Forced choice interview questions put you into what my old debate days called a “dilemma”– no matter which way you answered, you lose. Pick one of two opposing choices and pick your poison. Let’s get some help on these forced choice interview questions.
What is a forced choice interview question?
Interview questions can be described in the following categories:
- Open ended — Tell me about a time when…
- Yes or no — Do you like working on teams?
- Forced choice questions — Do you like creating plans for a project or receiving a set of tasks and executing them?
Most of us are aware of the open ended and yes/no type of questions. The forced choice questions, though, are less often used unless they are used in a much more structured interview.
Forced choice questions have advantages — to the person doing the interview
There are some really good advantages to forced choice questions:
- Forced choice questions requires the candidate to contemplate the answers to the forced choice. It’s especially not as easy to pass off a question as yes or no.
- They force you to create answers instead of providing practiced answers to interview questions (which I advocate, by the way; practice does make perfect).
- If the interviewer uses the same forced choice questions across all of the prospective hires, you can usually see differences in how the candidates answer. That helps the interviewer determine who is a better fit in the group.
The difficulty for the person being interviewed, however, is that forced choice questions don’t lend themselves to understanding the environment you are interviewing for. It’s a two-way street: the interviewer learns about you, but you also learn about the company, the department, the culture. Both of you need to know if you’ll be a good fit for each other if you’re hired.
But the forced choice question — the dilemma — means you could answer either way and never know what the real answer is for the person doing the interview.
Take a look and see what I mean.
Examples of forced choice interview questions
“What is more important to you, the money or the job?” Great, if I say money, the hiring manager doesn’t think I’m motivated to do the work. If I answer with the job, the manager doesn’t think I’ll be upset with a smaller money offer for the job.
“Do you prefer to work alone or with others?” Swell, I can like to work by myself and be thought of as a poor team player with no collaborative abilities or work so well with others I can’t get anything done by myself.
“Do you prefer to be given tasks or a list of things to accomplish?” Well, if I say a list of tasks it shows I can’t self-manage; if I say list of things to accomplish, I most likely won’t get the right tasks done because I don’t know the culture.
Traps, traps and more traps.
How to answer the forced choice interview question
There are two ways of avoiding the dilemma to this type of forced choice question. One way is to say “yes” to both. Unlike debate, sometimes both sides of the forced choice are good values to have.
For example, the money or the job is easily answered by saying “both.” “The work that I do is important for my self-satisfaction that comes from accomplishment and the money is just as important as it supports my family.” Yes, hiring manager, I want the good work and I want the good pay. Get over it.
Or, in working alone or with others, the answer can also be both. “I like working alone when I need focus and productivity to complete my work. But I like working with people to brainstorm ideas, help get better solutions to problems and help others for what they need.” Let me work the way that makes me the most productive to accomplish the department’s goals. Hello.
A second way to answer the forced choice is to pick a third option that isn’t presented by the interview question. “Do you work better with a manager that gives you free reign to complete your work the way you want or do you like being micromanaged to get your work done?”
What a great choice, don’t you think? For that type of question, you ignore both options presented and offer up a third alternative that matches your work style to answer this question. “I like a manager that provides clear direction, is open to seeing early versions of the work so we can make sure I’m on track, and to help clear obstacles that might prevent me from getting done.”
And then, because it is such a crappy question, you follow your answer up with “And how do you manage your people?” Seriously, you need to know the answer to that one no matter what.
You need to follow-up with your own question to learn about the environment
As noted above, for a management style question, you need to follow-up with a question on how the person manages their people.
If you get a question on how to handle conflict, you need to ask the manager how he or she resolved the conflict in the group.
If you get a question on money or the work, follow-up with questions on pay relative to other firms they compete with and whether there are promotions from within (killer: how many people have been promoted in your group since you’ve been managing them?).
Interviewers who ask forced choice questions are trying to see where you fit into their needs — but not letting you figure out if you want to fit into theirs. It’s important to get that information from the interview or you’ll be walking in blind on your start day as to what the work environment is really like.
Forced choice interview questions try and put you at polar opposite positions so that a hiring manager can more easily categorize you from the question. But you don’t know which answer is the right answer for this particular hiring manager — and most people are not one option of the forced choice question or the other. Most people either have a balance between the choices or all about something completely different.
What other forced choice questions have you been asked in an interview?