Master those tricky interview questions with this must-have cheat sheet

Oct 3, 2014 at 11:36 a.m. ET
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We asked hiring managers what tricky questions they like to ask and why. Now we've got the scoop on providing the perfect answers. Are you prepared?

1. What would be your ideal daily tasks at this job?

This question is designed to ensure your expectations fit the job. If you've done your homework and are qualified for the job, answer with the tasks associated with the job that you like to do. Avoid listing tasks you know are part of your superior's job or those that are too easy or obvious.

2. How does your difference make a difference?

Questions like this are intended to ensure you understand how your unique skills can benefit an employer. They can hire anyone. Why should they hire you? There may be 10 Harvard MBAs on their interview list, so think carefully here. Is that really what sets you apart from others?

3. Are you more accurate or more organized?

We've all had that waiter. The one who can take an order for seven picky people without writing a thing down, and the food comes out right!

This question, or anything like it, is intended to ensure you understand what's important. People who are accurate are usually organized. But they could also have a high attention to detail — or even an eidetic memory. When asked a question like this, consider what's most important to an employer. Nine times out of 10, they care about results, not processes. That doesn't mean you shouldn't play up how organized you are, just point out that your main focus is the result.

4. What is one reason why we may not like you a year from now?

Look, it's never a good idea to lie during a job interview. Even if lying gets you the job, it's more likely to be a job you don't like or an environment where you're unhappy. But surely it's OK to lie when you answer this, right? Actually, no. No one's perfect, and your new boss won't buy that you are. But that doesn't mean you have to spill your guts about everything you've ever done wrong in the past.

Consider this: What types of things make people dislike you? They aren't always that bad, are they? Sometimes people dislike you for the same reasons gossip rags like to tear down celebs — because you're good at what you do. Try to find something that others have thought of as negative that would be a positive for the company.

5. If you were a superhero, which one would you be and why?

It's a fun question, but think carefully about it. Not only will your potential employer be carefully observing your reaction (do you look flustered, fidget or start biting your nails?), but they'll learn a lot from your answer, too, so don't neglect it. Instead of saying you'd like to be Wonder Woman to have a fancy invisible jet to hop to Paris any time you want, think about which superheroes (and which powers) would really help you do your job better.

6. If you could write your ideal job description, what would it be?

To answer this question, you'll need to have done your homework. Think about the description given in the listing you applied for. Weave the description together with some of your strengths.

7. In a group setting where you don't know anyone, would you tell a story, listen to a story or both?

There's no wrong answer to this question but think in terms of the job you're applying for. A salesperson, for example, should probably be likely to solicit a story from someone else first but be willing to tell a story if the person seems receptive. A manager, on the other hand, should start by telling a story to break the ice, then ask others for their stories.

8. When managing a group project, outline your management style, timeline for completion and technique

When answering this question, be careful to balance following up with actually breathing down your team's neck. Your employer wants to know you have a handle on the project, but there's no point in assembling the team if you're just going to do it all for them. You should also be cognizant of the way your answer reflects your ability to multitask, plan and, most importantly, motivate your team members.

9. If you could retire tomorrow, what would you do?

This is one of those questions that can get you into trouble. They don't want you to say you'd keep working forever (that's just crazy!). But your answer should line up with your job and should show you'd like to remain active. People who want to do nothing but watch TV all day when they retire are probably lazy employees, too. But if you're applying for a cubical job and you say you want to travel the world, that could make an employer nervous, too. Your answer should display the appropriate level of motivation and risk taking.

10. If you could move anywhere, where would it be?

This is a really tricky one if you're interviewing at a company where moving is a real possibility. If your husband has a job he loves or you're bound by other family obligations, you don't want to give the impression you're all about moving. But let yourself get a little loose with this one. If you're really dead set against moving, you can disclaim that, but don't say you'd "never" leave. They may be willing to hire someone who isn't willing to transfer to the Seattle office, but they're probably not likely to hire someone who's scared to even consider it.

11. If you could travel anywhere, where would it be?

Seems awfully similar to the question above, right? It's not. It's intended to show much more of your personality. They may have even warmed you up with the moving question first.

It doesn't matter what your answer is so long as it shows what kind of risk you're willing to take. If you live in Dallas, Texas, saying you'll move to Nashville because it has good highways isn't a huge risk. Saying you'd like to move to Cambodia because you'd like to sample the local street food tells another story.

12. Tell me about yourself

You'd think that's an easy one, wouldn't you? But it trips up a lot of people. Try answering this with a few brief lines about your interests and background — preferably things that demonstrate the skills necessary for the job. Don't get too personal or reveal details you wouldn't want an employer to know, but everyone loves a good story of overcoming adversity.

Follow up with a brief (true) story that sums you up as a person. If you jumped into the ocean to save a stranger from a shark attack, your future boss will be just as interested in the story, but don't feel like you have to show off. A simple story that shows who you are is just fine. In fact, if you do have an incredible story, be careful. It may come across as bragging. You can mitigate that by giving full credit to everyone who helped or even talking about how scared you were, which shows them you aren't afraid to take risks.

13. Imagine that you have to prepare a résumé on which you can't highlight the college you attended, what degrees you hold, your work experience or the project achievements you've had up to that point. The only info you can provide must pertain to who you are as a leader and what you've demonstrated. How would your résumé read?

Before you go to any job interview, you need to think about yourself. Look through all the accomplishments you've put on your résumé and decide what about you made those things happen. Your accomplishments aren't as important to the company hiring you as the reason you (and you alone) were able to accomplish them.

Up next: More tricky job interview questions >>

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