Tricky interview questions are to be expected in every job interview.
It up to you to prepare for them. (Reading this article is a great start)
Firstly, know that the interviewer is not out to “get you” in any way. Every time a candidate walks into a room, they are saying to themselves “Please, let this person be the one!”
Still, they must do their due diligence. And that involves assessing how you handle uncomfortable surprise situations. Do you buckle under pressure? Or do you stay composed and handle it professionally?
This trick question, which also happens to be one of my favorite trick questions, is:
“Tell me about the last time you made a mistake?”
I remembered the first time I was asked this question, and I screwed it up.
I, like many entry level job seekers at the time, was worried that the interviewer would hold my answer against me. So I was careful to select a scenario where I wasn’t really the person at fault, but was somehow involved with the wrong decision.
The experienced manager saw right through me. He replied “That doesn’t sound like you were at fault. I want to know about a time when you, and only you, were to blame for the mistake”.
As you can see, it’s vital to prepare for this question in advance. This is one of those opportunities where you can demonstrate your professionalism, and really stand out from other (hopefully unprepared) candidates.
Here are some guiding principles when choosing the right scenario:
#1 Don’t choose a fatal mistake
If you’ve done something serious like damage company property or violate regulatory compliance, you’d want to stay clear of that.
After all, you don’t want to reveal something that disqualifies your candidacy.
While they may appreciate your honesty, you’ve just raised your risk level to the red zone.
#2 Don’t choose a mistake that’s due to lack of effort
Stating that you missed deadlines or misread information that led to lost sales is also a bad idea. Once again, this raises concerns about your candidacy.
#3 Select a scenario where you lacked experience or knowledge
These scenarios are usually a safe bet, like correctable errors on a brand new project you were handling, or a small miscommunication for a brand new task that you’ve never done.
Making mistakes while handling something new is always understandable, and therefore excusable.
Especially, when it leads to the last, and most critical guideline…
#4 Choose a scenario where you learned an important lesson
Ending your scenario with what you’ve learned is the icing on the cake. This is the core element of your professionalism in this answer.
So, on a personal note, if I was ever in a job interview, and asked this question again, I would bring up this one time where I was asked to present an automated reporting solution to a new team. It would go like this…
“There was this time when I was asked to present an automated reporting solution to the Customer Care department. It was a solution I deployed successfully for my own team, and my manager wanted to collaborate with this new team to see if they were interested in a similar situation.
It was the first time I had to present a solution to a team so far outside of IT. Although I prepared thoroughly for this meeting, it didn’t go so well.
The reason was because I was giving a demo on the solution I built for my own team, and they could not relate to it.
I quickly realized my mistake was trying to sell a solution based on my own needs rather than theirs. So after the meeting, I asked them for another chance, worked with one of their team members first, and presented the solution again 2 weeks later, and this time they understood the benefits.”
Don’t be nervous…
Trick questions are a glowing opportunity to win the job interview, not screw it up.
Keep that in mind, be prepared, and you’ll be converting those job interviews to offers in no time.