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Candidate Help & Advice

Don’t Let Gotcha! Job Interview Questions Getcha!

Interview Question photo from ShutterstockA hiring manager for a Fortune 500 company has just posted a mid-level position she needs to fill. Soon, she can expect the job applications to start rolling in with a vengeance. Hundreds, and perhaps even thousands of them, depending upon the position! Her challenge at that point? To reduce, as quickly and as efficiently as possible, the number of viable applicants to a much more manageable size. A daunting task, to be sure.

Let the potential candidate elimination phase begin! And one of the tactics many hiring managers employ today to accomplish that task includes the use of what I refer to as Gotcha! questions!

Here are some examples of Gotcha! questions:

  • “Why are you considering leaving your current position?”
  • “How would you feel about relocating to take this position, if you are the candidate I choose for the job?”
  • “How well do you get along with your current boss?”

Now, on the surface, most of these types of questions certainly can seem to be very relevant to the position under consideration. Plus, most also seem to be relatively “innocent,” run-of-the-mill type interview questions that most job candidates would feel they could easily answer. Don’t you be fooled. An ill-thought-out answer to such questions can, and quite often does, cause a candidate to be eliminated on the spot! Let me give you an example—from our own job candidate files, no less!—of what I’m talking about here by referring to just one of the example Gotcha! questions above.

A TRUE Story (Although I wish it weren’t!)

A candidate our recruiting firm, The HTW Group (Hire to Win), presented on a position we were filling for one of our hiring company clients was nearing the end of a face-to-face job interview with a hiring manager. She was feeling very relaxed, comfortable and quite confident at that point because she felt she had been able to establish a great deal of rapport with the hiring manager. Then the hiring manager asked her this question:

“Tell me, why would you consider leaving your current position, where you seem to be doing quite well, and travel halfway across the country to take this position, if I select you for this position?”

Fair question, she thought, and one she said she believed she could easily answer with complete honesty. Here is how she answered the question:

“Well, you strike me as being someone who genuinely values honesty, so I am going to be totally honest with you here. Woman to woman. I just recently learned that my husband has been cheating on me and the farther away I can get from him the better. This position, which I feel I am fully qualified for, as well as one I know I would absolutely love, would allow me to do just that.”

The candidate’s “fate”? You guessed it, she was eliminated from further consideration. Not, however, because she had the audacity to tell the truth. The hiring manager told me over the phone after the interview that the candidate’s answer raised all kinds of “red flags” for her and that she would have to pass on an otherwise excellent candidate. She said simply couldn’t take the risk of hiring someone who apparently was so weighed down with marital problems.

But wait, you might be saying at this point, isn’t honesty—total honesty—always the best policy? In most endeavors, yes, honesty is the best policy. But when it comes to a job interview, another admonition takes precedence: “Discretion is the better part of valor.” That is, just as is the case in any interpersonal encounter, at least during the early stages, you always want to lead off with your best foot, leaving “total honesty” for the latter stages of any personal relationship that may develop.

Gotcha! Questions can Come at Any Time During Interview

Gotcha! questions can—and do!—come at any stage during a job interview, too, at the beginning, the middle, or even as the interview is winding up. So, you must be on your toes throughout the entire interview to be able to effectively field such questions and thereby stay in the game.

How can you adequately prepare to field Gotcha! questions during a job interview? Easy answer here: The same way you should prepare for any job interview:

Let me close the loop on this post by providing you just one example of how our candidate should have answered the hiring manager’s question about moving halfway across the country to take a new job:

“Well, I won’t deny that such a move is a little bit scary. (Followed here by a little, nervous laugh?) But I believe this is a great career opportunity and the next logical step for me. This is a great company with great products, and I can promise that, with my qualifications and experience, I can make a significant contribution from day one, if I become your candidate of choice.”

Would an answer like this have compromised her integrity, or demonstrated a lack of honesty on her part? Of course not! She should have chosen to keep her personal life personal. Certainly it had no place in the job interview. Indeed, this answer would have branded her as a true professional, as someone who always takes the high ground and has something of significant value to offer to a potential employer. It definitely would have allowed her to stay in the game at that point. It definitely would have guaranteed that she wouldn’t have been among the many other candidates vying for the same position who also allowed themselves to be “gotten” by Gotcha! questions!


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