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Ask the Recruiter: Be prepared for tough inquiries, but ‘gotcha’ questions rare


Question: What are the ‘gotcha’ questions that recruiters and search committees ask that many candidates don’t expect?

Elizabeth Humphrey
Managing Principal
McCormick Group

I honestly don’t ever ask “gotcha” questions, and when working with search committees I try to keep them from asking them either. I focus instead on asking questions that help determine whether or not a candidate shares the same vision and values of my employer.

With that in mind, I often start an interview with questions about why a candidate is interested in the opportunity, and then move on to asking about past experience and more specifically about their experience with partnering with senior leadership and a board of directors. I also like to ask about their personal vision and values. I really don’t see the necessity of asking questions that serve to empower the interviewer and that’s what “gotcha” questions really do.

The key to success in any hiring process is finding candidates with the right mix of skills, interest and personality to solve the client’s problems. I always tell candidates they should be prepared with an “elevator speech” that should not be longer than two minutes and should emphasize who they are and their value proposition. Candidates should also be prepared to answer any questions regarding any gaps in employment or short tenures at positions. An interview should be a conversation, not an interrogation.


Pat Friel
Managing Partner
Lochlin Partners

We have found that search committees aren’t interested in asking “gotcha” questions. However, they are interested in digging into details of a candidate’s background.

Some candidates will make the mistake of not providing a deep enough answer when asked a probing question. Other candidates have difficulty talking about the specifics of what they did to influence a particular situation. Search committees want to leave an interview with a clear picture of the impact the interviewee had on a particular issue or organization. This is not a time for a candidate to be shy about accomplishments.

One of the worst things a candidate can do in an interview is dance around an issue or not answer a question directly. It leaves the interviewer with the impression that the candidate is not an organized, clear thinker or they are deliberately avoiding the question because they may not have experience in a particular area. My observation is that the self-inflicted “gotcha” is the most common “gotcha.”


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