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Can someone please explain what the employer wants to get from the question, "Why shouldn't we hire you?"

What type of answers are generally acceptable responses to this question?

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Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you've tried and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and most of all it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer. Also see How to Ask –  gnat Mar 10 at 11:21
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I sometimes ask employers for a couple of reasons why I should reject an offer should they make one. Sounds like a perfect thing to ask when it's your turn to ask questions. :-) –  Blrfl Mar 10 at 12:54
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"Don't hire me if you want someone who is good at answering stupid trick questions" –  OrbWeaver Mar 10 at 13:21
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Just in case there are actual HR people here: please don't ever ask this. I mean I have an ability to come up with witty answers quickly but come on, seriously? Is that a quality you're looking for? –  jco Mar 12 at 20:58
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Comments removed. Please use comments to clarify/improve the question. For extended discussion, please use The Workplace Chat. –  Jim Mar 14 at 13:31

11 Answers 11

That version of that question is not my favorite. I might even mention that and say I find it easier to answer something like "What will I like least about you in 6 months?" or "What's your biggest weakness?" - since "Why shouldn't we hire you?" implies that you know more about their scope of hiring options than they do... which seems irrational.

Depending on my rapport with the interviewer, I might actually try that - "I can't answer because I don't know what other types of candidates are available to you. I can tell that... " and then list of your best qualities and maybe one liability, and sum it up with "if that's not what you're looking for, then I guess you shouldn't hire me."

I often do like asking something along the line of a negative trait probing question... and I disagree with the general answer of "turn it into a strength". While I appreciate the sense of humor of a candidate who can say, tongue in cheek, something like "My downside is, I work too hard!" - I don't actually find that to be the useful answer.

Everyone has some downside, and I like to know that the person I'm hiring isn't so convinced of his own greatness that he won't address his own flaws and try to mitigate them. So my favorite "what's your flaw?" type answer is "My work style is X, that makes me bad at Y and I compensate for that with Z" For example:

I like managing complex work and smart people. I let each person take ownership on my team, which means I don't micromanage and I don't delve too deeply into details. I often joke that I have the memory of a goldfish, because I bounce so quickly from topic to topic. I've learned that that means my knowledge of the details is very weak, I don't trust myself with remembering things. I've learned do two things to compensate - I take a LOT of notes, and I ask my team for help as soon as we get to the details of a major plan. And when I encounter a detail I don't know, I don't guess, I admit it and take action to follow up. I keep good awareness of who does know all the details, so I can get help when I need it."

Yes - It means that I'll lose that job where the big boss thinks that me knowing every detail was super important. But let's face it - I wouldn't have been happy working for someone like that or doing a job where the details were more important than the big picture.

Bonus points if you can weave in a thread of knowledge about the role and company you are interviewing with:

I know this company is creating life-sustaining systems, so your bar for quality is really high. I take quality seriously, but I've always worked in less critical projects where an acceptable level of quality was much lower. I'll have a lot to learn about your quality control processes, and that's a really exciting facet of this job for me. But I can see that if you're comparing my resume with someone who's worked in this industry before, that may be a reason not to hire me.

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Great answer to a tough question. The general response of "My work style is X, that makes me bad at Y and I compensate for that with Z" seems key here. –  RedSirius Mar 17 at 11:54

How to respond to “Why shouldn't we hire you?”

When an interviewer asks "Why shouldn't we hire you?" she might be looking for you to talk about your weaknesses. But she is most likely just asking the standard "Why should we hire you?" question, with a twist.

In my experience as an interviewer and interviewee, you want to take this question as an opportunity to respond with something that shows your strengths, rather than focuses on your weaknesses, and gives the interviewer an idea of the kind of worker you will be in the right company. Tailor your answers to your personality, your background, your unique skills, and the kind of company that meets your needs.

For example, you might say:

  • You shouldn't hire me if you like your team to require a lot of hand-holding and micro-management. I can take general direction and turn it into action quickly.
  • You shouldn't hire me if you only want people who work 9-5 and never put in extra effort. I thrive in shops that need and appreciate hard work.
  • You should't hire me if you want employees who need a lot of training to be effective in this role. Based on how you've described the position, I know I could hit the ground running here.
  • You shouldn't hire me if you don't value customer contact skills. I'm the type of person you wouldn't be afraid to put in front of a customer - someone who would represent your company well.

Then be ready to expound on your answers more, giving concrete examples of where these traits/skills have helped in your past jobs.

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I expect honesty. If a candidate used the weakness question to say something absurd like "I care TOO much", I don't think I'd be able to keep a straight face. The weakness question is an opportunity to demonstrate self-awareness. A great way to answer is to share the steps you're currently taking to improve in an area you're not happy with. Something that's a valuable skill but not a primary job requirement. –  Rex M Mar 10 at 13:57
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Maybe its just me but I find this question and the sample answers absolutely cringe-worthy. I'd find it very difficult to keep a straight face if faced with any of this lot (I wouldn't have a problem with simply being asked about weaknesses). I don't mean this as a criticism of Joe or his answer to this question, I just think its an absolute stinker of an interview question and Joe's sample examples are making the best of a bad situation. I know I've said this before but an interview is a two way process and I'd regard this as a mark against any company that asked this exact question. –  RobM Mar 10 at 15:33
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This answer would make you a no-hire for me. There is not a job in the world that wishes they had to train everyone and would reject a candidate who could hit the ground running. Pretending you think there might be is disrespectful. I know that staying on message and weaving your strengths into your answers is important, but answering "well for example if you are a complete idiot" is not a good way to answer a question and some of these answers butt up against that quite firmly. –  Kate Gregory Mar 10 at 16:28
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@KateGregory I take your point about not rebuking a client in front of interviewees. On the flipside though, who prefers candidates who give sycophantic answers like "Don't hire me if you only want someone who works 9-5 and never puts in the extra effort"? This may be one of those "garbage-in, garbage-out" type questions, so I would try to move on from it as quickly as possible (particularly in the role of an interviewer). –  Desty Mar 10 at 19:20
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I'm with @KateGregory - the strategy here is right - to try to pitch things you're pretty sure they'll want, but the tactics seem too obvious. I'd no-hire any of these because they're so transparent. I feel like the same approach could fly much more subtly: "Some autonomy is important to me, so I don't excel in environments where all decisions trickle down from the CEO for execution. Don't get me wrong, I can execute the heck out of someone else's call, but it's important to me to feel I'm adding value proactively by helping solve some problems so my boss won't have to." –  Jaydles Mar 10 at 21:05

There are four ways to handle this question:

  • mishear it and trot out your prepared answers to "Why should we hire you." Ouch.
  • refuse it. "That's your decision, isn't it?" or "there is no reason not to, I'm perfect" kind of thing. I would not consider that a good answer.
  • use it as an opportunity to spout random good things about yourself while pretending to think there's a chance this job has requirements it clearly does not have. "If you want a lazy person, don't hire me" or "Don't hire me if a fantastic smart person would be too hard for you and you'd prefer someone mediocre." I also consider these not very good answers, though better than the first category. Be careful though, because it you take this too far, suggesting requirements that no job would ever have (such as preferring lazy people or liars or needing to spend a lot of money on candidates) you'll offend me enough to flip the no-hire switch.
  • use it as an opportunity to remind the interviewer about specific requirements you have, or skills you insist on being able to use, especially if you're not sure you would stick up for yourself once hired. These are the best answers.

These reminders are not necessarily a brag like what a hard worker you are, and nor are they strictly speaking, a weakness like not being good at time management. I'm thinking of things like "If you need someone to travel every month" or "if the job is 100% remote work" or "if public speaking is a big part of the job" then don't hire me, because I am not willing to take that on. Or "if this is just a stepping stone to something else and people generally only stay in it 6 months" or "if you want someone to stay in this role for decades" or some other time related thing. If you need specific things, you could answer "if there will be no opportunity to learn new programming languages pretty frequently" or "if you don't have a training budget" or "if I have to make my own coffee" or whatever is the truth about you. Notice these are all "if the job is like x" not "well I have this weakness." If they want your greatest weakness, let them ask you that.

It is a bit of an oddball question. I would probably pause, echo part of the question back "why shouldn't you hire me? Ok", pause again, then reframe it "there are things that if I knew were the situation, I wouldn't accept an offer because I know it wouldn't be a good fit." And then start to list those things.

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What? Try to identify potential sticking points and scenarios in which they would cause problems for both you and the team you're looking to join? Demonstrate helpfulness rather than transparently trying to manipulate the interviewer? This is just crazy talk. –  Shog9 Mar 10 at 21:23
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I'd say there's at least one more way: humor. In fact, any interviewer with a tiny bit of self awareness will likely chuckle if the interviewee echos the question back the way you suggest. –  Jon Ericson Mar 10 at 22:42
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@parasietje, Actually that order should be reversed, talk about issues first, then reiterate the points for a good fit... –  daaxix Mar 11 at 20:56

Part of the problem is that this will depend so much on you, the interviewer, the position, the company, and other factors is that there's really no universally correct answer. Here's a 50,000 foot overview though:

What [does] the employer want ... from the question, "Why shouldn't we hire you?"

This question serves two purposes.

  • It's similar to other oddball interview questions that make many interviewees think on their feet, having not prepared for it. Expect it to fade out of usefulness over the years as job hunters become used to it, similar to how everyone now prepares for the inevitable "What is your greatest weakness?"
  • It's another form of "what is your greatest weakness" which is merely a way to find out whether you understand your own limitations, whether you are able of owning up to them, and whether you grow from challenges. Everyone has flaws, no one is perfect. Therefore if you spout something that isn't a weakness, it makes you appear less honest. If you bring up some fatal flaw, they'll be glad to have found out early.

Honestly this is a sign of a poor interviewer. If they aren't able to tease this information out of an interviewee through thoughtful questions, and they feel they have to ask the interviewee point-blank "What's the matter with you?" then it does not bode well for the management style of the company.

Still, as a good interviewee you can salvage this interview if you believe the company and people you'll be working with are worth the problems you've found, or if you understand this interview to be an exception, and you expect the actual job to reflect better management.

What type of answers are generally acceptable responses to this question?

You have several options, which are all similar to the options you have when faced with, "What is your greatest weakness."

Deflect the question:

  • Introduce a quality that is negative in some environments, and positive in others. Come to the interview with an understanding of the company's work environment. If it's fast paced with lots of face-to-face communication, a possible response might be, "I sometimes get frustrated with the sedate pace of work some people have. When someone has a task for me, I like to complete it quickly and move on to the next task. I don't think I'd do well in a funeral home." It's a pretty obvious, and somewhat brash way to deflect the question, but if they asked it, then they probably aren't going to dig very deeply anyway.
  • Describe a quality that faults others. This question is very open. The answer could be, "You shouldn't hire me if you're going to micromanage me." or "You shouldn't hire me if you have employees that clip their fingernails or perform other personal grooming at the desk." While these are very similar to the above, they don't discern between good environments and bad - you're describing a nearly universally loathed environment, and few interviewers will attempt to defend such an environment. It invites further questioning, though, so make sure you 1) have experiences backing up why people who do these things hamper a good working environment and 2) can show that you've been able to work just fine in such an environment when required, but it's not optimal.

Answer the question honestly:

  • Bring up a common minor quality which has little to no effect on work. If you don't want to deflect the question, but you feel that a fully open and honest answer would harm your chances, go ahead and provide a minor issue that is common to most humans. For instance, "I have a terrible time with names. I'll quickly learn those I work with daily and weekly, but have a hard time recalling names of people I only see a few times a year." Don't use this one if you're interviewing to become a salesperson, or provide customer facing support - again, know what you're interviewing for and answer accordingly.
  • Discuss a quality that you suffer from, but manage in a way that it is no longer a practical issue for you. "I have difficulty keeping track of very busy scheduling. A handful of appointments and scheduled meetings a week are easy enough, but these days I keep everything in my outlook/PDA/planner so nothing slips through the cracks." There are a number of opportunities here to show growth and change. Use this opportunity to show that you've had challenges that you have, and continue to, overcome and they may come away with the impression that you aren't just some super person, but that you have real challenges which you never allow to get in the way of your work.

Turn the question around:

  • Tell them why you should be hired instead. "I think you should hire me, and so far our interview together has demonstrated what a good match this is. I don't see anything that would cause friction here." There's no reason why the answer to their question couldn't be "no." Interviewers are trained to ask open ended questions, suggesting to candidates that "yes" or "no" aren't acceptable answers, but that doesn't mean you should avoid yes or no if that's the correct answer.
  • Describe an issue that is positive in moderation, but one that you take to extremes This could fall under "deflect" or "honesty" above as well, depending on what you decide to share and how. A typical response might sound like, "I'm a perfectionist, and I've found it's gotten in the way of my work in the past. I've spent more time on a graphic/piece of code/spreadsheet/analysis than was needed, and while the results always exceeded expectations, I found that identifying the best balance between time management and results allows me to get a lot of work done and still meet and exceed expectations."

There is no perfect answer

Again, you can't give the same answer in every interview and expect success.

That being said, though, great job applicants recognize the interview is a two way street, and a chance for them to show off their best qualities. You can turn nearly every question into an opportunity to shine. Determine what qualities are most important to the job you are interviewing for. The answer to every question is a version of "I have these skills/qualities which are critical for this position at this company at this time."

How you convey that is up to you.

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I know this is going to run counter to everything an interview analyst would tell you to do, but I would take this opportunity to address actual weaknesses you have that the employer should be aware of - show your self-awareness of your own shortcomings, and in doing so, address how you overcome those shortcomings.

How we deal with our flaws tells a greater story than how we laud our accomplishments, and that's exactly what they're looking for with this question. So take a flaw that you know you have, but you also know how to handle, and elaborate on that. Employers are always looking for a problem-solver, so showing that you can resolve your own personal problems will leave a good impression.

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Rule 1: read the interviewer.

Rule 2: ask yourself who's reading their interview report and making (or vetoing) the decision

If this interviewer is, in your judgement, a drone who exists in a toxic miasma of flatulent platitudes and buzzwords, take a deep breath, sit up straight, and emit a reeking cloud of hot, damp, adminispheric gas about your selfless dedication, core values and integrity, your focus and unswerving dedication to maximising stakeholder value, and that you expect the people around you to be team players who meet the very highest standards.

End with the words: "That's how it is" and a look that conveys utter conviction.

Ask yourself if you want to work in a company where people believe in that - or don't, but spout these empty platitudes whenever their superiors or their HR department might be listening. Your choice.

If your 'read' is that they are more grounded in reality, you'll have to answer with the truth. A favourable version of the truth (it's an interview!) but, nevertheless, the truth.

Give three short answers that say:

I do 'x' (good thing)... But 'y' (an admission of weakness)

Example:

"I'm one of the most experienced coders in multithreading java trading applications in London: but this is a Python house, and I'm still getting up-to-speed in the language. You will need to tolerate a knowlegeable developer on [whatever] trading, who's going to be relatively unproductive as a coder for the first three months."

Or:

"I write clear, reliable, tested code that everybody uses, and I write it fairly fast: but I'm lousy at estimates and if that's an essential part of your resource allocation and planning, I'll need to be working with a manager or team leader or team leader who's much stronger with that."

  • Note that the fix for the weakness is in the same sentence, there

"I'm a geek: don't be fooled by the suit and the tie and the communications skills. It's Geek, through and through: and, for all the stereotypes about pizza, caffeine and Star Wars figurines, the core of that is deep immersion in the technology. This is a strength in a technologist, but I'd be out of place in a company which doesn't embrace the Deep Geek."

Mix and match as appropriate, or try your own... And don't try that last one unless you're wearing a well-tailored suit and your tie is knotted perfectly.

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I'd suggest going with "I'm not sure what you're asking me for here". The more normal "Why should we hire you?" question is giving you a chance to sell your skills and how they fit with the vacancy but this question is not even really the opposite.

They're digging for someone who can admit to their weaknesses, but doing so in a very odd way. As discussed elsewhere in the comments this is very difficult to answer without resorting to lame platitudes "don't hire me if you want people who won't work too hard" but it's hard to answer because it is a bad question, not because it's a good but difficult one.

An interview is a two-way process and this question reflects poorly on the person asking it; pseudo-clever re-wording of a traditional interview question does not a great new question make.

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I don't understand the down votes here, but then I don't suffer fools. Everyone should have the confidence to call an interviewer out, because like you say - it's a two way business meeting, not an interrogation or a chance for someone to play pathetic games. Personally, I'd probably answer honestly and frankly - I know I can be argumentative, militant and determined. I don't tow lines without question and will never fit in somewhere it's expected. –  Dan Mar 11 at 20:48

The question can be used to illustrate what you value as important - you just need to phrase it in a negative way. It can be answered in such a way as to show that you and the company hold the same values.

For example:

  • (Especially if they value Agile development) "If you were to decide that as a company, agile was the wrong model of software development, you shouldn't hire me."

  • (If you are concerned about no life balance, but you know the company prides itself on work/life balance) "If you were to decide as a company that work/life balance was not important to you, and you were to require 24/7 availability, then I would not be a good fit."

  • (Conversely, if they are sweat shop but call themselves "challenging") "I am looking for a challenging place to work. If you were to tell me that my work is going to be rote and repetitive, and that I will just be cranking out the same widget day after day, then you shouldn't hire me."

In short, you want to set up an answer along the lines of "If you were a company that was going to be stupid, then you shouldn't hire me." The result is that the interviewer should feel that the hypothetical would be bad in any event, and would recognize your genius in:

a. knowing what stupid is

and

b. being able to listen to deflect a bad question.

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There are a lot of good answers here but I don't think my own approach has been mentioned specifically. What you want to do in this situation is treat it like any other STAR format interview question.

  • Think of a potential weakness you have. Make sure this is a legitimate issue, not one of those corny "sometimes I just work TOOOO HAAARD!!!!" type things. For one thing, nobody buys this and it just sounds corny. For another, you won't be able to transform this into a STAR question.

  • Describe, if you have the time, or you feel that clarification is necessary, why this is an issue. For instance "I work too hard" can be a problem if it leaves you feeling burned out of a job quickly.

  • Describe the actions you take to remedy this issue.

  • Describe the outcome of these actions, if it makes sense to do so.

For example...

"I have, in the past, found it frustrating when team members go off-topic in meetings. This has had an adverse affect on my morale at times, and, although I'm generally good at holding my tongue, sometimes team members can read my frustration and react accordingly. What I have done to combat this is I have forced myself to count to ten when I am confronted by a situation like this and remind myself that what seems off-topic to me is not necessarily off-topic to everyone else."

"Well, I just work too dang hard sometimes! This actually is an issue for me because in the past I have put in long weeks and found myself feeling extremely burnt out after only a month or two. I have taken steps to remedying this by forcing myself to get up and take a 5 minute break every two hours and by not overscheduling myself into the late hours of the night, at least not on purpose."

I agree with others that this is not the greatest question in the world, particularly when you are, as an interviewer, speaking to people severely motivated to put their best foot forward at all times. I think that this approach answers what the interviewer is asking ("what, in your mind, are the drawbacks of hiring you?") without actually providing a current weakness/delta. The trick is to not just sound self-aware but to sound self-aware enough that not only do you know where your weaknesses lie but to demonstrate that you're working on making them not weaknesses.

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Answering this question is actually quite easy. Many people will tell you that you should explain your weaknesses, showcasing your modesty; however, interviewers don't want to hear about your weaknesses. They want to know how you can twist a situation into something positive thereby showcasing your strength and leadership skills. When asked "Why shouldn't we hire you?" the best way to answer is to say something similar to the following:

"That's an interesting question.  If your company is looking for someone that's lazy and
 lacks motivation... someone that is incapable of working well in a team and lacks 
 interpersonal skills... a person that is comfortable with just meeting expectations... 
 well then you shouldn't hire me. I am..."

And at that point you would explain your strengths, showcasing all the reasons you should be hired. They gave you a trick question to see how well you handle the pressure. Handle the pressure!

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While you're correct, your example answers would insult the intelligence of a reasonable person. And that is the problem with this question and why it is not easy. –  RobM Mar 10 at 19:43

I'd say "You shouldn't hire me if you think that I am in it for the money, if you think that I won't work well with your staff and management, if you think that your vision on how things should get done is totally incompatible with mine. I don't suffer fools gladly, so if you think that I should suffer fools gladly, then you are talking to the wrong person."

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is this only your opinion or you can back it up somehow? –  gnat Mar 10 at 16:11

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