10 Simple Job Interviewing Questions Most Can’t Answer

I was sitting in on an interview with one of my clients recently, when out of nowhere came a question that not only made the candidate take pause, but also probably eliminated him for the job. It wasn’t a trick question or illegal question. It wasn’t a question that the candidate couldn’t answer. In fact, it was so simple the candidate should have been able to answer it easily. Instead, he sat there like a deer in the headlights thinking, because he didn’t have an answer. The mere fact that he had to think on such a simple question was a problem to begin with.

So what was this simple question, “What is the most recent book you have read that will help you be a better employee?” This could be any business related book on,  leadership, management, social networking, staffing, biographical,  functional, organizational, self-improvement, etc in the last 6 months. The person has been unemployed for 3 months so it isn’t  unreasonable to assume they read, or is it?

So what would you have replied? Please leave your answer in the comments section.

I find it amazing how many professional people don’t read on a continuing basis. If for no other reason than to stay up to date on trends, changes and advancements in their field. So many candidates stop reading non-fiction after college. We find that the very best candidates we work with are continually improving themselves by reading. Not just periodicals like the WSJ, trade magazines, or blogs, but books.

I started thinking back about other similar questions I’ve heard asked, usually by CEO’s, during an interview that most can’t answer. I’ve listed them below to help you out, so you don’t end up looking like a deer caught in the headlights.

1. What do you do to stay current and up to date in your profession?

2. How many workshops, seminars or training programs have  you attended in the last year?

3. What is your favorite book on leadership?

4. What book has impacted how you manage or lead the most?

5. If  you could only refer one book to someone coming up the ladder what would it be?

6. What do you do regularly to improve yourself?

7. In your annual reviews, what has your boss recommended you need to work on or improve on? After they answer, the follow-up is, What have you done to work on those issues?

8. How many books have you read in the last year?

9. What periodicals do you read daily or weekly?

10. What is your favorite business book of  all time?

I have heard all of these asked in one form or another in my 30 years as a recruiter. In fact, I even ask them when I know a client will ask them.

The fact that these questions may not directly link to one’s ability to perform in the job, they do reveal a lot about the person and their understanding to constantly improve themselves. A CEO that wants to constantly improve the company wonders how a candidate can do this, if they don’t even work to improve themselves.

I hope this helps you better prepare not only yourself, but for an interview.

Join our Linkedin Job Search Networking Group. 3400 others have joined in on the discussions and articles. CLICK HERE to join.

Download our FREE sample cover letter. This is a proven cover letter that gets your resume noticed. CLICK HERE to download.

Have you browsed our FREE audio library?  All of the recordings from our talk radio show are there for you to download and listen to for free. CLICK HERE to download.

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Brad Remillard


About the Author

Brad Remillard is a founding Partner of IMPACT Hiring Solutions, co-author of "You're NOT the Person I Hired", and "This is NOT the Position I Accepted". Brad is an award-winning international speaker, retained executive recruiter, and expert on hiring and retaining top talent, and executive job search.


  • By Smitha, December 4, 2009 @ 2:23 pm

    I would reply, the book which would make me a better employee would be ” One Minute Manager”, by Ken Blanchard. It is narrated in a story format, yet gives you tips to remain focused n the task and manage your time better.

  • By Jeff, December 4, 2009 @ 3:30 pm

    The Sandler Rules: 49 Selling Principles and How to Apply Them

  • By Eileen Marshall, December 4, 2009 @ 4:18 pm

    My two most recent favorites are Crucial Conversations by Patterson, et al, and A Leaders’ Legacy by Kouzes and Posner.

  • By Ata, December 4, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

    Ahead of the Curve: A Guide to Applied Strategic Thinking

    Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions

  • By Jim Todd, December 4, 2009 @ 10:58 pm

    This is a most intriguing topic. It exposes a peculiar set of presuppositions in the mind of the person conducting the interview.

    I have reflected on this matter and personally would have had to take some pause to appropriately address this.

    Here is the concern that I would have in providing an appropriate response.

    I continue to read intensively and extensively, but I have never been asked this category of question in an interview context! I have routinely read as many as three books a day, but have slowed down somewhat in recent years.

    Somehow that type of question seems to be incongruent with the world-view and mind-set of those whom I deal with. Frankly, they are focused on more salient matters as: What have I done recently to address their type of presenting problem or need?

    My simple answer could be, read my book reviews that is part of my on-line media set.

    The other problem is how the question is asked. Which of the dozen or so topics and say two dozen of more books do you want to talk about? What would be relevant to me may very well be irrelevant to them. For example, I think studying foreign languages is an excellent answer applicable to improving my management skills.

  • By Liz Fadil, December 5, 2009 @ 12:02 am

    “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watkins, very helpful when taking on a new role.

  • By Bhavesh J. Bati, December 5, 2009 @ 8:58 am

    My all-time favourite is “The Alchemist – by paulo coelho”
    other books i would recommand are
    The MAgic Of Thinking Big,
    One Minute Manager,
    Swami Vivekananda’s Speaches,
    And i have accessed many inspirational talks from Current time Leaders on TED, and Youtube

  • By Dave Kinnear, December 5, 2009 @ 10:33 am

    I’m not in the job market as a W2 employee. But you know, as an Executive Coach, Business Advisor and Consultant, I’m really “always” in the market. So for what it’s worth, here’s how I respond to your questions Brad.

    Books: Creating Competitive Advantage by Jeannie L. Smith, Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly.

    1. Stay on top: Active in Forum for Corporate Directors, Mentoring MBAs at CSUF and UCI.

    2. Seminars: I attend at least three training seminars on leadership, management corporate governance each year.

    3. Leadership Books: Think and Grow Rich, How to wind friends and influence people, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

    4. Most Influential: The ones above and a few others from Drucker, Collins and Bossidy.

    5. Would recommend Think and Grow Rich to those on the way up because it inculcates the power of mastermind groups – you can’t do it all alone!

    6. Continuing Education is a way of life for me. Mentoring others, teaching, consulting – all require acute listening skills and respect for others.

    7. My boss is also my CFO who is also my wife and while I’m really the company, she is a majority shareholder/stakeholder. So I listen and emotional intelligence is a growing edge for me. I also get outside feedback from clients as well as instruments such as Meyer’s Briggs, DISC, etc. through my work at the Professional Coaches and Mentors Association.

    8. I read at least one and often 2 books a month almost all business related. Wiley sends me books for professional review which keeps me reading!

    9. Periodicals I read regularly are: Harvard Business Review, MIT Technology Review, The Economist, CEO Magazine, Ethix, Scientific American, MIND and occasionally CFO Magazine. I listen to the Wall Street Journal Podcast as well as several other news podcasts. NO TV!

    10. Favorite Business Book? Sarbanes-Oxley for small business – No, I’m not that bad. I think I’d have to go with Good to Great for now, but there are so many good ones. My advice is to read as many as you can, or if you don’t like to read, get them in audio format. But whatever you do, continue to learn or you might as well pull the coffin lid over and give up.

    Dave K.

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, December 5, 2009 @ 11:00 am

    Jim you are right what is relevant to you maybe different than them. But in an interview a CEO only cares about how will this employee help build the business. Studying a language may not be relevant to the company but it does demonstrate a person interested in learning and improving themselves.
    Try being objective and who would you prefer on your team, all other things being equal, someone that works to improve themselves and their professional skills or someone that doesn’t do anything.

  • By jim krieger, December 5, 2009 @ 7:33 pm

    Good to great: why some companies make the leap–and others don’t‎ by James Charles Collins would be my answer on the book.

    Once you understand that Good is the enemy of great – your life will change.

    That being said, most of my reading is on-line, not in the books to stay current technically, business and management. So I might also reference newsletters, blogs and wiki’s I read.

    Books are a great source of knowledge and thought – but that are not the only source of learning.

    As Heraclitus stated, “Nothing endures but change.” and so must we as we learn every day.

    Jim Krieger

  • By Peyton Farquhar, December 6, 2009 @ 6:14 pm

    This question is a gimme –
    My answer is “The California Paralegal,” by Statsky & Sandberg. Publisher: Thomson.

  • By tara, December 7, 2009 @ 8:44 am

    What a great question to ask in an interview… and I bet a lot of people wouldn’t be able to answer it either.

    The book that i last read that made me a better employee, leader and person, is “change your questions, change your life”
    The book focuses on changing your mindset to ask “learner” questions rather than the “Judger” ones we are programmed to ask ourselves.
    Makign the choice to not assume the worst, stay positive and move forward.

  • By Leigh, December 7, 2009 @ 11:38 am

    I think this is a really great interview question (not for all levels but certainly for management level or above).
    Brad- I’d be curious to hear your answers on these b/c I’d be interested in reading a great HR/Recruiting book. This has inspired me to add that to my “to do” list! I love to read but will admit to just reading for fun. Please let me know your faves!

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, December 7, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

    My suggestion for a great book on recruiting and hiring is, You’re NOT The Person I Hired. A CEO’s Guide To Hiring Top Talent.
    We wrote it so I’m bias. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good read. Over 10,000 have are in circulation so it must have something going for it. You can check it out at

    Once you have read it I would really like your feedback.

  • By Leigh, December 7, 2009 @ 1:59 pm

    Brad- I bought a copy off Amazon…will let you know what I think–

  • By Erin, December 9, 2009 @ 11:24 am

    I honestly don’t read any of those kinds of books. I have tried in the past, however anytime I get about 1/4 of the book read it sounds like any one of those “self-help” books out there! I don’t see the point in sitting there reading theoretical “shoulda woulda” type books. I’m more of a kinesthetic learner anyways, I have to do it and learn it for myself. So, if an employer is going to base their decision on what books I have read, I consider that illiterate of them.

  • By Nathan Henstra, December 9, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

    I was asked this question during a recent interview for a Kitchen Management position. My answer was dry but true- “Restaurant Financial Basics” Schmidgall, Hayes and Ninemeyer. Publisher Wiley, 2002.

    I use this book for basic reference and also to brush up on the accounting formulas that often enter the conversation.

    I highly recommend it as a basic reference for food and beverage management.

  • By Francis Maglia, December 10, 2009 @ 12:50 pm

    I take this Brad’s question so relevant that I’d ask not in and professional interview only, but in ANY first contact with anybody. That surely tells how fruitful (or not so) can be the future around this relationship.
    But if this question would have been asked to me, the book is “South”, by Sir Scheckelton, a true narration of his endeavor in Antarctic, sailing the “Endurance” during the 1st World War. Years before “self-help” millions of titles, he indeed teaches “Emotional Intelligence”, “people’s motivation in ANY unexpected (or expected) circumstances”, “respect for people” and, what I like most, “how humans are enormously adaptable”. The best for of this read is that you take the lessons by yourself and, if YOU wish, correlate it to your business, with – definitively – no one pushing formulas to rocket your live.

  • By Daniel, December 11, 2009 @ 11:46 am

    If a candidate reeled of some business management buzzword book (ie. 1 min manager, who moved my cheese etc) I would be disapointed. If they took inspiration from fiction or non-fiction and could demonstrate its application/relevance to thier carrer/job I would be much more interested. Most management books package current bast practice – I would want a future thinker.

  • By Mike, December 13, 2009 @ 11:18 am

    “Leadership is an Art” by Max Depree – Leadership is not dogmatic execution of formulas you get from someone else’s writing.

    “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum” by Alan Cooper – Your users aren’t the same as you!

    “The Courage to Teach” by Parker Palmer -“knowledge transfer” teaching is institutionalized at many levels, but is NOT serving our children. Relevant to leading, mentoring, and coaching in the workplace.

    “The Book of Five Rings” by Musashi – Fill your toolbox with a lot of tools, stay flexible and hone your judgement to use the right one for the right situation…

  • By Alan Dayley, December 30, 2009 @ 12:43 am

    Very interesting questions for an interview.

    My latest book: Trust Me: Four Steps to Authenticity and Charisma by Nick Morgan.

    Now, I’d like to throw a different twist into this discussion. I spend a great deal of time reading but most if it is not books. I read online. I subscribe to email lists, groups and blogs that are relevant to my career. This allows me to directly interact with the authors and other leaders in my field.

    Books are highly valuable. And the sample interview questions above may need to be updated to include all the valuable works available online. Like this blog!

  • By Tia, February 21, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

    Ooh that’s a great question! I read a new book every six weeks. I am concentrating on completing my MBA so I just finished reading Managerial Accounting by Horngren. This reading experience brings understanding the ROI to another level and would apply within any given industry. An awareness of why an employer expects production from its employees has never been more clear.

    Als, I spend time reading online industry articles, and Blogs that I subscribe to. Working full time and going to school full time- my time is valuable so I must manage it to the fullest each day.

    One of your responders made a valid point, if an employer is going to decide to hire me over what book I recently read is that really the place for me?

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, February 21, 2010 @ 1:28 pm

    That is is silly and ridiculous comment by whoever made it.

    Who would you prefer working on your staff.
    A) someone like yourself. Who stays current on business topics, understands the current trends, realizes the importance of continuing education


    B) Someone who has even read a book since leaving college?

    Why do you think most professionals, CPA’s, Lawyers, Doctors require X number of hours of ongoing education.

    In an interview it also reveals a lot about how a person views their potential contribution to the organization. Are they outdated and doing things the same old way?

  • By louise galvin, February 22, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

    Dear Brad,
    A great posting, I completely agree about the importance of continuing to learn and find new ideas and perspectives, all of which will make any one of us more valuable. I do like to ask that question of candidates, and do reflect on what I’d like to communicate when I am being interviewed. Here are a few great books:
    What Would Google Do?–I have just started this one, want to read it because the author is “reverse engineering” the development and evolution of Google; I hope to learn about new ways of creating organizations and be inspired!
    I would also mention Stephen Covey’s The Eighth Habit, which offers all the wisdom of his earlier Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and is far more “big picture” and really made me think. I use all the seven habits regularly in my work and have found them very easy to explain and teach to others. Thanks again for your posting,and all the best!
    Louise Galvin

  • By William R. Conrad, February 22, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

    I’m currently reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton. It reminds me of something I’ve believed all my adult life: that nothing is probably more important than your own integrity, and that means owning what you your values and truths are.

  • By Christy Eberle, February 22, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

    My answer would have been George Friedman’s “The Next 100 Years” which would help me be a better employee by increasing my awareness of global geopolitcal currents and trends which will most likely impact the way we do business over the next 20 years.

  • By Monica, February 24, 2010 @ 3:41 pm

    Latest book I read is titled “HUMILITY” by Andrew Murray. When you learn to “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord (as well as anyone in Authority over you i.e. Boss, Teachers, Govt.etc), HE shall lift you up.” James 4:10

    My take away is that I should work as unto the Lord no matter who is or is not watching me. Submit to the Authority I have been put under and make myself of no-reputation. Be that person that can always be counted on. Be on time. Walk in love. When you esteem others higher than yourself, God will esteem you.

    Look back at all the jobs you’ve had and think about that one manager or CEO that really stood out. What was different about Him/Her? The one that stood out to me was humble and was willing to serve, not just there to be served. And that’s a great leader. People want to work for someone like that. To know that your boss has your back. No some arrogant person who feels entitled to be served.

    I’ve read Good to Great and all these other books. But if you don’t work on your personal foundation to make sure it’s solid, all those other things will eventually crumble.

    Next book I’m chewing on: “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John Maxwell.

    Another great one I read a few months ago was “Thinking for a Change” by John Maxwell.

  • By Tom Richards, March 16, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

    Those are great questions . . . , but, in all the interviews to which I’ve been subjected, I’ve never experienced any questions even remotely related to them. And, in the several tens of interviews I’ve conduced, I’ve never asked those questions. I could answer them, but this is a fruitless debate, because the probability of being asked those questions boarders on zero! How about having a real-life discussion?

  • bradremillard

    By bradremillard, March 17, 2010 @ 8:13 am

    Neither had these candidates been asked these before.

  • By Mark S. Fitzgerald, AIA, LEED AP, CDT, March 27, 2010 @ 7:20 pm

    Great posting. I would like to see the results of a posting like this on LinkedIn. Imagine the stream of good information you could obtain after reading all the responses to the inital question!

    Even though I have never been asked this question in an interview, I can see the importance of asking it when networking because of the information it can generate from the person you are talking to.

    The books that I have been reading lately are all associated with “The Simple Truths Company” and its inspirational quotes or movies from “Motivation in a Minute.com” My favorite so far is “You Can’t Send a Duck to Eagle School”, by Mac Anderson. I highly recommend it especially if your job is to hire the right person for the job or to find the right client to work with.

  • By Barry Deutsch, March 27, 2010 @ 10:21 pm


    Thanks for the suggestion on the quotes/movies. Great thoughts. I like the “You Can’t Send a Duck to Eagle School”.

    Most candidates come into interviews and expect to be asked the 20 standard, stupid, inane, canned interview questions they’ve been asked on every interview over the last 25 years. Most hiring managers and executives admit to getting their interview questions from when they were interviewed 32 years ago — and they’re still asking the same questions today. To Ace or Win the Interview, a candidate must either be prepared to change the interview questions for the interviewer (sort of like teaching the interviewer to interview you real-time) or be prepared for a more sophisticated interview.


Other Links to this Post

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

CommentLuv badge

Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.