3 Tricky Interview Questions You Need to Prepare For

IT pros know they need to be prepared for technical interview questions, but sometimes it’s the not-so-technical questions that can thwart your chances of landing the job.

We spoke with Ryan Kurtz, managing vice president in our San Diego office, and he shared his top three tricky interview questions – and some advice on how to answer them.

Tricky interview question #1

What does your ideal role look like? According to Kurtz, this question can immediately derail an interview if the person responds in the wrong way. "Many times candidates start describing a role that is totally different than the one they are interviewing for. This is a huge red flag for any hiring manager." 

It’s okay to dream a little when this question is posed in an interview, but keep your response realistic so it can apply to the position at hand. If your ideal role is leading a team of .NET developers, but you’re currently an individual contributor on a .NET team, go ahead and let the hiring manager know your future goal. This kind of information is useful and demonstrates your aspirations. However, if your ideal role has you dropping .NET altogether and traveling the world, keep it to yourself – and reevaluate why you're interested in this role.

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Tricky interview question #2

What did you like least about your last position? Here’s another red flag for hiring managers: Candidates who hate on past positions or employers. Remember to be tactful and strategic in your response: "This is not the time for you to list everything you disliked about the company or your boss. Anytime you speak poorly about a previous manager or company, it makes you look bad," says Kurtz.

Instead, think carefully about what made it difficult for you to succeed and then pose your response from that angle. So, you don’t want say, "I didn't like my boss. Not only was she never around, but she didn't give me the raise I asked for." Instead, say something like, "My previous company was large and managers tended to have multiple people reporting to them. Ultimately, I didn't feel I had the proper guidance from my manager to grow and succeed."

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Tricky interview question #3

What solutions did you provide to the business? This final interview question isn't just tricky, it's intrinsic to demonstrating your value to the hiring manager. That's because in business, it always comes down to the bottom line. According to Kurtz, "Clients always want to know about the specific solutions you provided to the business through your projects. Make sure you highlight your personal contribution and any notable achievements."

By fixing a coding error, did you save the company $1 million in potential lost revenue? Did you eliminate an erroneous process that freed up the IT department's time by 10 percent? Whatever you did to better the business, explain the steps – from recognition to hypothesis to solution – that resulted in your success. "Be ready to speak to these successes for each of your previous positions," Kurtz says. "You should be able to speak not only to the specific ways the company benefited but also to the technologies and skills you used to achieve said success." You can find some additional non-technical interview questions to prepare for here.

What if you don't know the answer to an interview question?

Now that you're prepared to answer the above tricky interview questions, here's one last piece of advice: If you're stumped once the interview questions get more technical and specific, don’t panic. "It's okay if you don’t have the answer to every technical interview question," says Kurtz. "The key is to demonstrate how you would go about finding the answer or provide experiences you've had with technologies or solutions that are similar."

Never say “I don’t know” without giving more details about how you would solve the problem. Many times managers will ask questions out of left field just to gauge how you think, so focus on the process, not the specific answer.

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Note: This post has been updated. It originally appeared on 11/19/13.