Today’s question comes from an active job seeker who was recently asked a difficult but very clever question while on the hunt:
I was recently asked in an interview to desribe an instance where I had misjudged a colleague. Can you provide any advice on how to answer this question without falling into an “interview trap?”
I think this is a great interview question and kudos to the interviewer who posed it. Some might feel that this is a question that will fail to elicit any useful information but the exact opposite is true in my opinion – a question like this provides insight into how an individual sees flaws in their own charatcer and how they look to rectify that. Questions that provide clarification and validation of technical skills will always be present in any kind of interview but these should only serve to confirm presence of the skills for which the candidate was interviewed in the first place. A question like this can show you whether a person has an ego or possesses enough self-awareness to realize their own faults and bias.
Questions like this are designed to trap the interviewee into saying something that will give a hiring manager reason not to bring this person on board. The trap with this particular question lies in the chance that you’ll reveal stereotyping or bias when dealing with peers, managers and subordinates. You want to be careful not to categorize employees or make general assumptions. Specifics are obviously needed in a situation like this but those specifics should be limited to your interpretation of an individuals work or the skills they may lack in presenting that information in a cohesive manner.
My answer to this question would sound something like this:
While in group meetings/discussions/whiteboard sessions with John Smith I had felt that his contributions were lacking in substance or originality. When I took the time to read the written report he had provided along with his business plan, I was impressed and surprised to discover significantly more detailed thoughts on implementation and execution. I now plan to engage and challenge him more in these discussions to draw out those ideas in front of a group.