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Do you have the chops for the job?

Engineer Planning Project With CNC Machinery In Background


Handling tough and trick questions with confidence goes a long way toward demonstrating that you are the best solution to the hiring manager’s needs.

You might be curious about which questions are the tough ones. The easy answer is all of the ones you are uncomfortable answering. These may include questions such as, “Tell me about yourself,” Why are you leaving your current company? and Have you ever been fired?”

A good interviewer looks for red flags and probes for more information, sometimes with a simple request to “tell me more.”

The stakes get higher as your progress to second- and final-round interviews when hiring managers ask questions that delve more deeply into your motivation for changing jobs, your family’s support for a position that requires relocating, and your relationship with co-workers, managers and subordinates.

One of my clients was passed over for a promotion a few years ago. She was worried that she would be asked to explain this during an interview. She felt like she had a neon light on her forehead that said “Please don’t ask me about the promotion I didn’t get.”  Her pre-occupation with this issue was affecting her self-confidence and would have hurt her during interviews.

She and I talked through the situation. We discovered that she could truthfully answer that the outside candidate who was hired had a very specific skill. The hiring manager, a vice president, felt the skill was one that was missing from the overall leadership team and so hired the outside candidate. On the plus side, despite not being selected for the position, she earned an immediate 18 percent salary increase in support of her unique skills. She realized that this valuable information should also be shared in her response to questions about the promotion.

Trick questions are also tough but in a different way. They are designed to test your ability to think on your feet, evaluate your problem-solving style, and determine your tolerance for ambiguity. They provide insight into how you operate.

An interviewer is not necessarily looking for the “right” answer but rather for an understanding of how you approach problems.

When faced with challenging technical, business or interpersonal problems, how you go about finding solutions will have a tremendous impact on your ultimate success or failure.

For example, when faced with a situation requiring good judgment and critical thinking is your thought process flawed or fluid? Are you easily discouraged or able to persevere when the right choice isn’t obvious? Are you frustrated when things don’t go your way or energized by the challenge? Do you favor logic over creativity or vice versa?

Some companies build trick questions into the framework of their interview process. Before the interview do your due diligence.  Check with your network and online web sources to identify the company’s interview strategy. Look for examples of typical questions so you aren’t caught off guard. While you can’t anticipate exactly what you may be asked, you can review typical questions and think through your process for responding to them.

When faced with what appears to be a tough or trick question, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. Take time to contemplate the question, and then use your creativity and critical thinking skills to tackle the problem.


Not sure where to start? Take advantage of a 2-hour Career Action Planning session to get to the heart of your job or career issue.

© 2016 Mary Jeanne Vincent.  All rights reserved.