Job interviewers love their trick questions. Whether hitting you with a difficult technical problem or merely asking about your biggest weakness, there’s no end of curveballs they can throw as part of the interview process.
While they might sometimes seem needlessly sadistic, “trick” interview questions often serve a very important purpose for the interviewer. Because many don’t have a “right” answer, they provide insight into a candidate’s thinking process. Here are a few that interviewers love to throw out there:
‘Why Do You Want to Leave Your Current Job?’
This is a question that frequently trips up candidates. If you openly express dissatisfaction with your current position, it could send up a red flag to your potential employer. Instead of venting about how much your dislike your current boss or hate the project you’re working on, focus on the future. “I want to leave my current job because I’m looking for a new challenge,” is a good answer. You could also cite your prospective employer’s exciting work as the prime reason for a potential jump.
‘Tell Us About a Conflict You Had With a Boss/Colleague.’
As with the previous question, this one trips up candidates who see it (wrongly) as an opportunity to badmouth others. Above all, the interviewer wants insights into how you deal with conflict and resolve issues; when answering the question, leave out names, keep the description of the conflict as short and broad as possible, and really drill down into how you solved it. Flip things as positively as possible.
‘Name Your Biggest Weaknesses.’
This is the trick question for which nearly everybody prepares, but not everybody prepares well. Telling the interviewer that you work too hard, or that you give up too much to the job, is such a cliché that it’s appeared as a joke on The Simpsons at least once. In a bid to keep the question fresh, sometimes interviewers will phrase it a different way, such as, “How would your previous employer define your greatest weakness?” or, “What do you most need to improve?”
First, pick a real weakness—and choose one that won’t impact your potential new job. (For example, if you’re a developer, don’t tell the interviewer that you can’t type; it’d be the equivalent of a candidate for a librarian job saying he or she doesn’t read.) With every sentence, focus on how you’re taking proactive steps to mitigate that weakness. If your big vulnerability is an inability to manage, for example, describe a recent experience where you managed effectively, using skills you’ve learned in your attempt at self-improvement.
Whatever trick question an interviewer might throw at you, remember to keep positive. More than anything else, that sort of attitude will help see you through.