Is That a Gotcha Question?

It’s hard to know how to respond when an interviewer makes a cryptic comment about your appearance or character or asks a loaded question about politics or other controversial subjects. IT professionals often seek advice and solace from their colleagues on the Dice Discussion board, following an encounter with an interview landmine. It’s possible the interviewer simply misspoke, failed to communicate clearly or made an insensitive remark, but it’s also possible that he or she is testing your confidence, composure and assessing your ability to handle a difficult situation. If you feel trapped during an interview, here are some ways to handle the situation.

Clarify First

Give the interviewer the benefit of the doubt, especially if the interview is going smoothly. Simply ask him to rephrase his question or clarify his comment before responding. Once he expounds or rephrases, the comment may not end up being as brash as it initially sounded.

Sidestep landmines

If the interviewer makes a political comment, or shares an opinion about a controversial or edgy topic, you can sidestep the issue by acknowledging his opinion but not sharing your views. Simply say that’s interesting or I know a lot of people who feel the same way. Asking why he feels that way or if others in the IT department share his views is a good diversionary tactic, which may also give you some insight into the company culture.

Evade with humor

Sometimes a little humor can diffuse a tense situation. By acknowledging that you are vying for a job offer and that sharing your opinion could jeopardize your chances; the manager may let you off the hook and give you bonus points for poise and quick wit.

Push back

Sometimes you need to push back or counter an interviewer’s statement, in an emotionally controlled and respectful manner. If the manager makes a negative comment about your skills, appearance or character, state that you respectfully disagree before offering a defense. Remember to pick your battles and don’t be argumentative, but if you think the interviewer is testing your mettle, don’t be afraid to display your courage.

— Leslie Stevens-Huffman