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Trick questions in job interviews: Beware of the trap

It's no secret that you have a lot of questions to ask yourself in an interview. You can prepare appropriately in advance for a number of these, for example questions about your motivation or your knowledge of the employer of your choice. Other questions, however, are particularly sophisticated. We are talking about the so-called trick questions. The way in which candidates answer them reveals a lot to the HR manager about the applicant's goals, values, motivation and working methods.

Trick questions are anything but popular with applicants, as they offer the chance to catapult yourself into trouble with an inconsiderate answer. We explain to you what is important when it comes to trick questions in a job interview and show you many examples that will help you prepare ...

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

Trick questions: why HR professionals use them

The very term scares some people: ask "FANG" - as if someone wanted to be caught! Sure, they are not completely without, they often even cause stress. But it would also be naive to assume that HR managers have a perfidious pleasure in leading applicants on black ice or making them sweat.

Rather, trick questions are an answer to the certainty in the job interview that applicants naturally try to present themselves from their best side - to advertise themselves. But as with real advertising, it doesn't always have to be authentic. The trick question is supposed to scratch the paintwork, at least to disrupt the concept a little and thus allow a look behind the rehearsed facade.

It doesn't have to be malicious at all, on the contrary: You want to get to know the person behind the applicant and find out whether they really fit together.

The goals of trick questions are: They should allow conclusions to be drawn about ...

  • the motivation
  • the personal values
  • the way of working
  • the professional goals
  • the added value to be provided

... of the applicant.

Trick questions: That's what matters when it comes to the answer

If you are asked one or the other trick question during the interview, you should not immediately assume that the person you are talking to is trying to harm you. It's just about getting to know you and, above all, your personality a little better. This only works if you are lured out of your comfort zone - and that's exactly what trick questions are designed for. The first reaction to a trick question is usually a short, often silent "Oh", because no matter how well the applicant has prepared for the interview, he did not expect this question.

But the perfect answer doesn't matter. Many trick questions don't even exist. Instead, you should follow these three tips.

  • Answer spontaneously. The aim of the question is not to hear any memorized pattern sentences. It is therefore good to prepare yourself for trick questions and to recognize them, but please refrain from having complete answers ready before the conversation, which you then just rewind at the push of a button.
  • Answer honestly. Every applicant wants to convince the recruiter, but you won't succeed if you just try to say what your interlocutor wants to hear from you. Firstly, a good HR manager will notice this attempt immediately and, secondly, you too have an interest in finding out whether you are a good fit for the company.
  • Answer briefly. The further you go into your explanations, the greater the chance that you will gossip or digress. Even if it is not always easy, you should try to be as brief as possible and summarize the most important points concisely.

The most important tip for answers to trick questions

Take your time with the answer. This is not a quiz and the fastest wins nothing. He's even more likely to lose - the chance to give a clever and well-engineered answer. What's more, if you take the time to answer - not even five minutes per question, of course - you show that you are conscientious and that you are really getting involved. Spoilers who use the occasion to play rhetorical arm wrestling with the HR manager only disqualify themselves.

Trick questions: 30 examples to practice with

At this point, I would like to remind you once again: Please do not try to come up with a suitable answer for every trick question. On the one hand, this costs you a lot of time, which you can use in preparing for an interview elsewhere. On the other hand, you do not know beforehand which trick question you will be faced with, as the choice and the possibilities are huge.

Use the examples to practice the interview situation with a friend and to spontaneously answer randomly selected trick questions. This will give you the self-confidence that you can give a good answer spontaneously and you will have a better feeling of what will happen to you in the interview.

  1. How do you know you did a good job?

    The question is tricky because it also reveals whether the candidate is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. Intrinsic applicants tend to use themselves and their own criteria to determine the answer and assessment - extrinsic applicants, on the other hand, base the quality of their results on assessments by colleagues, customers, and superiors. At the same time, the question helps to clarify how well the applicant will later fit into the team or the leadership style of his future superior.

    The question that recruiters repeatedly ask applicants on Facebook also aims in a similar direction: “On your best work day - the day you come home and think you have the best job in the world - what did you do that day ? ”- This is also ultimately about the true passion of the candidate, his innermost motivation.

  2. How would you describe yourself in just one word?

    HR managers are of course also interested in the self-assessment of an applicant, because several pieces of information can be derived from this: Is the candidate self-confident, does his attitude fit into the corporate culture and how does the self-image fit the first impression of the HR manager? This question is particularly difficult because there is only a fine line between self-confidence and arrogance, but also between modesty and shyness.

  3. If you ever leave this company: what should be said of you?

    Very few expect this question, after all, you haven't even started the job yet. Such surprise questions bring many out of the prepared concept and thus ensure more spontaneous and usually more honest answers. In this case, they reveal a lot about whether the applicant is only looking for a job to make a living or a company that suits him and helps him to develop further.

  4. What did you dislike most about your previous job?

    The open question clarifies in an unobtrusive way how the applicant deals with negative situations and anger.

  5. What are you most interested in about this job that is also different from your previous one?

    The question not only has the advantage that it is open - it also forces the applicant to make a concrete and differentiated statement in which he reveals a lot about his interests, his career goals and his last employment.

  6. If you compare your past two or three positions, were you more of a leader or an executor?

    Another open question that also requires confession. Even if most believe that they have to answer with “leader”, you cannot avoid specifying your qualities in this regard.

  7. Which of your previous achievements are you particularly proud of and why?

    The way you describe previous successes also gives an impression of which projects are yours, where your strengths are and how you have used them. But the person you are talking to is just as interested in your behavior during the description. Are you cool and matter-of-fact or do you show emotions when you report on successful projects? In this way, the HR manager gets a further impression of your personality.

  8. How do you feel about being guided?

    At first glance, the question may sound trivial, but it is not: Because it does not correspond to the typical applicant perspective, but rather a management perspective, it subtly clarifies how well and quickly the candidate will later fit into the prevailing corporate culture becomes. However, it is crucial that the interviewee answers in detail.

  9. If you could appear on the cover of a magazine, which magazine would you choose?

    First of all, the question shows how creative the aspirant is - possibly also how vain. At the same time, however, it is possible to find out how the applicant sees himself, what demands he or she makes of himself and where he or she would like to see himself in the future.

  10. Tell me something about yourself that is not on your résumé that helps me differentiate you from other applicants and remind me of you.

    Yes, the question is aggressive and provocative - but that's exactly what an application is about: advertise yourself, be better, stand out, be remembered. So why not shorten the process and get straight to the point?

  11. How are you doing this morning?

    Banal? Not at all! The power of the first impression is emphasized again and again. But what if someone cannot convincingly respond to such a simple offer on the charm offensive? How should someone like that fit into the company from day one, let alone be popular with customers and colleagues?

  12. Have you ever considered starting your own business?

    Employers like to plan their personnel development over the long term. HR professionals are therefore interested in whether you might want to switch to self-employment. This question can become a problem for applicants, as it is not intended to create the impression that they are just waiting for the right opportunity to break away from their employer and take off themselves. At the same time, it shouldn't look as if there are no more professional goals and dreams.

  13. What do you know about our company?

    The nice thing about the question is that it not only taps into specialist knowledge or even clichés, it also shows how intensively the applicant has dealt with his or her future job, how thoroughly he or she has researched. A more open variant of the question is: "Tell me something about our company."

  14. When was the last time you broke the rules and why?

    Everyone has violated (company) rules at some point. So the answer shows how honest the candidate is. At the same time, however, it depends on the context in which this happened and why the person broke the rules. In this way, you can find out whether you are dealing with a notorious troublemaker and loner, a critical moralist or a smart decision-maker.

  15. If you could design your perfect job yourself - what would it look like?

    The question usually first triggers a smile - then beads of sweat on the forehead. Because this shows how reflective someone is with their job, what plans they have and whether they are the driver of their career or, rather, let themselves be drifted.

  16. What will your colleagues here learn from you?

    Ultimately, the question is also aimed at the added value that the “newcomer” adds to the company. But it brings the otherwise more monetary aspect (performance for money) to a social level. The answer also reveals how collaborative the candidate is.

  17. What can this position offer you that your previous one cannot?

    This question clarifies three things. First: Has the applicant done his homework and is he familiar with the company, but especially with the job he is aiming for? Second: What are the true feelings he has towards his previous employer and his previous job content? Third: What are the goals and how realistic are they - compared to the advertised position?

  18. If I were to interview two ex-colleagues - a friend and someone who is not: On which points would they both agree?

    A clever question because it works out how empathic someone is and how well they can deal with other people, empathize with them and at the same time reflect on themselves. A skill that is becoming increasingly important in professional life.

  19. If we hire you now, what's the first thing you will do in the next 90 days?

    This is where it gets down to the nitty-gritty: The question forces the applicant to already imagine the new job and verbalize concrete actions. This provides good indications as to whether he or she will actually succeed in the first 90 days and whether he or she is a good fit for the company.

  20. What would you do if you won the lottery tomorrow?

    This trick question is clearly aimed at your motivation for the job - more specifically, your financial motivations. In short: Are you only doing the job for the money or are you really interested in the new job?

  21. What does integrity mean to you personally?

    Why ask around the bush for a long time or draw vague conclusions from alternative questions? Find out directly which ethical values ​​the candidate represents, how loyal they are and how well they fit into your culture. Another variant of the question goes like this: "Put the following terms in order and explain why - loyalty, integrity, respect." This may even be the most important question of all.

  22. What does a company owe its employees?

    Yes, exactly: this question is very unusual. That is why the answers are usually a bit long in coming. But it forces the interviewee to rethink and think outside the box. In addition, the answer shows what real expectations the person has of the position, what he understands by fairness and what ultimately motivates him.

  23. What do you expect from a company that you want to invest your talent and time in?

    This question also turns the usual application perspective on its head. Usually candidates think about what the company is looking for and try to hit exactly these points and sell them as a service package. An interview (especially the probationary period) is always intended to find out whether both (!) Sides fit together. This is exactly where this question helps. In addition, HR can clarify how stable the subsequent relationship will be. On top of that, it makes salary negotiations easier.

  24. In which of your qualities do you feel misunderstood by other people?

    The question is different from the typical one about your greatest strengths or weaknesses. It aims at a weakness that the person sees very differently - and therefore tells more readily, possibly even more honestly, about it. This can lead to a conversation that illuminates the candidate in a much more balanced way.

  25. What do you want to be when you grow up?

    The question is really tricky - but it is also essential that you emphasize it correctly, otherwise it seems like an insult. Otherwise, however, it encourages very original answers due to the element of surprise. The applicants not only chat more relaxed about themselves, but also usually reveal goals and motivational factors. And it is not uncommon to find out what the candidates think of themselves.

  26. Tell me about the best boss you've ever had.

    The answer clarifies both what someone expects from a manager and what kind of employee he is - how independently he acts, how much freedom he demands, how much responsibility he takes on.

  27. If money didn't matter what would you work for? What would you want to do with your life?

    Another question that forces you to think beyond the horizon. First and foremost, of course, it's about motivational factors. But values ​​and career plans also become apparent. In addition, it shows how determined someone is - that is, whether they are looking at their life in a larger context, reflecting on it and steering towards something.

  28. Can you think of reasons why someone might not enjoy working with you?

    For a harmonious and productive cooperation, the atmosphere in the team must also be right. Of course, the HR manager and your future supervisor want to find out whether you as a person fit into the existing team. On the other hand, there is a simple “No, I can't think of any reasons” for low self-reflection.

  29. What is your biggest concern about this job?

    Not only do you find out how well the candidate is preparing for the job interview, how intensively he has dealt with the position and the company - it also shows what challenges he expects and how he intends to deal with them. Along the way, you can of course find out how open the applicant actually is.

  30. At the very end of the job interview: How would you rate your current interest in this job on a scale from 1 to 10 (10 = maximum)?

    Sure, most of them will answer with 10 so as not to reduce their job opportunities. Here it is then necessary to investigate why the person expresses maximum interest. In all other cases, ask what made him less interested. In this way you not only find out something about the candidate and his motivation - but also about the quality of your vacancies and job interviews.

40 more nasty trick questions

Just got warmed up and feel like asking yourself more nasty trick questions? Then we would have 40 more questions that have already been asked in job interviews. For example:

  • Explain the color red to a blind person.
  • Which are the 30 German DAX companies?
  • What's your personal secret?
  • What did you have for breakfast today?
  • How many calories are there in a supermarket?

Some provocative, others subtle, still others on the verge of legality or quite clever. You can download the list of 40 examples of trick questions here for free:

Download 40 trick questions

[Photo credit: Doppelganger4 by]

Even more interview tips

➠ Job interview: all the tips

Job interview process
➠ Interview preparation
➠ Application questions + answers
➠ Job interview clothes
➠ Introducing yourself
➠ self-presentation
➠ End the interview

Interview types
➠ Second interview
➠ Assessment Center
➠ Stress interview
➠ Job interview English
➠ Video interview
➠ Telephone interview

Typical questions
➠ These 100 questions can come
➠ 25 trick questions + answers
➠ Stress issues
➠ What are your weaknesses?
➠ What are your strengths?
➠ Why should we hire you?
➠ What was your last salary?
➠ Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
➠ Why did you quit?
➠ Inadmissible questions
➠ Inquiries to HR managers

Tips & Tricks
➠ Practice interview
➠ Interview mistakes
➠ White lies in the job interview
➠ body language tips
➠ Overcome nervousness
➠ Where to put your hands?

➠ Confirm the interview
➠ Postpone the interview
➠ Cancel the interview
➠ Cancel the interview
➠ Follow up after the conversation

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October 30, 2020Author: Jochen Mai

Jochen Mai is the founder and editor-in-chief of the career bible. The author of several books lectures at the TH Köln and is a sought-after keynote speaker, coach and consultant.

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