Posted on 28 February 2012

P.S. *ALL* Interview Questions Can Trick You (If You’re Not Honest)

Forbes’ Jenna Goudreau wrote a piece featured on Yahoo this morning titled: “Watch Out! 10 Interview Questions Designed to Trick You“.  Well, I have news for you:

All interview questions are capable of tricking you. (Though not in the dastardly way that you might think from this article.)

The article quotes heavily from Joyce Lain Kennedy, author of Job Interviews For Dummies, and outlines the following 10 interview questions designed to “quickly eliminate a less qualified candidate.”

  1. Why have you been out of work so long, and how many others were laid off?
  2. If employed, how do you manage time for interviews?
  3. How did you prepare for this interview?
  4. Do you know anyone who works for us?
  5. Where would you really like to work?
  6. What bugs you about coworkers or bosses?
  7. Can you describe how you solved a work or school problem?
  8. Can you describe a work or school instance in which you messed up?
  9. How does this position compare with others you’re applying for?
  10. If you won the lottery, would you still work?

In the article, you can read thorough descriptions of why these are minefields and dangerous questions, and how to avoid the pain of answering these “wrong”.  Yet, while I can understand where these are coming from (and think it could be reasonable advice) I have two major beefs with the premise this article is built on:

  • First, this article comes from the position that interviewers don’t really care about finding someone who is a great fit for the company but, rather, someone who can navigate the incredible mental high-wire act of a psychological interview process so engineered that you’re doomed to fail.
  • Second, this article supposes that, by massaging your answers away from the honest truth (read: spin) you can somehow succeed through these interviews rather than fail.

The advice itself isn’t bad, per se, but if the candidate comes from the opinion that they need to avoid minefields in interviews and spin themselves through trick-question-laden traps, two inevitable results are bound to occur:

  1. When you’re constantly trying to avoid saying “the wrong thing”, you will come across as sly, conniving and somehow untruthful.  Feedback forms will read: “Candidate is too polished.” and “Apparently, they’ve never made any mistakes.” and “I think they are hiding something.” and “I’m not able to put my finger on it… but there’s just something off about this candidate… do not hire.”
  2. When you’re constantly trying to answer a question “the right way”, you will come across as somehow unable to connect with the interviewers. Terse. Hesitant or even confused about revealing who you really are. Feedback forms will read: “Didn’t really seem sure of them-self and where they are headed.” and “Seemed more interested in impressing me than anything else.” and “Candidate seemed to contradict themself, as if they were only trying to tell me what I wanted to hear.” and “Seems like a nice person overall, but not sure they will get along with the team.” and, the kicker, “Didn’t disagree with anything and doesn’t seem to think independently. The last thing I need on my team is more yes-men… do not hire.

At the end of the day, if you’re not able to be honest with the job interviewer (and with yourself) about who you are, what you do really well (and what you don’t) and what gets you electrified in the mornings to get up and get to work, you will never be hired for that elusive “dream job” where you actually get electrified in the mornings… you will be hired to do mediocre jobs for mediocre managers where giving “the right answer” is more important than truth-telling and passionate, results-driven work.

Your choice, but I am telling you to RUN AND HIDE from companies that think mental acrobatics are worthy interview tactics or where polish is more appreciated in an interview than passion.

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