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17 interview questions that are designed to trick you

Business Insider logo Business Insider 10/14/2016 jsmith@businessinsider.com (Jacquelyn Smith)

© Image Source/Getty Images  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.

1. 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. 

2. 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." 

© iStockphoto/Getty Images  3. 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," says Nicolai. 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." 

4. 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.

5. 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.

© photosindia/Getty Images  6. Why do you want to leave your current job?

Why do they ask this? "Your prospective boss is looking for patterns or anything negative, especially if your positions are many and short-term," Taylor explains. They may try to determine if you currently have or had issues working with others leading to termination, if you get bored quickly in a job, or other red flags.          

What makes it tricky? No one likes talking about a job they dislike and why. If not answered diplomatically, your answer could raise further questions and doubts, or sink your chances entirely.

What response are they looking for? They are hoping that you're seeking a more challenging position that is a better fit for your current skill set. "Know that hiring managers don't mind hearing that you're particularly excited about the growth opportunity at their company."

7. What are you most proud of in your career?

Why do they ask this? Interviewers ask this because they want to understand what you're passionate about, what you feel you excel at, and whether you take pride in your work. 

"How you describe your favorite project, for example, is almost as important as the project itself," Taylor says. "It's assumed that if you can speak with conviction and pride about your past work, you can do the same during important presentations at the new employer."

What makes it tricky? Managers may assume that this type of work is what you really want to do most or focus on in the future. It can make you sound one-dimensional if you don't put it in the context of a larger range of skills and interests.

What response are they looking for? Hiring managers want to see your ability to articulate well, foster enthusiasm in others, and your positive energy. "But one note of caution: In all your zeal to share your successes, remain concise," Taylor suggests. "You want to showcase your ability to present well once on the job."

8. 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."  

© Blend Images/Getty Images  9. Have you ever considered being an entrepreneur?

Why do they ask this? The interviewer is testing to see if you still have the hidden desire to run your own company, thus abandoning ship, Taylor says. "No firm wants to sense this, as they will begin to ponder whether their valuable training time and money could vanish." 

What makes it tricky? Most everyone has considered being an entrepreneur at some point in their lives, but to varying degrees. This question is tricky because you can unwittingly be lured into talking about your one-time desire to be your own boss with too much perceived enthusiasm. An employer may fear that you still hope to eventually go out on your own, and they'll consider you a flight risk.

What response are they looking for? It's okay to tell a prospective manager that you once considered entrepreneurship or have worked as an independent contractor. It can easily be turned into a positive by stating that you've already experienced it or thought about it, and it's not for you. That might be more convincing than saying, "No, I've never considered that."

This is an opportunity to discuss why working in a corporate environment as part of a team is most fulfilling to you. You may also enjoy the specialized work in your field more than the operational, financial, or administrative aspects of entrepreneurship. You can further allay their fears by explaining exactly why their company appeals to you.

10. If you could work for any company, where would you work?

 Why do they ask this? Hiring managers want to ascertain how serious you are about working for them in particular, versus the competition, as well as your level of loyalty, Taylor says. "It also helps them weed out candidates who may veer from the core career. You may have heard that Google is a great place to work, but that off-road strategy would spell doom, as you're being given the opportunity to theoretically work at your 'dream job.' The interviewer isn't making conversation here, so stay focused on the job at hand." 

What makes it tricky? You might get caught up in the casual flow of the discussion and inadvertently leak out some well-respected firms, but this is counterproductive and only instills some doubt about your objectives.

What are they seeking? "Your interviewer wants to know that you're interviewing at your first company of choice." A response to this might be, "Actually, I've been heavily researching target firms, and [your company] seems like the ideal fit for my credentials. It's exciting to me that [your company] is doing XYZ in the industry, for example, and I'd like to contribute my part."

11. Why were you laid off?

Why do they ask this? "Employers want to know how you hold up under pressure and less fortunate circumstances such as job loss," she Nicolai. They want to hear that you are positive and ready to get back to work with a great attitude." They also want to hear a level of confidence — not defeat or anger."

What makes it tricky? For starters, you may be bitter or angry about the layoff, and this question may prompt you to bad-mouth your former employer, which you never want to do in a job interview. 

"Stay away from finger pointing, desperation, or portraying a victim," she adds.

What response are they looking for? "Provide a level-headed answer that is focused on a business decision by the company to conduct the layoff," says Nicolai. "Be sure to not cast blame or any discontent. Stay on track with the facts as you know them."

© Scott Olson/Getty Images  12. What would you do if you won $5 million tomorrow?

Why do they ask this? They want to know whether you'd still work if you didn't need the money. Your response to this question tells the employer about your motivation and work ethic. They may also want to know what you'd spend the money on, or whether you'd invest it. This tells them how responsible you are with your money, and how mature you are as a person.          

What makes it tricky? Questions that are out of left field can ambush you, causing you to lose composure. "They have nothing to do with the job at hand, and you may wonder if there is any significance to them," Taylor says. "Whether there is or not, the fact remains that you can easily lose your cool if you don't pause and gather your thoughts before you respond to a question like this."

What response are they looking for? They want to hear that you'd continue working because you're passionate about what you do — and they want to know you'd make smart financial decisions. If you'd do something irresponsible with your own money, they'll worry you'll be careless with theirs. 

13. Have you ever been asked to compromise your integrity by your supervisor or colleague? Tell us about it.

Why do they ask this? Your prospective boss is evaluating your moral compass. They want to know how you handled a delicate situation that put your integrity to the test, Taylor explains. "They may also dig too deeply to test your level of discretion." Essentially they want to know: Did you use diplomacy? Did you publicly blow the whistle? Did a backlash ensue? What was your thought process? 

What makes it tricky? Interviewers want to know how you manage sensitive matters, and are also wary of those who badmouth former employers, no matter how serious the misdeed. "They will be concerned if you share too much proprietary information with the interviewer," she says. "So it is tricky because you must carefully choose your words, using the utmost diplomacy."

What response are they looking for? It's wise to be clear, concise, and professional in your answer, without revealing any internal practices of prior employers. "You have nothing to gain by divulging private corporation information."  

Something like this might work: "There was one time where a fellow worker asked me to get involved in a project that seemed unethical, but the problem resolved itself. I try to be as honest as possible early on if a project creates concern for me about the company, as I'm very dedicated to its success."

14. Can you give us a reason someone may not like working with you?

Why do they ask this? Prospective bosses want to know if there are any glaring personality issues, and what better way that to go direct to the source? "They figure that the worst that can happen is you will lie, and they may feel they're still adept at detecting mistruths," Taylor explains. "The negative tone of the question is bound to test the mettle of even the most seasoned business professionals." 

What makes it tricky? You can easily shoot yourself in the foot with this question. If you're flip and say, "I can't think of a reason anyone wouldn't like working with me," you're subtly insulting the interviewer by trivializing the question. So you have to frame the question in a way that gets at the intent without being self-effacing. "Hiring managers are not seeking job candidates who have self-pity," she says.

What response are they looking for? You don't want to say, "Well I'm not always the easiest person to be around, particularly when under deadlines. I sometimes lose my temper too easily." You might as well pack up and look for the nearest exit. "Conversely, you can lead with the positive and go from there: 'Generally I've been fortunate to have great relationships at all my jobs. The only times I have been disliked — and it was temporary — was when I needed to challenge my staff to perform better. Sometimes I feel we must make unpopular decisions that are for the larger good of the company,'" Taylor suggests. 

© Cultura RF/Getty Images  15. Why have you been out of work for so long?

Why do they ask this? " Interviewers are skeptical by design," Taylor says. "Sometimes you're guilty until proven innocent — until all the perceived skeletons in the closet have been removed." This is a daunting question in particular because it can seem offensive. 

The implication is that you might not be motivated enough to secure a job; you are being distracted by other pursuits; your skills set may not be up to date; there is an issue with your past employers, or a host of other concerns.

What makes it tricky? The way it's worded is naturally designed to test your resilience.  The key is not to take the bait and just answer the intent of the question in a calm, factual manner.

What response are they looking for? The hiring manager wants be assured that you possess initiative even when unemployed, as this drive and tenacity will translate well in a corporate setting.

Sample responses: "I have been interviewing steadily, but want to find the ideal fit before I jump in and give my typical 110%," or, "I'm active in my job search, and I keep my skills current through [courses, volunteering, social media, business networking groups]." "If you took off time to take care of a personal matter, you can certainly state that without giving a lot of detail," Taylor says.

Make sure you're accountable. Don't blame the unemployment rate, your market, industry, or anything else. This is about how active and excited you are to be making a contribution to the employer.

16. How did you make time for this interview? Where does your boss think you are right now?

Why do they ask this? Hiring managers want to find out if your priorities are in the right place: current job first, interviews second. "They know that the habits you follow now speak to your integrity and how you will treat your job at their company should you undertake a future job search," says Taylor. "They also want to know how you handle awkward situations where you cannot be truthful to your boss. Ideally your interview is during a break that is your time, which is important to point out." 

What makes it tricky? The implication is, "How is it searching for a job behind your boss's back?" For most employed job seekers, it's uncomfortable to lie about their whereabouts. So they're vague and treat it like any other personal matter they handle on their time.

What response are they looking for? It's wise to explain that you always put your job first, and schedule interviews before or after work, at lunchtime, during weekends if appropriate, and during personal time off. If asked pointedly, "Where does your boss think you are right now?" be vague. Don't say: "I took a sick day." Instead, Taylor suggests you try something like: "My boss understands that I have certain break periods and personal time — he doesn't ask for details. He's most interested in my results."

17. 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."

ALSO SEE: Master these 15 interview questions

Tell Me About Yourself: <p>This question usually takes about one to two minutes to answer and will be your elevator pitch. You want to give them a brief rundown of who you are as a person and show how you articulate you are. Don't start rambling on about your personal history. Talk about highlights from job positions or schooling and how you can contribute to the company with your background and experiences. </p><p>Know what the company is looking for. If it prizes technical skills, play those up. Showcase the qualities needed for the job you're interviewing for. </p><p>Before the interview, write down <a href="http://www.popsugar.com/smart-living/CV-Failures-41117668">two to three notable achievements</a>, and be sure to bring them up during your elevator pitch.</p> Master These 15 Interview Questions

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