Be Aware of These Tricky Interview Questions

John Krautzel
Posted by in Career Advice


Experienced hiring managers are adept at unearthing hidden weaknesses and personal details about you without stepping outside ethical lines. Interview questions that seem straightforward are often designed to make you reveal how you think and share information that hiring managers cannot directly request. To avoid blunders and make a positive impression, find out what employers really want to know when asking these tricky interview questions.

1. Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Hiring managers want to weed out job seekers who are desperate, indifferent or materialistic, and this clever interview question can reveal deep-set motivations and priorities. Employers are interested in how well you researched the company and whether you are passionate about the specific job or ready to settle for anything. They want to recruit professionals who bring the most value to the company, and employees who only care about money and benefits aren't likely go the extra mile to solve problems or contribute to the team.

With this in mind, focus on highlighting the strong points of the company and personal goals or qualities that make you compatible. Make it clear that rewarding work and a constructive environment come before your salary concerns, and avoid mentioning bad experiences that prompted you to leave previous jobs.

2. How Would You Describe Yourself?

This dreaded interview question — and the common variant "tell me about yourself" — has thwarted job seekers for decades because it encourages you to overshare about your personal life. Hiring managers are evaluating how you see yourself and your understanding of the job duties, but they're also fishing for details that would otherwise remain private, such as family status, age, culture or hobbies.

Instead of talking about your family, weekend plans or 30 years of experience, deliver an elevator pitch that sums up your value proposition. Describe what you're most known for, such as recovering lost customers, and the techniques or strengths you use to accomplish goals.

3. Why Were You Unemployed for So Long?

Despite years of economic downturn that put many skilled professionals out of work, hiring managers remain biased against unemployed workers. They want to make sure your lack of work was a choice and not the result of outdated skills or low motivation. Preparing for this interview question helps you remain composed and avoid appearing nervous or frustrated when confronted with it.

In you answer, emphasize the steps you have taken to keep your skills current and your priority in finding the right fit. Employers want candidates who make decisions based on clear standards and goals rather than desperation, so try to provide an upfront reason whenever possible. For example, say "I took time off for family reasons, and I'm now ready to commit myself to a full-time career again." Mention any coursework, volunteering or trade organizations you have used to stay in touch with industry trends.

Effective hiring managers frequently have multiple motives when asking interview questions, making it essential to pay attention to the image you project to others. Answers that don't reinforce the benefits of hiring you are wasted opportunities, so make sure there's a strong selling point in every statement you make.


Photo courtesy of MindField Group at Flickr.com

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Rene Coutu thanks for your comment. Wow -what a terrible company! You are absolutely right! Never sell yourself short for any job. Good for you for standing strong and for keeping the documentation necessary to handle this situation. All the best.

  • Rene Coutu
    Rene Coutu

    I had a very difficult interview where the manager had cancelled repeatedly (2 times) and after my mentioning it Blew up on me. What I didn't know was that he had managed a contract that he had signed me to after knowing that he had lost the client and would be out of the facility in less than 30 days. He was belligerent to pay my staffing company for my hours claiming that I was never given the contract. I in turn sent my staffing company an email from him containing active directory temporary credentials and had pretty much proved him to be a liar Which made him to look unprincipled. I'm glad that the second interview went the way it did, I won't sell myself short to work for an individual that is like that!

  • daphne r.
    daphne r.

    This information was very much needed. Thank you!

  • Suzanne D.
    Suzanne D.

    Vet helpful. Thanks.

  • Rachel G.
    Rachel G.

    Excellent article. It was insightful and helpful. Thank you!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Gregory B thanks for your question. I don't know why they ask this question! Most of don't think five years down the road. All we want now is a job! But some of us know exactly what we want and where we want to be so just sit down and think about where you might see yourself. Do you want to be a supervisor of your division? Say that. Do you want to be a VP or something higher - tell him and tell him why. All of us have ambitions and dreams. To me, that's what the "where do you want to be in X years" means. How did you answer it?

  • gregory b.
    gregory b.

    How about the question: where do you want (or expect) to be in five (or any number) years?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Giselle M thanks for your comment. You tell the truth. If you are out of work because you just can't find work, then you say that. You tell them that you have been job searching and interviewing but have not landed a position yet. Maybe others will disagree but I think that honesty is the best policy and that they will appreciate you telling them that rather than weaving some tale about school or a sick family member, etc.

  • Giselle M.
    Giselle M.

    But what do you say in an interview if you are out of work simply because the economy is tough rather than because you had a child, travelled, went to school or took care of a family member?

  • Cynthia M.
    Cynthia M.

    Great advise, covered these questions in my college course

  • Lynnette O.
    Lynnette O.

    Thank you this help the individual to answer the question without emphasizes nothing more or less. .

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @John Quinn thanks for your comment. How terrible that a company would do that. I wonder how they would have reacted if you had just stood up, said thank you and walked out the door. Shoot - you may have gotten the job! Just kidding. Truly unprofessional of them and yes you are better off not working there. If they were that cold and unprofessional during the interview, how do you think they would be on a day-to-day basis if you were to be hired? Have to really think about that. Sure, we all want a job but what good does it do to take a job only to quit shortly afterwards because it's a terrible place to work?

  • John Quinn
    John Quinn

    I recently had an Interview with a prestigious Healthcare Organization. I was called in 3 months after I applied. They brought me to a Room and sat me down at a conference Table and made me wait for 20 minutes until three Women walked in an introduced themselves. Then they proceeded to read questions off of a script and take notes about my answers. It was the most horrible interview experience I ever had. When I left and got home I sent each of them an email thanking them for their time. I never even got a read receipt to my in box. How unprofessional and cold. Maybe im better off not working there. ps I am more qualified than any of the interviewers were.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Barbara W thanks for your comment. Did you follow up after the interview? Send a thank you note? I would call and ask the status of your application and see if anyone will tell you why you did not get the position. It would be a shame if that were the case.

  • Barbara W.
    Barbara W.

    Thank you for the tips, will keep them in mind. I recently attended an interview and was very honest about the bad experience i had at my previous job. Looks like that is the reason i was turned down.

  • NADEEM K.
    NADEEM K.

    Thank you, I have a phone interview scheduled for this Friday, I'll keep these points handy.

  • Daryl D.
    Daryl D.

    This was solid advice. I'm in favor of all three points.

  • Will C.
    Will C.

    Thank you 😊! I will keep this in mind as I am anticipating an interview popping up soon

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Ittamveetil chandrasekharan thanks for your comment. Hopefully that is not the answer that you give in an interview! You could work at any company but they want to know what it was about their company that made you apply. If you answer "to earn an income", interview over! We always recommend that you research the company, know about it so that you know if you really want to work in there. To answer with to earn income just shows desperation and that never comes across in a positive light. So you need to answer why with something more substantial such as I like the direction that your company is heading in regards to...(fill in the blank). Let them know that you researched them. That you found out that the larger percentage of employees love the company and love their jobs, etc. You get the idea. All the best.

  • Ittamveetil chandrasekharan
    Ittamveetil chandrasekharan

    why you want to work here, answer to earn an income

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Michelle Brizendine thanks for your comment. You will be asked this same question in most interviews. Not sure why they do this - maybe they feel that this is an "ice-breaker" type of question to get you to relax and talk about yourself. There are so many articles on the internet that can help you with this. Here is just one: https://www.themuse.com/advice/a-simple-formula-for-answering-tell-me-about-yourself. Hope that helps. If not, just type in how to answer the question "tell me about yourself" and you will get thousands of responses. Get an idea from those and then write your own answer. Write it down and then practice it prior to an interview. @Yanno B - sadly you are right. We do not interact with each other anymore - we send emails and texts without any real human touch or conversation. I think that's up to us to set the example. When you get an email from a colleague, instead of answering it back, get up and go to that person and respond to their question. Lead by example. Maybe the next time that colleague has a question, they will come to your desk to ask instead of sending an email. Honestly, we have no one to blame but ourselves for allowing us to take those 2000 steps in the wrong direction!

  • MICHELLE BRIZENDINE
    MICHELLE BRIZENDINE

    For the question, "Tell me about yourself", (that I recently choked on) what exactly are the interviewers looking for? I don't have a high perception of my role, so should I say what others describe me to be?

  • YANNO B.
    YANNO B.

    We have gone 100 steps forward in great technology, , but sadly 2000 steps back in human relation of interacting with one another and giving people a chance to learn and grow within the company.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Joerg thanks for your comment. I think that your answer is perfect. How does it come across to the interviewer? Do they ask any follow-up questions?

  • Joerg D.
    Joerg D.

    Another tricky interview question ; "Do you prefer to work individually or as a member of a team?" What's a good answer? If I know the nature of the position, I might know what the right answer is. (I can argue it either way.) I used this answer once: "I see good results coming from teamwork, with each team member contributing what he/she is good at. However, the reality of the modern workplace is that we often have to work solo and handle all aspects of a project." Your thoughts?

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