SURVEY SAYS: What's Your Favorite (Trick) Interview Question?

January 20, 2011 ( - This week I asked readers if they had any favorite (perhaps even a “trick”) interview question that you like to use to gain insights about potential job candidate(s).   


Here’s a sampling: 


“What do you want your tombstone to say? 


What questions do you have for me? (for some reason, this catches candidates by surprise…I don’t expect a lot of questions, but you must have ONE!)” 


I’ve started asking candidates to define and explain various benefits acronyms such as PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA.  Some of the answers are quite scary. 


Give me three things about your last company that you’d like to avoid. 


“Tell me about yourself.  (Can the candidate think quickly and come up with a polished answer on the fly?) 


Give me an example of how you handled a difficult and demanding customer/client. (Does the answer tell me this candidate does not have customer service skills?)” 


What could I tell you about this job that would convince you not to take it? 

Not really a trick question, but several hypothetical situations I have used to determine how a person handles personal conflict and works with other people.  Amazing what some people will tell you if you ask!  

What’s the college major you wanted to pursue, but didn’t? 

I ask if there is anything else they would like me to know in considering them as a candidate that none of the questions asked allowed them to put forward.  Am amazed at additional information about achievements, community involvement, or other life (personal and work) motivations and interests that are then put forward. 


Playing dumb always works well. If/how they "correct" me says a lot about a candidate. 


What was the hardest interview question you’ve ever been asked? 


Tell me how other people would describe you as a co-worker. 


What did you not put on your resume that you would really like to have on your resume – and why? 

I like to ask them to describe themselves in three words.  Then when I call their references ask them the same question about the candidate and see if their three words match up.  It's interesting to see how people view themselves compared to their friends/co-workers/boss.  I hardly ever get the same responses. 


Do you know what capitals gains/losses are?  I don't really care if they do, but if I explain to them in simple terms and I can usually tell if they comprehend or not.  If they do, then I know they will be able to probably understand our least the operational aspect. 


I don't have a standard question, but do try to ask some type of leading question that lets me know about the importance of family life vs party life. 

I also asked readers if they wanted to share any thoughts and insights on interviewing, interview questions, inappropriate and/or odd interview questions, or the hiring process in general.  Here’s a sampling:  

The best answer to the tombstone question was, "I won't have a tombstone.  I'm going to be cremated!"  That person did get the job too...and worked out quite well.  

My friend's hair has had a rather noticeable gray shading since age 30. It never came in handy until the "gray-guy" appeared on American Idol. For some reason, ya' think maybe, he was now getting past the front desk, in a manner of speaking. Though it should have been because of his credentials, it would seem that his gray was hot, at least in the early stages of interviewing. I thought ok, cool, he can use all the help he can get. He did land a new opportunity and I hope gray had nothing to do with it. But if the fickle finger of fate had any part in it, I'll take seroius note when I hear that a white-haired stud appears in a couple of years.  

The hiring process is such a crap shoot.  Candidates respond with what they think you want to hear.  What type of employee they turn out to be typically has little to do with how they characterized themselves in the interview process.  It's harder and harder to find anyone with a strong work ethic.  And since you rarely get more than employment dates and salary info from a previous employer, there is no way to truly vet a worker. 


I refuse to consider a candidate who doesn't dress appropriately for an interview - no matter what their experience, references, test results or credentials tell me about the person. 


I learned  a great deal from that boss (my first after college), including what NOT to do in the workplace...especially during job interviews. 


Lot of subjectivity in the selection process is now lost; seems to be an emphasis on standardized tests and matching of education/years of experience to job specs with hiring managers reluctant to step out of the box and hire a great candidate who can close a "paper gap". 



I don't believe one should have to resort to trick questions or a stress interview to gain insights about potential job candidates.  If you use a structured interview process, it should provide reliable and valid results. Ask each and every candidate the same interview questions, and with some skill, this will allow you to fairly compare the candidates to each other.  You start with a yes/no question and follow-up with a series of open-ended questions which probe into the areas more deeply.  These should be questions about the key skills and known success factors of the job.  The follow-up questions are asked to elicit specific examples, to indicate whether the candidate has had specific experience in each skill or not. For example you ask, "have you ever had to juggle multiple projects at one time under deadlines".  If the answer is yes, you follow-up with "tell me about a time when you had to do this, and what projects you were working on", then follow-up with "did you accomplish all of them on time"....and so on until you are satisfied that you have an answer. 



But this week’s Editor’s Choice goes to the reader who noted, “I would love to require candidates to bring in everyone they listed as a reference to the interview.” 


Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey!   

If this has inspired you – or perhaps you missed the survey yesterday – you can still “contribute” at