Beware the Interview Ambush

interview trap

As a recruiter I am always trying to get past the information on the resume, which is the sanitized, neatly organized version of reality.

I have a set of questions I ask to penetrate beneath the surface.  Here are 4 favorite ‘nail biters’ with an explanation of what the questions are really probing, and how to answer them.

Have you ever had problems with a manager?

Of course you’ve had problems with a manager.  Everyone at some point in their career runs across a manager they can’t relate to, or worse yet, can’t get along with. But that isn’t the point of this question. This isn’t open season to rant about the ex-boss who made you work every weekend, or stole credit for your ideas. Your focus should be on the steps you took to make this difficult relationship workable, and the positive outcomes that resulted for the company from your efforts.

Of all the people you met with today, which one should go?

Your interviewer is not looking for guidance on who should clear out their desk to make room for you. This question is testing how well you think on your feet and how you manage difficult situations. Whatever you do, do not name a name — even if your interviewer presses you hard to choose.  Instead, turn this question around and talk about who on the team you would pick for a strategy/ marketing/ sales/ technical/ etc. project, making it clear that each person you met is valuable in their own right.

Where else are you interviewing?

The purpose of this question is to understand how focused you are and how committed you are to the type of role you are interviewing for. If you are interviewing at a start-up and you mention that your other 4 opportunities are all at Fortune 500 companies, you’ll likely lose points. Try to mention opportunities that reinforce your interest in the particular position you’ve applied for. If that’s not possible, because you are interviewing for very different types of positions, then leave the response vague and high level.

Are you more of a doer or a thinker?

This is another trick question. Obviously, we all think and we all do things. While you may be tempted to answer THINKER, take special care. In my business, EXECUTION ability is paramount (though in combination with critical thinking skills.)

Never blurt out the first thing that comes into your head. Give yourself some mental space to clarify your thinking and answer these questions mindfully. These questions are loaded with pitfalls and are designed to trip you up, shedding deeper insights into who you are as a person, and how you react in stress situations.

About the Author

Elena Bajic is the founder and CEO of Ivy Exec, a selective online career network for top performers.