Do interviewers try to trick candidates?

Written by
Changeboard Team

06 Aug 2014

06 Aug 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Is the recruitment process getting harder?

The interview process strikes fear into many a professional job seeker. Even the most accomplished candidates may worry that they will not be able to convey – in the short timeframe available – their abilities, achievements, strengths and determination.

Today’s job market is hugely competitive, and the current economic climate is encouraging decision makers to be particularly efficient when selecting talented professionals who can add value to their businesses. Although employers have nothing to gain by deliberately catching out candidates, some believe that interviews are getting tougher as competition increases for sought-after positions.

An ever growing talent pool, coupled with tighter budget restraints, has allowed employers to develop more rigorous selection processes in an attempt to ensure they are picking the very best applicants. Hirers are under pressure to achieve the best return on investment, and as a result interviews are becoming more challenging. 

What you can expect

A technique often used by law firms is competency-based interviewing – which allows candidates to demonstrate skills based on past experiences. They normally begin with a general leading question, for example: ‘What is your greatest achievement?’ Then proceed onto a ‘probe’ question, in a technique called 'information funnelling'.

The probe questions, in a conversational way, will ask you to elaborate on aspects which you haven’t spontaneously discussed. This allows the interviewer to learn how potential employees function under pressure. It is widely believed that past behaviour can be used to measure how an applicant is likely to operate in the future, and so by detailing past successes, interviewees are more likely to leave a favourable impression on their audience.

Approach an interview as a conversation

The secret to interview success is to approach the meeting as a two-way exchange. While many interviewees practice a set of set answers to pre-empted questions, this could make you appear stiff and inflexible. Think of an interview as a conversation – go into the meeting armed with questions of your own and be prepared to go with the flow.

There is no reason to be paranoid – remember it's an interview not an interrogation. If a certain question has you stumped, answer the best you can and explain the reasons behind your thinking. And don’t be afraid to throw up some challenging enquiries of your own.

How to tackle curveball questions

Today it's ever more likely that hirers will throw in a question designed to bamboozle you. This is designed to determine if you can think on your feet and give a reasoned answer. Interesting and unusual questions often lead to surprising and revealing responses, which allow interviews to delve below the carefully rehearsed spiel and get an idea of the personality behind the façade. It may be unnerving to be caught on the back foot, but capable candidates should approach these ad-hoc requests with ease. By displaying a relaxed yet professional attitude to the unexpected, applicants can demonstrate their ability to adapt quickly and perform well under pressure – which are invaluable skills in the workplace. 
Essentially, employees are searching for the very best talent to join their teams. But although ability and experience are somewhat simple to gauge at the interview stage – confidence, resilience and a good cultural fit are harder to measure. Much can be learned by easing candidates out of their comfort zone. Interviewers aren’t trying to trick you – they just want to see what makes you tick. So relax and enjoy – your off-the-cuff reactions may well go in your favour.

Top tips for success

  1. Prepare for the unexpected – although you should have a clear idea of key points you wish to focus on, be ready for the conversation to take any direction. Don’t have a preconception of how the meeting is likely to unfold, and you won’t get flustered when things don’t go to plan.
  2. Be confident in your capabilities – the fact you made it to the interview stage suggests that you impressed with your application. Be sure of your strengths and achievements before you enter the room and you will give an aura of confidence.   
  3. Honesty is the best policy – don’t elaborate on your experiences to date. You will surely be found out when the interviewer starts asking probing questions – which will destroy your credibility.
  4. Explain the thinking behind your answers – even ‘trick’ questions can be answered impressively. Elaborate on your reply to explain the thought process behind your response. 
  5. Ask questions – an interview isn’t a one way street and you are not on trial. By asking relevant and intelligent questions you will appear pro-active and switched on.