The interview questions that will trick you
Savvy hiring managers have honed their ability to ask the fewest number of questions yielding the greatest depth of information.
One way they do this is by asking seemingly simple questions that get you to reveal information you may have been trying to conceal; queries that break through the traditional interview noise and clutter, and get to the raw you.
In other words: questions designed to trick you.
- Can you tell me about yourself?
Why do they ask this? They ask to determine how the candidate sees themselves as it pertains to the position. “The employer wants to hear that the candidate did their homework,” says Tina Nicolai, executive career coach and founder of Resume Writers’ Ink. “The interviewer is also listening for a level of confidence in how well the candidate portrays herself through the information that is communicated. Additionally, the interviewer is listening for strong behavioral competencies which help determine a right fit with the job. If this opening answer is weak, it can send the remainder of the interview into a tailspin or cut the interview short.”
What makes it tricky? It can tempt you to talk about your personal life — which you shouldn’t! “Most candidates are not versed in seeing this as a trick question, so they may answer by speaking from a personal perspective: ‘I have three kids, I’m married, etc,'” says Nicolai. “Believe it or not, even the most seasoned candidate falls for this question especially when prompted by the interviewer to elaborate.”
What response are they looking for? A focused, laser-sharp answer conveying your value to the organization and department. “The employer wants to hear about your achievements broken down into two or three succinct bullet answers that will set the tone of the interview,” she explains. Remember, what we tell people about us is what they hear. So, stay sharp and convey your top strengths when answering this question.
For example, you can try something like: “I am known for turning around poor performance teams as a result of my innate skills in analyzing problems and seeing solutions very quickly.” This statement tells the interviewer that the candidate has analytical skills, problem-solving ability, sizing up talent skills, and leadership ability to turnaround business performance, among other things.
“At least four behavioral skills are conveyed in this simple response, and it sets the tone for the interviewer to ask more targeted questions,” Nicolai says.
- 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, explains 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,”
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,” she adds. “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.”
- 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.
- Why do you want to work here?
Why do they ask this? Interviewers ask this because they want to know what drives you the most, how well you’ve researched them, and how much you want the job.
What makes it tricky? “Clearly you want to work for the firm for several reasons,” Taylor says. “But just how you prioritize them reveals a lot about what is important to you.”
You may be thinking to yourself, “I’m not getting paid what I’m worth,” or, “I have a terrible boss,” or, “All things being equal, this commute is incredibly short” — none of which endears you to the hiring manager.
“You’re also being tested on your level of interest for the job,” she says.
What response are they looking for? Hiring managers want to see that you’ve taken the time to research the company and understand the industry.
They also want to know that you actually want this job (and not just any job); that you have a can-do attitude; that you are high energy; that you can make a significant contribution; that you understand their mission and goals; and that you want to be part of that mission.
- What kind of boss and coworkers have you had the most and least success with, and why?
Why do they ask this? Interviewers are trying to ascertain if you generally have conflicts with people and/or personality types. “Secondarily, they want to know how you can work at your best,” says Taylor.
What makes it tricky? You run the risk of appearing difficult by admitting to unsuccessful interactions with others, unless you keep emotions out of it. You may also inadvertently describe some of the attributes of your prospective boss. If you say, “I had a boss who held so many meetings that it was hard to get my work done,” and your interviewer turns beet red — you might have hit a nerve.
What response are they looking for? “They want to hear more good than bad news,” Taylor explains. “It’s always best to start out with the positive and downplay the negatives.” You don’t want to be evasive, but this is not the time to outline all your personality shortcomings either. Here you have an opportunity to speak generally about traits that you admire in others, yet appear flexible enough to work with a variety of personality types.
For example: “I think I work well with a wide gamut of personalities. Some of my most successful relationships have been where both people communicated very well and set mutual expectations upfront.”
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with a company policy.
Why do they ask this? To determine your decision-making ability, ease of working with others, and most importantly, whether or not the candidate will speak up if they see an area in need of improvement.
What makes it tricky? “To say, ‘I’ve never disagreed with a company policy’ is tough to believe from even the most amenable employee,” Nicolai says. “This also sends a message that you may just accept anything that you are told to do without thinking through all possible outcomes.” While companies want leaders and employees to follow the rules, they also want people who are going to review potential outdated policies and have the courage to push back and propose changes to maintain a current, competitive edge and productive workplace.
What response are they looking for? Offer up a real situation that points out a logical and business reason that you were in opposition of a policy, she suggests. “Focus on how your idea to rework the policy was beneficial to the company as a whole. Speak up on the research that you conducted, the facts that you presented, and the outcome of your attempts to have the policy re-written.”
Originally published on msn