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Today, five minutes before the interview, my manager grabbed me and asked me to participate in an interview with a potential candidate for a software developer position. I did the technical part of the interview and the candidate did really well. At the end of the interview, the candidate asked me and my manager the question: "What do you dislike the most in the company?".

How should I approach this question when my honest answer would be "my manager"?

Trying to be diplomatic in this situation I went with some other thing (my job is not challenging enough) that I don't like currently at the workplace but it is by no means a deal-breaker. I also wanted to reply "the salaries" but I guess that wouldn't be professional.

What kind of things can I or should I say as the interviewer when being approached with this question from an interviewee (keeping in mind that my manager is sitting next to me)? Should I be totally honest and say "my manager"?

Note: the candidate would have the same manager as I do now. I work in Scandinavia if it matters.

Edit: someone marked this question as a duplicate so I need to explain here how this is not a duplicate of Tough curveball interview questions . The linked question is different because it explains how to answer the questions as a candidate, not as the employer. It explains what an employer is looking for when asking this questions, not an employee. In addition to that my situation today was especially tricky since I had my manager sitting next to me so I had to be extremely careful with my answer.

  • 3
    Related to all the comments around the appropriateness of the candidate asking this question: Is it appropriate to ask about the negative aspects of a company in an interview? – HopelessN00b Oct 19 '17 at 21:14
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    With humour - say its your manager, but with a chuckle as if you are joking. "This guy! Hahaha. No seriously. Hahaha" – AviD Oct 22 '17 at 11:30
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    That question tells you that the interviewee is naive or profoundly unskilled about communication and office politics. One can't expect an honest answer to that question unless it is asked of a close personal friend. If the well-being of your job environment depends on smoothly managing communication (and almost everyone's does) this person is going to be a problem. – teego1967 Oct 22 '17 at 12:17
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    If you have to lie to get someone to work for you, don't bother feigning surprise when they leave. – Veedrac Oct 22 '17 at 14:03
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    @Veedrac, The truth has many layers, especially if the interviewee didn't ask the question privately. The same goes for your own resume and when you're being interviewed for a job yourself. You should be truthful, obviously, but you shouldn't be too truthful. Your interviewer is not your therapist. – Stephan Branczyk Oct 23 '17 at 1:28

15 Answers 15

60

My approach would be a mix between honesty and deflecting:

I'm sure there may be a few things I don't like here, but there is no such thing as a perfect workplace, and the fact that I feel happy with this job tells that the benefits I get here are far more important than the little things I don't like.

If this is not enough, you can add:

I cannot get into details because it's a personal opinion and I'd like to keep it to myself, but if you are worried about something specific about the workplace or your job you may feel free to ask about it.

  • 9
    +1 because, if I was interviewing, I'd be more likely to feel a connection and want to work there than at the place where they serve me the "Well, the furniture is dated, but we're getting it replaced next week" line. As such, this should help hiring people who value honesty and candor. – Jeffrey supports Monica Oct 19 '17 at 21:35
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    Would you accept an answer of "I cannot get into details because it's a personal opinion and I'd like to keep it to myself" to questions you ask the interviewee? Interviews can be just as much about the candidate seeing if the employer is right for them... – ESR Oct 20 '17 at 1:33
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    If I were being interviewed, I would run a mile if I got the second answer. – Muzer Oct 20 '17 at 9:07
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    @NoBackingDown True. Sometimes the candidate is excellent, knows they can take their pick of jobs, and may decide to decline an offer if they don't like the answers to the questions they asked during the hiring process. More often the candidate is doing whatever they can to get the position, and it will take a lot to scare them off. But which candidate would be a better hire? Chances are its the one who knows they can pick and choose their position. Why answer in a way that scares off the best candidates, especially if they're in the minority? – Beofett Oct 20 '17 at 16:30
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    @Beofett, the same excellent candidate you talk about can leave in two weeks if he finds one of those things you try to hide as an interviewer. thats why I think the best way for both parties is they know as much as they can from each other. The situation here is complicated because the manager is involved so total and open honesty is not an option either – Homerothompson Oct 20 '17 at 18:00
46

The best way to answer that is to point out a legitimate concern that is being addressed.

Well, the furniture is dated, but we're getting it replaced next week

or

Well, our desktops are a bit slow, but starting next month they're replacing them with newer models"

Then carry on with something like...

But that doesn't bother me because the people are great, the working conditions are better than most, and we've got a really great benefits package.

Never stay on the negative a second longer than you have to.

27

"Room for improvement..."

In my current position I would say something along the lines of...

"Dislike" is honestly the wrong word for me because I do not dislike things here. If I did I would have been out of here a long time ago! [insert smile here]

There are some things I would like to make even better... there is room for improvement... little perks that I would like to see. For example... [enumeration of things to improve]. And who knows, maybe now is the time to introduce them, hm?

This lets the manager and the applicant to know that you are content, and that you are thinking about how to make your employer and your place of work even better.

  • 1
    This is the most sensible answer. Short and sweet. Cheers!! – closetnoc Oct 22 '17 at 1:26
20

As a candidate I ask this question in interviews, not because I expect a brutally honest answer, but to check the interviewer reaction. I also want to check if they have the courage to speak up and openly criticise their company, even if it is a minor complain, or if they give a canned and generic reply. This can be a reflection of the company culture.

Examples of answers that I got:

We work with teams in different continents and communication is hard. Sometimes it takes a day just to get a simple reply.

.

For many years we had to work with internal tools that were dated and hard to use. After a lot of complains management decided to step in. Now we are migrating to more modern tools, and improving some of the old ones.

.

This company is a small subsidiary for a very large parent company, so sometimes we are in the crossroad with the disadvantages of a startup and a multinational.

  • In quite a few cultures (both corporate and general), publicly criticizing your group is a taboo. I.e. it might be allowed but not publicly - e.g. not in the presence of the person being badmouthed as in the OP's case. If this is the case, not only you're inviting them to instantly write you off as a "backstabber" regardless of any professional qualifications. In the OP's case, you're coming across as grossly tactless since the person you're asking wasn't in a position to answer honestly. So, only do that if you're sure there are enough employers around for whom it's acceptable. – ivan_pozdeev Oct 21 '17 at 17:45
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    @ivan_pozdeev Hence this is a good question to ask if you don't wish to work for such companies.... – Ian Oct 21 '17 at 17:51
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    @Ian That's what I am getting at - depending on the local culture, there may end up no companies at all whom you "wish to work for". – ivan_pozdeev Oct 21 '17 at 18:05
  • @ivan_pozdeev You're right, but most stackexchange sites are highly biased towards the situation in the USA, and the most vocal people will likely be from the USA. – Erwin Bolwidt Oct 22 '17 at 13:21
  • This question is also great because if they answer some of the things suggested in the other answers, I would learn that open & honest criticism is not welcome (and get a feel for the flavor of how such conversations are received), or at least that the people answering are peculiarly troubled by "dated furniture". – Dronz Oct 22 '17 at 17:13
13

How should I approach this question when my honest answer would be "my manager"?

One unorthodox move would be to say "my manager", but then make it look like a joke (with a brief laugh maybe), thus successfully and graciously evading the compromising question.

I would only recommend this if you are sure your manager will not take it wrong, and if the fact that you dislike him is only known to you (and not to him). Also, only do it if this is ok in your specific culture.

You can also try any other "gracious" answer as to avoid answering that question in a compromising way (like your manager did). After that you can try to put the conversation back on track to finish the interview.

I would avoid talking bad things about your fellow workers at all if you can, those things usually speak more of you than of the subject you are badmouthing. If you really can't come with some creative response just say "Oh it is a great place here, would have to spend quite some time thinking for an answer to that".

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    The interesting potential side effect is that if the interviewee likes your manager, he/she may decide that if the manager is the worst thing in the place it must be a really great place to work. And chalk you up as one to complain about nothing. ;) – Wildcard Oct 20 '17 at 2:40
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    Or the interviewee may think you are dodging the questions and would prefer not to talk about the real issues as nobody would want to work there if you did. – David Oct 20 '17 at 10:20
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    @David it is a personal and compromising question still, there is no "correct" answer. The OP has the right to say nothing or evade gracefully. The candidate actually threw a tough/uncomfortable question right there – DarkCygnus Oct 22 '17 at 7:29
5

You answer the question honestly.

If the candidate is even passably intelligent, the reason he's asking you and not your manager is because he's trying to get a read on company culture.

Here's what you were actually asked:

  • Can people talk openly about company culture?
  • Are you afraid of retribution?
  • Are you hopelessly disillusioned?

And you answered those questions. No, yes, and no, respectively. You answered the first two very loudly. "My job is too easy." "Then why are you hiring someone? So you can be even more bored? Oh wait, you're just lying to me."

Professionalism dictates you don't go on a rant about a co-worker, and that includes your manager. Instead, you talk about what you need that you're not getting. If it's starting to sound accusatory, shift back towards the bigger institutional issues that keep your manager from offering the sort of support you wish you had.

3

You have to remember at all times from which viewpoint you're answering any questions from the candidate. Are you answering from the point of view of a mildly dissatisfied employee, or from the point of view of a representative of the company who wants to snag the best possible candidate for the business?

The first might truthfully answer that while the job is OK, it's far from the best. The candidate will likely file this away, and keep it in mind when assessing his options. For example, when you told him that you feel underwhelmed by your job, that was probably quite the red flag for him. It certainly would be for me (I've left more than one job because I felt that I was stagnating). If you, as the senior dev interviewing me, feel bored, then how will I feel in a year's time?

The second might sing the company's praise in such a way that it becomes exceedingly obvious that you're simply a company cheerleader, and not being honest.

The best option when trying not to throw your employer under the bus is to answer akin to how one answers when asked what their biggest weakness is. For example, you might say:

My biggest gripe is that we have a culture around here of people bringing in delicious baked goods on a pretty regular basis, and my waistline is really suffering!

Or perhaps

Well, you know, we have way too many ping pong enthusiasts among us, so those of us who don't practice as much never win a game at lunch anymore!

Are you answering the question? Yes, you are. But also, not really. Suddenly the candidate's clever, ambush question gives him nothing that can skew his opinion against the company.

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    I would say non-answers like that are just as bad as, if not worse than, being an obvious company cheerleader. – David K Oct 19 '17 at 17:08
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    I disagree that they are the exact same thing. Richard's responses are real negatives that are in the process of being addressed. No one would say that too many donuts is an actual problem. It's like responding to the question "What's your greatest weakness?" You want to give an actual weakness you have and how you are trying to improve. You don't say "I just care about my work too much!" – David K Oct 19 '17 at 17:41
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    @AffableAmbler - you are to easily offended, then. Ask a pig of a question, and receive the equivalent answer, to use your analogy. – AndreiROM Oct 19 '17 at 19:40
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    This is not a pig of a question. Every workplace has advantages and drawbacks. If the person can't give an honest answer about one thing he wishes were different, then there's something wrong with him or something wrong with the culture. Additionally, this is completely fair play. Interviewers ask tough curveball questions to assess how a candidate handles tough work situations; candidates ought to be able to do the same thing. Can the person find an honest, but politically correct answer? – CodeSeeker Oct 21 '17 at 7:50
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    I heard a story once where an interviewer was asked this exact question, and after thinking a bit decided on the spot to quit the company (seriously)! The candidate had a frank talk with the manager about the problems at the company and agreed to go to work for them (replacing the quitting interviewer) with the stipulation that he'd be given the power and support to improve things. He was able to do so. If a company or a person can't figure out how to admit to a few warts, then he can't be honestly attempting to address them. And that's a huge red flag for awful politics happening. – CodeSeeker Oct 21 '17 at 7:52
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I would re-phrase it. I would say "I think what you're wanting to know is where do we as a company see ourselves improving? What are we looking at, company-wide?"

From there it's a natural segue into the company plans for training, broadening hiring opportunities, maybe corporate partnerships with non-profits. "We really feel fortunate in the success of our company and we want to share that with the community. So we are expanding internships" or "making it possible for staff to volunteer x hours a week" something along those lines. Rather than getting some negative dead-end reply, the interviewee is shown exciting new areas for personal and professional growth at this company. Who wouldn't get hopeful of getting hired at such a place?

1

This is a particularly bothersome question, because it dances the line between morality and professionalism. Morally, you really should be honest, rather than entrapping a potential employee in a job and all the associated trouble based on false information. However, seeing the potential for that to be problematic politically (I probably wouldn't insult my manager in front of my manager personally), I'd go with an answer that is as as far removed from you and everyone present as possible, and yet still of the same strength as the original.

For example, if your problem is with your boss, maybe present a vague complaint about someone else's boss. "A few colleagues have told me that their managers tend to ...". Not in a way that speaks particularly loudly and negatively about the company and especially the people present, but enough so that your candidate knows the gist of the problems. One of the best ways to distance personal problems is to make them less personal.

On the other hand this gets tricky, because just about everyone has some kind of complaint they'd make had they half the chance. Any sufficiently complex company will have a mix of good and bad factors, and the good tend to be forgettable (the office always has paper stocked) but the bad tends to be thoroughly memorable (the office never has paper stocked). I'm not sure if I'm being particularly helpful here, but I hope these points help in addressing such a situation.

  • I would put this stronger: you don't badmouth your manager (or colleagues in general); you only talk about actions. It's a variation of saying you are instead of you do, where the first one antagonizes people much more. So don't even talk about someone else's boss, talk about actions that people take that you don't like. Your manager may even get the hint. – Jan Doggen Oct 20 '17 at 14:28
1

Your honest answer is not necessarily meaningful for interviewee because your subjective/personal perception of your manager may be very different from interviewee's prospective if he had much worse manager in the past.

I suspect that you may not even dislike your manager personally but actually dislike his (poor) leadership, professionalism, decision making or conflicts resolution skills.

Therefore you could answer the question by saying something about the particular problem like

  • We could benefit from better leadership.
  • I wish we had less bureaucracy.
  • I'd like to have more professionalism on the team.
  • I hope to improve team performance.
  • I would like to see improvements in decision making.

That might provide some insights regarding problems that interviewee may be concerned about.

Also you could encourage interviewee to help you to address the particular problem of your concern by replying with something like "we could use your help to improve our change management policy" if that's the area where your manager do not excel.

0

I think the question is ill phrased, because asking what you don't like already cast a bad light on the answer. When I asked this question as interviewed person, I went for a more neutral "what would you improve in the workplace?".

But you are not the asker, your are supposed to answer. What you can do is try to steer the answer away from negative feelings, and provide some honest but diplomatic answer. Something on the line of "There is really nothing I dislike, however there is something which is worth improving, like ...".

We are all aware that the perfect and defect-less organization does not exist, and the reason for asking such question is mostly to check how one is free to express his concerns and thoughts in the company.

0

Nothing that can't be solved by hiring you!

That's always a nasty question on either side of the interview, and if I don't care much about the candidate, I'd take the easy way out and follow my manager's lead, but if I do like them, and want them to be hired, then I have to sell the company in some way. I'm guessing that the candidate uses this question in every interview, and often gets deflected, so is sick of that solution.

Usually, there is a particular personality type I feel would work in the team I'm hiring into. That allows me to come up with one of my dislikes (not the worst, but one of them) that this type of candidate wouldn't be bothered by. For example, assume I'm looking for someone who would be able to work independently. I could say something about how the group or company doesn't really support people who need management to tell them what to do next. Or suppose I'm looking for someone who is good at testing their code. I could say something about the lack of a strong QA team.

In general, try to match up a dislike with a strength of the interviewee, so they feel like they are a good match for the position.

  • Especially the first sentence in this answer might set the candidate up for a massive disappointment if it turns out that there's a major weakness in the company that isn't addressed by hiring them. Just as an example: if project management is a mess, and you're hiring a developer, then when the candidate asks "what do you dislike most?" to answer "nothing that can't be solved by hiring you" is, at best, stretching the truth very thin. If the candidate accepts an offer and later finds out that project management is unbearable, then the new hire will most likely not be a happy camper! – a CVn Oct 21 '17 at 17:31
0

Here is another suggestion that worked for me:

Well, the company has been doing really well in area A, but we're understaffed in area B and could really use more manpower there. That's why we're expanding and looking for more employees.

It's often true, and has the added value of explaining to the candidate why they're being hired again.

-1

Quite obviously, you need to avoid telling the truth. And, in general, the rules are the same regardless of which side of the question you're on. Whether you're an employee being asked what your worst qualities or, or an employer being asked what your worst qualities are, being honest is a bad idea - even the best people and the best places to work have dark sides that would send people screaming for the hills if revealed in a brutally honest light, in my experience.

How, exactly, you go about doing that is as much a matter of your personality (and perhaps ethics) as anything else, and there's no one-size-fits all answer to this scenario, except that you should not bad-mouth your manager in front of your manager, even (or especially) when that's the truth. I'd also point out that you generally don't go wrong by following the lead of those above you, so that's probably the way to go. Your manager's being evasive and deflecting, so you would probably look good in his eyes by doing the same. If you can make a good impression on the candidate at the same time, so much the better.

If it were me, I'd make a joke and deflect, which is largely a function of my personality, but I'd avoid actually lying, which is also a function of my personality and ethics. Something along the lines of:

Well, I always have trouble picking just one thing, but I'd have to say that one of the things I really dislike about working here is that they expect me to show up and work 40 hours a week to receive a paycheck, instead of being cool and paying me to sleep in and play video games instead.

You could highlight the positives while avoiding saying anything negative, make a broad statement about there being negatives to any workplace, and you're not sure about what the worst thing about this workplace is, or whatever else comes to mind.

Like I said, find a way to "follow the leader" that fits your personality. (Which is a broadly useful piece of advice, in my experience.)

  • I like many of these points, except the idea of "making a broad statement about there being negatives to any workplace". Perhaps too much like something a politician would say. – TheEnvironmentalist Oct 20 '17 at 0:49
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    @TheEnvironmentalist Not that I'm a fan of politicians, but they are skilled at saying a lot without saying anything at all... which is to say that if it sounds like something a politician would say, it's probably both true (or at least defensible) while also having no probative value whatsoever. After all, that's the secret to appealing to the masses. Play on emotion to get what you want, without leaving yourself open to accusations of saying anything falsifiable. If a politician can achieve wealth and power with that technique, one ought to be able to look good to his boss with it as well. – HopelessN00b Oct 20 '17 at 0:57
  • Your point is quite correct, but in general I make an effort to be just a little human in my encounters with people for whom I am some sort of authority figure – TheEnvironmentalist Oct 20 '17 at 1:09
-1

One of the golden rules in interviews is: "Remain positive". So try to turn this question round into something positive. For example, talk of:

  • How you want to grow and develop as an employee, and your previous company didn't offer many chances to do so.
  • You want to be in a dynamic environment and this new company seems like a great chance to do that.

Avoid saying anything overly negative about the old company. If you have misgivings about the question ever being asked in the first place, put it to the back of your mind and analyse it later. Just focus on getting as much information as you can about your potential new employee whilst seeming positive, confident and competent.

  • 3
    Old company? New company? There's only one company in scope. – Peter Taylor Oct 20 '17 at 11:39

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