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Interview questions designed to trick you

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

Good hiring managers usually have a few tricks up their sleeves. Their role after all, is to be able to make an assessment of the candidate in front of them, in a matter of minutes. Some of the easy, straightforward questions they ask, may sometimes be trickier than it sounds - designed to provide the hiring managers with some additional data point about you, that is reflective of your "true" self. Here are a couple of seemingly innoucuous questions, and some suggestions on what the questions are actually about.

1. Can you tell me about yourself?

The classic opening question - one that I have used a lot myself, almost 100% of the time. But, do not be fooled by the seemingly simplistic, dull, highly expected question. Many hiring managers are able to make a decision at this point, whether the interview is heading south from this point or not. There are a few reasons for this question. One is that it usually provides candidates some time to warm up, to set them into a more comfortable position and to take a breather. The second reason for this question is to assess the confidence level portrayed by the candidate as the candidate gives an overview of themselves. Thirdly, it is also to listen to the ability to provide a succinct description of your achievements and most importantly, potential value to the firm. Remember, these 2 to 3 bullet points of your achievements has the ability to set the tone for the remainder of the interview.

2. Have you applied to other companies and how does this position compare to the others you applied for?

Some candidates hesitate to answer this question, thinking that you need to portray an image where the company you are interviewing with was so important to you that it was the only company you applied for. Most hiring managers will not be expecting you to choose only 1 company to apply for - in fact, if you say that you did not apply anywhere else, it is likely that a red flag will start going up and the honesty of the candidate is in question.

The hiring manager is asking this question for exactly that - how honest you are. And the second reason - how active your job search is. However, treat this question with care - be honest, but do not provide glowing reports on the other job opportunities, and do not use the results of your other job searches to try to impress the hiring manger. Stay neutral, answer it honestly and succinctly. Perhaps in the line of "Yes, I am interviewing with a few other companies, but I have not yet made any concrete decisions in terms of best fit".

3. Why do you want to leave your current job?

This question is asked to get a sense of potential red flags. Your prospective employer is not going to be very keen on someone who does not work well with others, or job hops easily, or is difficult to teach. Thread carefully here, as this is not the forum to berate others from your current company, no matter whether you think you were the wronged party. Diplomacy is important and respect for your higher authorities is key. Remember that it does not hurt to want to join the prospective company due to exciting opportunities or new learning facets that is unique to the prospective company.

4. Describe yourself in one word

Very very innocuous question, that usually causes some hesitation in candidates - for various reasons. You may be thinking "how do I describe myself in just one word?", "do I say something highly positive - is that being arrogant", "do I say I am funny? is that appropriate?"

The way a candidate answers this question can be very telling to an experienced hiring manager. Its not just the answer itself, but how it was said. The hiring managers are trying to ascertain your personality type , your level of confidence, your perspective of yourself and your fit to the prospective company's culture.

There is usually a fine line between being a brag vs being confident, being too timid vs being humble. Think this question through prior to any interviews, as it will enable you to reflect more carefully on it. This is a tough one, as you have no idea what the interviewer is looking for. Neither do you have a very good sense of the company culture yet. Will they accept "funny" as a positive trait? Or is that going to be the end of the interview.

If you are uncertain, it may be best to err on the side of conservativeness. We are all multi faceted, but pick one that may be most reflective of you, describes you best - without tipping over to anything too controversial.

5. What do you dislike doing most at work?

Finding out what ticks you the wrong way is another personality type question - designed to try and gain knowledge about the hidden values you may have. It is also to find out if what you dislike doing has any relation to the current job or the corporate culture of your prospective employer. Depending on your style, some candidates are able to inject some humour into their answer, but if you can't, then stick to being conservative and inject some positivity into your answer. " I did not enjoy doing all those Powerpoint slides when I first started, but I realised that it may have been because I was not very good at it. With practice, its a lot easier now, and its not too bad after all".

Some people unfortunately view this question as an open window to complain about their past bosses. Do not be tempted to head down this way at all. An interview is never a complain forum.

Interviews can be nerve wracking, but with prep, you can try to be prepared for some of the questions that may be asked. The opportunity for an interview can be difficult to come by, so do prepare yourselves as much as possible, leaving room for yourself to be able to confidently address any other questions that you may not have prepped for.


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