Most interview questions are innocuous: they’re meant to evaluate whether you’re right for the job, and whether this company could be the next and best place for you. But some of the questions you’re asked, experts tell us, have a slightly more nefarious purpose: they are meant to trip you up by confusing you, catching you in a fib, or showing you’re unprepared.
But you don’t have to be tripped up by these tricky questions. Here are five you should look out for during your next interview, and the best ways to answer them, according to experts.
1. What’s your dream job?
According to Steve Pritchard, human resources manager at Cuuver, this question may seem innocent, but it’s “asked by many hiring managers to deliberately trip up a candidate.” Of course, there is an element of curiosity involved, as the recruiter or manager may want to see if you have a clear career path in mind—but he or she may also be asking to see if you are “firing off applications for any job you see listed,” Pritchard warns. “If the latter is true, it suggests that this candidate may just be desperate for a job, so it’s best to have a defined answer that is relevant to the role you’ve applied for at that company.” He adds, “having a dream job that has nothing to do with the available position suggests to the interviewer that you might not stick around very long and that you will just treat this role as a pit stop.”
2. Tell me about a time you succeeded at work—and a time you failed.
Yes, the interviewer is genuinely interested in your stories of success and your ability to be honest about any failures. But he or she also wants to find out if you came prepared, says Keith R. Sbiral, a certified professional coach with Apochromatik. In other words, he or she is trying to find out if “you contemplated what might be asked during this interview and if you have gone through the critical review of your own qualifications, successes, and most importantly, your failures,” he explains. “So often applicants are simply are not prepared or only answer the positive half of the question, and they really miss an opportunity.” Be sure to “start with a clearly defined time you failed,” Sbiral advises. “Explain what you learned from it. Explain how you addressed the issue. And then flip to your positive success story.”
3. You’ve described yourself as X in your application. Explain why.
“Some interviewers really scrutinize candidates down to the smallest word on their CV or application,” Pritchard warns. “If, for example, you said that you are tenacious, then don’t be surprised if you’re asked to give a real-life example in which you demonstrated this characteristic in your career.” The moral of the story? Don’t exaggerate your skill set or invent traits you don’t possess. An interviewer may be looking to catch you in a lie. “If you say that you are a problem solver, then be sure you have at least one instance in your career history where you were able to solve an actual problem,” Pritchard says. “This will show that you haven’t lied—and also that you can walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”
4. Why are you looking for a new job?
You can almost guarantee you’ll be asked this question at any job interview. “Whether you’ve already left your last position or are just putting the feelers out for a new job, this question has been a staple in interviews for years,” says Pritchard. “On the surface, this is a very obvious, common question. However, the question can be very damaging to your credibility if you use this as your trigger to bad mouth your current or former employer.” And that, Pritchard says, “is the subliminal reason behind this question: if you launch into a tirade about former jobs, it puts you in a very negative light. It suggests that you have a bad attitude, are not a team player, and could be disruptive.” So no matter what, when you’re asked this question, “you should omit anything that might sound like you’re slating your last position,” Pritchard says. “There is nothing wrong with saying innocent comments like ‘there’s no real room for progression,’ or ‘I’m looking for something more challenging or in line with my career path,’ but steer away from the name bashing and personal problems. This means you can answer the interviewer’s question without airing your dirty laundry.”
5. Is there anything that we should have asked you but we haven't?
“This is a question that, in my experience, 75 percent of people get tripped up on,” warns Sbiral. That may be due, in part, to confusion. “They think the interviewer is asking if you have any questions,” Sbiral says, “but they are not. They are asking you if you have anything else to add.” If you come prepared, this question doesn’t have to trip you up—instead, it can be a chance to shine. “This is a freebie,” says Sbiral, “an opportunity to add something they didn't cover. I like to hear a well refined answer as to why I—as a hiring manager—should know that you as the interviewee are the right fit for the position.” In other words, “worry less about credentials at this point and more about organizational fit,” Sbiral recommends.