retire?
  • 25% selected ‘Questions about legal trouble’
    E.g. Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever been stopped by the police? Have you ever been questioned or detained by the police?
  • 23% selected ‘Questions about drug use’
    E.g. Do you use drugs? Have you ever used drugs?
  • 23% selected ‘Questions about ethnicity’
    E.g. Where were you born? Where are you from?
  • 18% selected ‘Questions about childcare’
    E.g. Do you have adequate childcare? Do you have children you’ll need to pick up from school? What happens if your child gets sick?
  • 18% selected ‘Questions about religion’
    E.g. Are there any religious holidays that you observe? Will your religious practices affect your ability to do your job?
  • 12% selected ‘Questions about political views”
    E.g. Who did you vote for in the last election?
  • 10% selected ‘Questions about sexual orientation’
    E.g. Are you gay?

Q3 Which of the following types of interview questions do you find hardest to answer?

  • 20% selected ‘Questions about strengths and weaknesses’
    E.g. What’s your biggest strength? What’s your biggest weakness?
  • 16% selected ‘Self-promotion questions’
    E.g. Why should we hire you ahead of any other candidate?
  • 14% selected ‘Impossible math questions’
    E.g. How many gas stations are there in America? How many lightbulbs are there in this building?
  • 13% selected ‘Questions about specific experiences’
    E.g. Can you tell me about a time that failed to complete your work on time? Can you tell me about a work situation where you solved a problem?
  • 12% selected ‘Task-based questions’
    E.g. You have one minute to persuade me to buy this pen – GO!
  • 11% selected ‘Offbeat personality questions’
    E.g. If you were an animal, which animal would you be? If you were a superhero what would your superpower be?

Q4 Which of the following questions have you been asked in job interviews?

  • 42% selected – Why should we hire you?
  • 41% selected – Why do you want this job?
  • 40% selected – What are your greatest strengths?
  • 39% selected – Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • 38% selected – Why did you apply for this job?
  • 38% selected – Why do you think you’re a good fit for our company?
  • 34% selected – Are you a team player?
  • 32% selected – What is your greatest weakness?
  • 23% selected – Describe a time when you failed and how you handled it.
  • 23% selected – What do you think your starting salary should be?
  • 21% selected – What didn’t you like about your last job?
  • 19% selected – What would your last boss say about you?
  • 18% selected – Can you explain these gaps on your résumé?
  • 18% selected – How has your education prepared you for your career?
  • 17% selected – What was the worst thing about your last job?
  • 17% selected – How honest are you?
  • 16% selected – What would your colleagues say about you?
  • 13% selected – Aren’t you overqualified for this position?
  • 13% selected – How do you feel about working for a younger manager?
  • 11% selected – What is the worst decision you have ever made?
  • 9% selected – What would your worst enemy say about you?
  • 8% selected – Aren’t you underqualified for this position?

Q5 Which of these questions would you find hardest to answer?

  • 16% selected – How many gas stations are there in the United States?
  • 13% selected – You have one minute to persuade me to buy this pen – GO!
  • 12% selected – Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • 12% selected – Why should we hire you?
  • 11% selected – What is your biggest weakness?
  • 8% selected – Describe a time when you failed and how you handled it.
  • 8% selected – Why do you want this job?
  • 7% selected – If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?
  • 6% selected – What would your worst enemy say about you?
  • 6% selected – What was the worst thing about your last job?

This article originally appeared in Neomam.