How to Answer Interviewer Questions with an Ulterior Motive

The classic example is, “What are your weaknesses?” What the interviewer is really asking is, “Why shouldn’t I hire you?”

But let’s forget about the classics. A career counseling client just asked me how to respond to two questions she was recently asked, the first at a job fair and the second at an actual interview.

How is your job search going?

No, you can’t say what you want to say. “None of your business!” is not a proper response.

What’s behind the question? What are they really asking? Here are the possibilities:

Nothing at all. The person is just being friendly. So you have to provide a substantive answer, without saying anything concrete. Why?

They may not be friendly. Maybe they want to know if they can get you cheap. If you say things are going poorly you are weakening your bargaining position.

On the other hand, if you say they are going well, maybe they will think you will cost too much or maybe, since things are going well for you, being friendly, they may choose the person who is having a tough time – assuming that you are both equally qualified for the position.

And, naturally, this could all just be paranoia and you are overthinking. It was just an innocent question. So how do you respond?

I think there is a turnaround. I feel like there are more jobs but, on the other hand, it appears that more people are reentering the job market, so there is greater competition. What are you seeing?

First, you have shown that you know about the latest job creation/unemployment stats. Second, you have properly analyzed them without getting into politics. And, third, you have turned it around by turning the question into a conversation. You have answered without providing any real personal information. You have nothing about which to worry.

Where else are you applying?

You are in an interview. It is going well. And then out the blue comes the “Where else are you applying?” question is asked. Why?

Again, this is none of their business. Except that it actually is THEIR business. They are hoping to find out from you about their competition. You have nothing to gain from answering the question. If there are a lot of places, you can come across as desperate and unfocused and unwanted. If there are only a few, they might think they can get you cheap because of your limited choices.

But I doubt the question has anything to do with you. As stated, it has to do with their competition. They are using you for an exercise in legal corporate espionage.

So what’s the answer?

Confidentiality is very important for me. Just as I will not talk about you with other prospective employers, I won’t talk to you about them. I would not be comfortable doing so.

If they object, you know you don’t want to work for them and, in all likelihood, the job isn’t real. (It does happen!) In any event, you have shown that you are ethical so you can leave with your head high.