Job Hunt

How To Tackle 5 Trick Interview Questions

Recruiters aren’t looking for correct answers. They’re looking for what the responses say about the job candidate.

5 min read

You’ve researched the company thoroughly, connecting with internal sources on social platforms and at networking events. You’ve identified an open position that matches your skills and experience, tailored your resume to highlight your qualifications for the role, and even got one of those internal sources to forward it to the hiring manager along with a referral.

Now comes the hard part: the interview. And the initial interview is the easiest one to get and the hardest one to ace. Though it is tempting to dismiss such trick interview questions as “What are your biggest strengths?” as frivolous filler, recruiters ask these broad, open-ended questions for a reason: to see how you think and learn more about what you could do for them.

“A lack of self-awareness is a major red flag.”

Indeed, the first interview is more than a pro forma review of credentials—it is actually the meeting that recruiters consider the most important for determining a given candidate’s fit with the company’s culture and existing staff and how they will influence those factors, as well as the business.

Yet many job candidates still fall victim to such questions, blabbering on about a particular accolade or feeling uncomfortable answering a question that feels like you’re bragging. Below are five of the most common interview trick questions and how job candidates can frame their responses.

How do you define success?

This question helps the recruiter judge fit. Do your ambitions and approach to succeeding match the organization’s culture? Obviously, if you define success as making a lot of money but the salary range for the position is mid-tier for the organization, then it’s a bad fit. Phyllis Mufson, a career coach who has run college job and outplacement centers, notes that this question also helps judge if candidates have an “I” or “we” mentality. She suggests a response that can demonstrate your particular role in a collaborative way and relate it to how those skills can help the organization.

What is your biggest weakness?

It’s one of the most cringe-worthy questions. But recruiters ask this question to see if candidates are self-aware, says Barry Drexler of Expertinterviewcoach.com. A lack of self-awareness is a major red flag in terms of a candidate’s manageability and collaborative skills. And too often, responses to this question are framed as a #humblebrag, such as “I sometimes take too long reviewing projects because I’m very detail-oriented.” Candidates think this is a clever response, when really it’s more harmful because it comes across as glib. Drexler advises clients to state the weakness clearly and concisely, and follow up with what you are doing to fix it—and what results you are achieving.

What is the biggest failure you’ve been a part of?

This is another “company fit” question designed to gauge whether you own up to your mistakes or not. What interviewers pay attention to is not the failure itself but what you learned from it. Today’s working world requires a tolerance for risk and a certain comfort with failure. Mufson tells her clients to structure their responses using the CAR method: State the challenge, what action you took to remedy it, and what results emerged.

Why are you looking to leave your current job?

The best time to look for a job is when you have a job. That’s true for everyone except the recruiter, who needs to understand the real motivation precipitating the move. “They want to know you’re leaving for the right reasons, that they can offer you what you’re not getting now, and that you have a solid grasp on your career ambitions,” says Drexler, who adds that just as important as what you say is how you say it—with relaxed body language and a confident demeanor. Recruiters also use this question to gauge professionalism, so obviously don’t trash your current company, manager, or role. Instead, frame your response in a way the links what the new company and you can offer each other.

Why are you looking to change careers, and why should we take on that risk?

With the average millennial worker switching jobs every three years—equal to holding more than a dozen positions over their working lives—this question is becoming more and more common. Clearly there is inherent risk for a recruiter in hiring an unknown candidate from an outside industry. That, combined with the fact that you will be going up against both internal and external candidates with more experience, already puts you at a major disadvantage. To jump those hurdles, experts suggest addressing the risk recruiters are taking head on by showing them, with data and anecdotes where possible, that you have the experience, character, and translatable skills necessary for success. It also helps to have done your homework on the new company and position by attending networking events or by sharing your insights on the industry at hand.

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