Trick questions

Published on Jan 23, 2023 by Matt Bud, The FENG

Now that the job market may be slowing down again, I thought we should turn our attention to the favorite trick questions that interviewers like to ask. In the spirit of sharing our knowledge and experience, I would ask those of you who have your favorites to send them in, hopefully with a good answer.

If you don’t have a good answer to your “trick question,” send it in anyway. If need be, we will put it out to a panel of our experts.

The all-time favorite is, of course, why did you leave your last job? Inquiring minds have a right to know I suppose, but if there was ever a question that financial folks tend to do badly with, it is this one. Most of the explanations I hear are much too long and go into far too much detail.

I am always tempted to “crack wise” and say “they stopped paying me” or “they locked me out of my office,” but in a serious interview that may not be a good idea.

The key is to be brief but at the same time to give a correct answer. (You can’t afford to be caught in a lie.) If there was a significant reduction in force, you can leave it at that. It happens often enough that you really don’t need to go into details, as tempted as you may be.

If the parent company in Germany eliminated the corporate headquarters operation for US operations and that is where you worked, your explanation is also finished. No need to go into details about others who were also eliminated.

As they say on those courtroom dramas, “question asked, question answered.”

Another frequent trick question is “How long have you been out of work and why has it taken you so long to find another job?” My strong temptation is to say “I have been out of work for an eternity because no one has offered me a job,” but, again, this is probably not a good approach.

On the other hand, a detailed account of what you have been doing day by day and the interviews you have been on and why you didn’t get those jobs, is also not a good approach.

At the very least, just the number of months preceded by the word about, and a positive statement that you have been looking for a job with very specific parameters (that coincidentally happens to fit the job you are currently interviewing for) may satisfy the interviewer and deliver a positive message.

Again, be brief. The more you talk, the more likely you will say something that can later be used against you. (Although, not in a court of law.)

Interviews are brief periods of time. To make the most of each precious moment, learn to deflect trick questions so that you can allocate more time to the important stuff, like how you can help this potential employer deliver greater profits or reduce costs.

With these two examples, let’s have at it. Your messages should go to [email protected] Be sure to let Leslie know if you want your name used.

You will also find a file of examples on our website under Resources, Documents Library, Other Documents. Scroll down. It is the last file in the list.

Regards, Matt