Can You Answer This CEO’s Favorite Interview Question (That Everyone Gets Wrong)?
Before your next interview, heed the advice of 16 CEOs and business leaders and learn how to answer the tricky questions that stump everyone.
Be prepared for anything
A job interview is an incredibly stressful situation, and that’s before your potential employer throws a curveball at you. That’s right: There’s more to know than these 8 common questions you need to be prepared for. Correctly answering a tricky question that’s designed to be tricky can be a sink-or-swim moment for hopeful job applicants dreaming of landing a new, well-paying gig. It can seem impossible to do that in the moment, but it isn’t—not if you know the questions that may be coming and have some insider information on what you should and shouldn’t say. Here is the infamous interview question the CEO of Duolingo asks, along with 15 other tricky questions that CEOs and business leaders spring on candidates, and smart advice that will help you ace the answers.
What would someone who doesn’t like you tell us about you?
Because no one knows you quite like your enemies, the CEO of Doulingo, Luis Von Ahn, asks this tricky interview question to all prospective employees. As you might imagine, the wrong answer is that everybody likes you. According to Von Ahn, that shows you’re either unrealistic, lying, or clueless. Another big no-no? Blaming other people for misunderstanding you and not taking responsibility for your actions. Instead, be honest (with your potential employer and also yourself), and try your best to explain something you need to improve upon. For example, maybe you sometimes get short with people during crunch times, which, Von Ahn says, is common and understandable. Just make sure to keep your answer short and simple, without sugarcoating your flaw or getting defensive. That’s also good to keep in mind when answering the question, “So, tell me about yourself.“
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
In general, the truth will serve an applicant better than saying anything simply to please the interviewer, says Pratibha Vuppuluri, chief blogger at She Started It!, an online resource guide for working moms. Regarding this tricky interview question, Vuppuluri would like to hear an answer along the lines of: “In five years, I see myself as team leader.” Why? “This may sound too aspirational for some, but for me, it’s being honest with your personal career goals,” she explains. Additionally, it’s not necessary to commit yourself to that particular company by saying, “I still see myself working here,” because nobody really knows if they will still be in the same place in five years’ time. Another good rule of thumb: Never say these 10 words in a job interview.
How do you see yourself contributing to this company?
It sounds simple, but it can definitely trip people up. But that’s not why Jeremy Ong, founder and CEO of the personal-finance blog HUSTLR, asks this question to all potential job candidates. The best answer he has received to date is: “If you want me to perform my role at its best, I would like to have a lot of autonomy and less micromanagement. I would like a company that judges me based on the impact that I bring to the table, not by the hours I sit at my desk.” He believes this is the perfect answer because it demonstrates the confidence, personality, and culture fit of the candidate. When you do land the job, here are 14 things you need to do on the first day.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had, and why?
Jaime Chapman, founder and CEO of the career-services company Begin Within, always starts with this interview question that “knocks candidates off course and makes them demonstrate their level of professionalism, often revealing red-flag behaviors.” She follows it up with: “What was the best job?” There’s not really a right or wrong answer to either, but Chapman says she’s looking for “top-notch work ethic, authenticity, and coachability.”
How a person deals with an unexpected question is also telling. “I like to see a people’s brains hard at work and get to know their process,” she says. “When someone wants to work at my company, given the nature of our work, I expect a lot from interviewees because if hired, the candidate will literally be helping other people learn how to interview for jobs. I can’t hire a pot to call a kettle black. I need skilled interviewers on my team.” If you’re looking for jobs with the greatest growth potential, check out this list of the highest-paying jobs in every state.
How do you like to be managed?
Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. He’s also the author of a tricky interview question guide. His ideal answer to this question would go something like this: “The best managers that I’ve worked with always set clear goals, paths to achieving those goals, left the door open in terms of being able to ask questions, and had patience with us when we needed a helping hand in getting the job done. Because of that, I felt like growth was achievable both on a personal level and on a company level.” This answer is ideal because it’s focused, it sets the candidate’s expectations, and it demonstrates a clear understanding of what they need to succeed (and an ability to communicate it). What else do you need to succeed? Employers are looking for these 17 soft skills right now.
At your last job, what’s a time when you screwed something up, and what are the first three things you did in response?
Both as a leader and a coworker, Karen Bussen, CEO of Farewelling, is influenced by the energy of her managers and team members. In interviews, she “likes to ask candidates questions that probe their style and perspective when it comes to stress, conflict, and communication.” Bussen doesn’t want to hear a rote answer to this question. Instead, she’s looking for “a thoughtful reply that shows the candidate is someone who takes responsibility, is a self-starter, has some self-awareness, and maybe knows how to organize a project as well.” Interviewees will score bonus points if they can tie their responses back to the business. Keeping your cool under pressure is also one of the skills that can help you get promoted faster.
Why do you want to leave your current job?
The purpose of this question isn’t to put you on the spot, says Jon Hill, CEO of The Energists, a management consulting and professional search firm for the energy industry. Instead, it’s “to see how someone responds when given the chance to talk bad about someone. After all, many people have complaints about their bosses, coworkers, and the organizations they work for.” Hill says that if the response involves a series of gripes about their current employer, the applicant is not right for his company. The key is to keep things professional and appropriate. By the way, here’s how to look for a job while you still have one.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
You bring all of yourself to a job, not just one specific part. And that’s why Shawn Breyer, owner of Breyer Home Buyers in Atlanta, wants to know what potential employees do after hours. “The answers to this question tell interviewers whether or not you’re going to be an asset to the company or not,” he says. “Do you spend your free time in front of the TV, going out and eating unhealthy, playing video games, and sitting around the house? Or do you spend your time pursuing a hobby, exercising, reading and studying, and spending meaningful time with friends and family?” Breyer says he would prefer the latter. Why? He believes that a person like that will be recharged after fun, fulfilling weekends and come to work with positive energy and new ideas, ready to lead and to grow personally and professionally. Should your hobby be your job? Here are 9 signs you’re in the wrong career.
What should I know about you?
Sometimes, an interviewer may do away completely with traditional interview questions. Carisa Miklusak, CEO of tilr, will ask candidates an open-ended question like this because it gives the applicant “an opportunity to sell themselves by outlining some of their accomplishments at previous positions and highlighting what they are passionate about.” The ball is in your court, which can feel like a lot of pressure—but is actually a huge opportunity.
Plus, Miklusak likes that this question leads to a conversation, as opposed to a Q&A session. “The best interviews are often conversations because you can have a thoughtful dialogue and really get a feel for someone without the pretense of a formal interview or without them reciting back memorized answers,” she says. “It’s tricky because many interviewees feel the need to break the awkward silence and will just keep talking. However, it’s through this type of engagement where you really get to know who someone is and what they’re thinking. You also get to see how they handle pressure.”