How to answer 'How much money do you currently make?' 'Where else are you looking?' and 7 other awkward job interview questions

There are conventional job interview questions (What are your biggest strengths?), weird ones (Why are manholes round?), tricky ones (How would you describe yourself in one word?), and tough ones (Will you be out to take my job?).

Then, there are just plain awkward ones.

We looked through previous Business Insider articles, as well as James Reed’s book “Why You?: 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again,” to find some of the most uncomfortable job interview questions, and advice on how to answer them.

Here’s what we found:

'Where else are you interviewing?

This is a seemingly simple question -- one you could easily answer without having to think too hard. But it's actually a lot trickier and more awkward than it seems, and how you answer this question can make or break the interview.

'It can be a slippery slope because you'd like to be honest and demonstrate you're not bluffing about your other opportunities,' Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of 'Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behaviour and Thrive in Your Job,' previously told Business Insider.
'But don't fall into the trap, as there's more downside risk.'

To have an effective response, it's helpful to first consider the interviewer's objectives when asking this question, she said: 'They typically want to determine how marketable you currently are; how they stack up against the competition; and how far along you are in other negotiations.'

You don't owe this information to a hiring manager, but how you handle it will demonstrate your level of diplomacy and your ability to navigate sensitive questions. And these people skills are valued today more than ever,' Taylor added.

So how do you appear cooperative, sincere, and marketable while maintaining your privacy?

Taylor said: 'It's a small world in every industry, and you never know if your interviewer may compare notes with another of your interested hiring managers in your mutual network. For example, if you reveal a firm's hiring intentions to a potential competitor, you risk a reputation of not being discreet.' So don't lie about other opportunities, but focus on your interest in them.

Try something like: 'I'm interviewing at various companies at various stages, but this opportunity is particularly exciting for me because of XYZ.'

Read more about how to handle this question here.

'Who are you voting for?'

Voting booth in the US.

As we inch toward election day, political banter is likely seeping into your conversations -- including job interviews.

Taylor told Business Insider that if a hiring manager starts talking politics and decides to tell you how they feel about the candidates, or who they plan to vote for, you'll need to use your best diplomacy and avoid getting drawn into a potentially heated, no-win debate.

'The hiring manager may appear laid back and open-minded in the beginning of the dreaded conversation, but don't take the bait,' she warned. 'Take a backseat.'

Even if you agree with the hiring manager's politics, going down this path can still be perilous. 'The interviewer may continue drilling down to your stance on controversial subjects, evaluating whether you're fully on the same page. It can become a bottomless pit if the interviewer is fervent.'

If you're asked point-blank who you'd vote for, you have several good options, all of which will keep you out of hot water, said Taylor. Here are some responses to consider:

'I don't think I'll decide until the last minute, as there are so many issues to consider. Thankfully, we still have some time.'

'While I've paid attention to the major headlines, I've been so focused on my work, I haven't made a decision.'

'I don't have a favourite yet, but I am always drawn to certain leadership attributes. (Pause) I'll give you an example ... I admire business leaders who do X and Y.'

'I'm actually still deciding -- but that reminds me of a question I have about the leadership team here ... '

Read more about how to handle this question here.

'Have you ever stolen a pen from work?'

This one is pretty awkward. Of course we've all taken a pen or two ... so if you say you haven't, they might think you're a liar. But if you say you do it all the time and act like it's no big deal, that's a problem too.

James Reed, an author and chairman of Reed, a top job site in the UK and Europe, writes in his book that saying something like, 'I have one or twice taken a pen from the office in an emergency but I have always returned it the next day or the day after,' is a terrible response. Why? The interviewer knows that pen is still on your desk at home, and might challenge you.

He suggests going with something more realistic, like: 'Well, I'd be lying to say I haven't ever absentmindedly slipped a ballpoint into my jacket pocket, but it usually ends up back on my desk the following day, unless I leave it at home. I haven't got a spare room full of paperclips and staplers, though, if that's what you mean.'

'Did you lie about anything on your résumé?'

This one can be pretty awkward -- especially if you didn't fib, but feel like the hiring manager doesn't completely trust you.

Reed says in his book that this one may catch you off guard -- but that you don't want to let it make you nervous or overly defensive (those reactions will send the wrong message).

Hopefully, he says, your résumé is free of any mistruths. Not only would fibbing hurt your chances of getting the job if it's discovered, but it's also a 'sure-fire way to end up with a job you're poorly prepared to handle.'

If and when the interviewer asks you this question, try to pass it off with a joke. Should your wit fail you, he says, go with a flat denial (if, of course, your résumé is actually fib free). Reed suggests trying something like:

'Well, it says under hobbies there that I enjoy keeping fit. My wife would say that's stretching the truth! Seriously, though, I don't believe there are any lies on my résumé. I believe integrity on the job is very important and that starts with your résumé.'

If the hiring manager keeps pushing, accusing you of lying when you're not, you may want to rethink whether this is the type of person you want to work for. If you feel there's a lack of trust in the interview, this could be a sign of what's to come should you land the job.

Read more about how to handle this question here.

'How much money do you currently make?'

Dragan Radovanovic/Business Insider

Discussing salary is always a bit uncomfortable, but it's especially tricky when a hiring manager asks what you currently make during a job interview.

Why? There are a few reasons.

First, maybe they were going to offer you, say, $90,000 -- but you tell them you currently make $65,000. Once they hear that, they might decide to offer you just $70,000.

Second, maybe they can only offer you $60,000 because that's all they have in the budget for this particular position. When you say you currently earn $65,000, they might think they can't afford you or assume you wouldn't be willing to take a pay cut, and therefore decide not to move forward with you as a candidate.

Third, if you make much less than the average person in your job, the employer might assume you're not a highly valued employee. If you're paid a lot more than the average worker in your position, they might assume you're overqualified.

And lastly, it's just awkward to discuss how much you earn, especially with a stranger.

But whether you like it or not, there's a good chance this question will come up in the interview process.

Taylor previously told Business Insider that you need to:

• Be informed: Enter the interview armed with all the knowledge you can about the salary range for the position, so you'll put your best foot forward

• Deflect: 'It's often a game of who'll blink first, but it's well worth trying, using a great deal of diplomacy: 'Well I'm flexible on salary. The position and its growth potential are much more important to me than compensation. Would you be willing to share the rough salary range you have in mind for this position?'' Taylor suggests.

• Be honest: Don't tell mistruths or exaggerate about your current salary -- up or down; it could backfire through a little investigation.

• Stay focused on the job: By placing more emphasis on your passion for the position and how you can contribute to their bottom line (i.e., make them money) -- versus your salary -- you will have their attention and maximise your bargaining power, Taylor says.

Read more about how to handle this question here.

'Where does your boss think you are right now?'

Reed says in his book that the real question here is, 'How easily tempted are you to lie?'

The hiring manager is trying to get a better sense of your character, so hopefully you can tell them the truth without feeling embarrassed by your answer.

Reed says the best way to avoid having to tell a hiring manager that you lied to your boss (which will send up red flags) is to take a vacation or personal day for the interview.

If you leave the office for a few hours in the middle of the workday, your boss will likely ask where you're going or where you went. However, if you take an entire day off, they're far less likely to pry ... and then you can tell the hiring manager that you took a day off for the interview, so your manager never asked where you are.

'Have you ever been fired?'

If you've ever been fired or asked to resign from a job, chances are it's not something you enjoy talking about ... especially with prospective employers during job interviews.

But if there are any gaps or red flags on your résumé, hiring managers will likely ask you about them -- and it can be uncomfortable.

'Employers are often so swamped with job applicants, they're programmed to use a process of elimination mindset,' Taylor told Business Insider. 'And this can easily be one of the questions that keeps you off the shortlist -- unless you plan ahead.'

It's a classic query because your answer meets multiple objectives, she said. 'So it's helpful to consider the reasons behind the question.'

She explained that interviewers are often trying to determine four things: Whether you're a risky hire; how you handle adversity; your real time response to pressure; and how honest you are.

When answering it, Taylor suggested you be honest and concise, and focus on what you learned from the experience. Also, she says, don't point fingers or place blame. If you speak negatively about your former employer, it will reflect poorly on you.

Read more about how to handle this question here.

'Why are you leaving your current job?'

You probably have 100 reasons for wanting to pursue a new role -- and can easily defend each one. But Taylor told Business Insider your response to this query can be an absolute deal breaker.

'This question, or any variation of it, is extremely challenging because it naturally puts you on the defensive,' she said. 'It's one of the most difficult and critical queries you can possibly be asked during the interview process because it reveals so much about you.'

It's also a tricky question because a terse or canned response will likely leave the interviewer waiting for some elaboration. 'If you refuse to explain further, that in itself will be a red flag,' Taylor explained.

She said this query may open up a can of worms. 'It can easily take you down a slippery path of describing a difficult work environment or boss, demanding workload, dull assignments, or other, similar frustrations.' And while any of those reasons may be a factor for you, they won't help your cause. 'You'll need to take a diplomatic, professional, and forward-looking approach,' she said.

When answering this one, don't speak poorly of your current employer. Also, you don't want to paint yourself as someone who is high maintenance. Focus on how you think this would be a better environment and role for you, and why you're excited about the job at hand.

Read more about how to handle this question here.

'What are your thoughts on the interview process so far?'

This one is less common, but Reed says hiring managers do sometimes ask it.

Chances are, they aren't craving your feedback. They aren't eager to know if they're doing a great job, or how they might improve for next time. No. They are trying to figure out how diplomatic you are.

In his book, Reed says the real question here is 'How are your diplomacy skills?' -- and that when answering it, 'you have to walk the line between flattery and criticism.'

He writes: 'While your ability to critique your interviewer is highly unlikely to be an essential skill should you get the job, the ability to offer constructive feedback while maintaining pleasant relations with colleagues almost certainly will come in handy. In all likelihood that's the essential political skill your interviewer is trying to test here.'

A best way to answer this, he says, is by being truthful and constructive, while also showing respect for the interviewer. Reed suggests you avoid 'pointless and obvious flattery,' that you remain calm, and maintain your poise, while 'channelling your inner diplomat.'

Reed offered the following as an example of a great response:

Well, I enjoyed the fact that we started off with a little tour of the facility on the way to the conference room and I definitely think you've done a great job of examining my job-specific skills. I really had to dig deep and think carefully when you quizzed me on how I'd handle the quality control issues you've been facing, which pushed me to get into the nitty-gritty of how I work and also have me a better idea of the challenges I'd be facing should I be offered the job. I don't think we've discussed my work style and the culture of the team I'd be joining as much, however. I'd love to get into how the team interacts and how I'd fit in. Is that something we'll be talking about later in the interview process?

Read more about how to handle this question here.

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