17 interview questions that are designed to trick you
Savvy hiring managers can glean a ton of information about you by asking just a few, well-chosen questions.
But while they may seem simple -- that's the point -- some are actually designed to get you to reveal information you may have been trying to conceal. In other words: they're trick questions.
"To uncover areas that may reflect inconsistencies, hiring managers sometimes ask these tricky questions," says Tina Nicolai, executive career coach and founder of Resume Writers' Ink.
But they're not just about exposing your flaws, says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job." These types of questions can help hiring managers break through the "traditional interview noise and clutter," and get to the "raw you."
Here are 17 common examples, complete with advice on how to ace each one.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
Why do they ask this? The question is likely being asked to elicit several data points: your personality type, how confident you are in your self perception, and whether your work style is a good fit for the job, Taylor explains.
What makes it tricky? This question can be a challenge, particularly early on in the interview, because you don't really know what personality type the manager is seeking. "There is a fine line between sounding self-congratulatory versus confident, and humble versus timid," Taylor says. "And people are multifaceted, so putting a short label on oneself can seem nearly impossible."
What response are they looking for? Proceed cautiously, warns Taylor. "If you know you're reliable and dedicated, but love the fact that your friends praise your clever humor, stick with the conservative route." If you're applying for an accounting job, the one word descriptor should not be "creative," and if it's an art director position, you don't want it to be, "punctual," for example. "Most employers today are seeking team players that are levelheaded under pressure, upbeat, honest, reliable, and dedicated. However, it would be a mistake to rattle off adjectives that you think will be well received. This is your opportunity to describe how your best attributes are a great match for the job as you see it."
How does this position compare to others you are applying for?
Why do they ask this? They're basically asking: "Are you applying for other jobs?" "The hiring manager is first trying to figure out how active you are in your job search," Nicolai says. Then, once you open up, they want to see how to speak about other companies or positions you're interested in -- and how honest you are.
What makes it tricky? If you say, "This is the only job I'm applying for," that'll send up a red flag. Very few job applicants only apply to the one single job — so they may assume you're being dishonest. However, if you openly speak about other positions you're pursuing, and you speak favorably about them, the hiring manager may worry that you'll end up taking another job elsewhere, and they won't want to waste their time. "Speaking negatively about other jobs or employers isn't good either," she says.
What response are they looking for? It is appropriate to say, "There are several organizations with whom I am interviewing, however, I've not yet decided the best fit for my next career move." "This is positive and protects the competitors," says Nicolai. "No reason to pit companies or to brag."
Can you name three of your strengths and weaknesses?
Why do they ask this? The interviewer is looking for red flags and deal breakers, such as inability to work well with coworkers and/or an inability to meet deadlines. "Each job has its unique requirements, so your answers should showcase applicable strengths, and your weaknesses should have a silver lining," Taylor says. "At the very least, you should indicate that negative attributes have diminished because of positive actions you've taken."
What makes it tricky? You can sabotage yourself addressing either. Exposing your weaknesses can hurt you if not ultimately turned into positives, she says. "Your strengths may not align with the skill set or work style required for the job. It's best to prepare for this question in advance, or risk landing in a minefield."
What response are they looking for? Hiring managers want to know that your strengths will be a direct asset to the new position and none of your weaknesses would hurt your ability to perform. "They are also looking for your ability to self assess with maturity and confidence," says Taylor.
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