Tricky Interview Questions & How to Handle Them

As if interviewing weren’t enough challenge for many people–especially those who have an urgent need for a new position–there’s the tiger lurking in the underbrush, ready to pounce. By that, I mean the interviewer who throws in trick questions to catch you off-guard and pull out information you normally wouldn’t want to provide.

Some Tricky Interview Questions You Might Get

I’ve seen a lot of questions that could be tricky while seeming innocuous, such as asking about your hobbies. Suppose, for example, your #1 hobby is sky-diving and you’re pretty good at it. However, if you mention that to the interviewer and the company happens to be risk-averse, you might have squashed your chance for a job offer. What’s even more frustrating is that you might not ever know that was what killed it.

That’s only one example, though. According to an article by Jenna Goudreau in which she interviewed well-known author Joyce Lain Kennedy, the following are 10 Tricky Interview Questions companies might use to sneak up on you:

  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’d like to note that at least a few of the questions aren’t entirely new, and I’ve been advising clients for years (during interview preparation coaching) to think through some of these situations ahead of time, so they’re not thrown for a loss during the interview itself. Questions #7 and #8, for example, are simply variations on ones that look for your problem-solving skills, how you learn from mistakes, and so on. You should always have a plan in mind that answers such questions honestly–to a point. You’re not compelled to give excessive detail or, for instance, provide a laundry-list of your past mistakes!

Your Best Options for Handling Tricky Interview Questions

Start by mapping out a plan of action that includes elements like boning up on the company, its current situation and possible changes on the horizon, why they might need someone like you, and anything you want to know about them to help you decide whether you do want to work there (remember, the interview is a two-way street). Think seriously about any possible down-side to your situation that tricky questions might fool you into revealing and have at least a rough idea of how best to respond. (Note: If you have a drawback that could interfere with your ability to do the job effectively, that’s another matter entirely.)

Also, remember the old maxim that “silence is golden” and avoid rushing into speech when the interviewer asks a question. A pause of a second or two to gather your thoughts shouldn’t come across as a suspicious hesitation and could help you give a reasonable answer that doesn’t put you in a needlessly unfavorable light. Finally, as I always tell my interview coaching clients, make sure you understand the question you’re being asked. If you don’t, request clarification before you answer. That’s a lot better than trying to backpedal after you’ve discovered that what you said wasn’t what the interviewer wanted to hear.

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