Watch Out for That Trap! Why Do We Have to Worry About Tricky Interview Questions?

As if job interviews aren't anxiety-provoking enough, why must applicants also anticipate and prepare for the dreaded "trick questions"?


I’m constantly perusing the online job search advice to ensure that I’m up-to-date on the latest resumé suggestions, interview advice and job-hunting techniques.  (Do you do this too?) So I was kind of disappointed to see a Feb. 23 article at Forbes.com entitled “Watch Out! Ten Interview Questions Designed to Trick You.

My first thought was: Why would interviewers purposely be trying to trick job applicants? Aren’t we under enough stress, not only because four million of us have been unemployed for a year or longer (For the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative, click here), but because we already feel like slabs of meat presented for FDA inspection?

Anyway, according to the article, “…hiring managers spend countless long hours interviewing candidate after candidate….” [As an aside from me: is this supposed to make me feel sorry for them?]…A tricky question may be used as a time management tool to quickly eliminate a less-qualified candidate.”

Nice. Personally, I think it would be kinder if they identified “less qualified candidates” by actually asking us questions directly related to our qualifications.  (More about this below.)

So somewhat grudgingly, but figuring I should be prepared for anything, I reviewed the “top 10 tricky questions” and wanted to share them with you. They are: 

  1. Why have you been out of work so long, and how many others were laid off?
  2. If employed, how do you manage time for interviews?
  3. How did you prepare for this interview?
  4. Do you know anyone who works for us?
  5. Where would you really like to work?
  6. What bugs you about coworkers or bosses?
  7. Can you describe how you solved a work or school problem?
  8. Can you describe a work or school instance in which you messed up?
  9. How does this position compare with others you’re applying for?
  10. If you won the lottery, would you still work?

I won’t go into all the details here – you can check the link at Forbes.com for more specifics – but the article offers suggestions for answering these without falling into various traps laid for you by the interviewer.

It bothers me to think that some interviewers purposely want to trip you up. As I study these questions, though, I think I’ve only been asked two of them in a couple of years of interviews: #7 and #8, in which they ask you to describe a work problem you solved or a situation in which you “messed up.” I guess I’ve been lucky that I haven’t encountered the truly hard-core trickster interviewers out there.

Then I came across another Forbes.com article which said that, in fact, there are only three essential interview questions: 

1.  Can you do the job?
2.  Will you love the job?
3.  Can we tolerate working with you?

These three questions sum up the entire purpose of a job interview: to determine if you have the strengths and motivation to do the job well and to assess if you’re a good fit for the organization. They make sense because, when you think about it, they’re the same three things we applicants need to know about a job and a potential future employer.

So please, hiring managers, could you do us already-stressed-out job applicants a little favor? Avoid the quirky questions. Instead, let’s have a genuine conversation about the job, the company and the interviewee to see if we'd make a good match.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Richard Sorensen March 01, 2012 at 12:10 AM
Great column. From my experience on both sides of the table, most interviews are not that complicated. The person being interviewed should not worry about "trick questions." Make sure you smile, try to relax, be honest, emphasize your strengths. and, if you can, make sure you know about the position and the company (or employer) before you go in. There is also nothing wrong with asking questions yourself. Interviews should be a two-way conversation.
Fran Hopkins March 01, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Thanks, Richard! I agree with you. When I was a manager interviewing prospective employees, I wanted them to feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible. We all know that an interview is an evaluation, which is stressful enough, so why make things more difficult by asking applicants trick questions? A conversational interview in which both parties exchange information and ask questions is, I think, the best kind.


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