By Rachel Premack & Jacquelyn Smith – Ladders
Sometimes, questions can be tricky or confusing. Interviewers ask them to learn more about you, including information you may be trying to conceal.
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, 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,” said Tina Nicolai, executive career coach and founder of Resume Writers’ Ink.
But they’re not just about exposing your flaws, said Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant.”
“Their real agenda is for your answers to ultimately paint a picture that you are the perfect fit for the job — not just on paper, but from an overall trust standpoint,” Taylor said.
Here are 21 common examples of tricky job interview questions, complete with advice on how to ace each one:
Can you tell me about yourself?
Why do they ask this? They ask to determine how the candidates see themselves as it pertains to the position and how confidently they can communicate their skills. “The employer wants to hear that the candidate did their homework,” Nicolai said. “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,’” Nicolai said.
What response are they looking for? A focused 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,” Nicolai said.
Try this, from Nicolai: “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, and leadership ability that enables them to turn around business performance.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
Why do they ask this? Through that one word, Taylor said employers will be able to assess your personality type, how confident you are in your self-perception, and whether your work style is a good fit for the 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 said. “And people are multifaceted, so putting a short label on oneself can seem nearly impossible.”
What response are they looking for? Proceed cautiously. “If you know you’re reliable and dedicated, but love the fact that your friends praise your clever humor, stick with the conservative route,” Taylor said.
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,” Taylor said.
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?” And they want to see how you speak about other companies or positions that hold your interest — and how honest you are.
What makes it tricky? If you respond, “This is the only job I’m applying for,” your interviewer will worry. Very few job applicants apply to only one job, so they may assume you’re being dishonest. But if you’re too effusive about your other prospects, however, the hiring manager may see you as unattainable and pass. “Speaking negatively about other jobs or employers isn’t good either,” Nicolai added.
What response are they looking for? Go with this response, Nicolai said: “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,” Nicolai said. “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 an inability to work well with coworkers 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 said. “At the very least, you should indicate that negative attributes have diminished because of positive actions you’ve taken.”