It is tempting to think that you have to answer any question that a recruiter throws at you. But the reality is that you can turn the conversation without directly answering a question that could remove you from their talent search unnecessarily. An initial recruiting call should focus on establishing your credentials and interest in an open position. Save the deeper questions and get-to-know you inquiries for face to face interviews with potential future team members or management.
It’s hard to know what to avoid in those initial conversations, and better yet, how to avoid or redirect questions without being antagonistic. Here are three categories of questions that are not beneficial for you to directly answer:
These may seem like subtle, conversational questions, but your responses can feed biases. Don’t give away information where it’s not necessary. If you’re asked about your age, you can answer that you clearly have the right qualifications and experience for the position. If they ask you about your marital status or children, you can directly ask them why they are asking that question. If you affirm that you are a parent, you will likely find yourself defending your ability to do the job – before you’re even sure if you want the job.
It’s better to kindly, but directly remind the recruiter that there’s no legitimate reason for the question and refocus on the job description and your credentials.
Goals Questions, Not Job Questions
These questions are not quite taboo, but when they happen so early in the recruiting process, it feels like they’re being used to screen you from the position. In an early interview, neither party really knows if you’re the right candidate. A focus on your personal and professional goals (that are subject to adjusting over the years!) can reduce your chances of continuing the conversation.
‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ may seem like an appropriate question, but the reality is that the question is better suited for a discussion with a potential boss, or as a part of a career development conversation. Ask if the job is a five year contract, and refocus on your qualifications for the position. Questions about why you want the position or how you will benefit the team are also often premature in a screening interview. You don’t really know much about the team or the job yet, so you can redirect here and ask for those details, so you can better assess those questions. And as you hear more about the job, match up the description with your resume as the recruiter is explaining.
Questions Searching for Personal Weaknesses
Everyone hates these questions. Why would anyone want to tell complete strangers their greatest personal weaknesses? It’s hard to understand how this line of questioning really adds value. If it is less uncomfortable to answer, you can pull the ‘virtues are my vices’ type of answer, so you can also talk about how you excel. Or you can avoid that question altogether at this early stage and explain that it’s better to talk about your qualifications for the position and your strengths.
You do not have to answer every terrible question that is lobbed your way. The key is to be kind and gracious in your tone but directly turn the conversation to the more important task at hand, which is finding out if your resume matches the job description and potential timelines and next steps.