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?
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.
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:
Then be ready to expound on your answers more, giving concrete examples of where these traits/skills have helped in your past jobs.
There are four ways to handle this question:
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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)
"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."
"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."
"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.
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.
(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
b. being able to listen to deflect a bad question.
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.
I think this question is a "Tell me more about you" question rather than "Tell me your weaknesses or something negative about you".
Perhaps you're getting this question because the hiring manager is done with his list of questions and is a) super-impressed with you that she just wants to see if you can still hit home run with an oddball/freak question, or b) she is a little unsure of how you stack in her potential hires list and wants to see if you can help tip the scale.
As a candidate I think you need to take it with a play-to-win mindset (hit the home run attitude) and use the space to either:
List/emphasize the top 3 or 5 things about you, even if you've already mentioned it, and end the response saying "perhaps if all that sounds like a misfit in this company then I may not be the right person for this".
List one or two other things you want them to know about you eg your work style, things you like, or things you hate. And end the response as above ie "I'm not the best fit if this does sound at odds with the company".
Some questions are insulting and some interviewers do insult, so perhaps these questions reflect an unprofessional interviewer or an interviewer who just wants to see how you deal with crap because the office does have some amount of it. And guess what, they might be in the process of removing annoying-underperforming-staffers themselves but meantime need a new hire who can survive whilst they work on that.
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.
"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.
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!
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."