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This is a great trap question that employers use and I tell you how to avoid falling into the trap and what they are really looking for.

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This question is going to sound like 1 of those questions a makes you scratch your head and wonder why they are asking it. "Tell me about a time you were treated unfairly. Or unjustly." I want to stick with "unfairly," because it is a simpler way of expressing it that most people can relate to.

What is an employer really looking for here? The fact of the matter is if they're using this question well, they are going to goad you into presenting yourself as being persecuted as being treated badly, and encouraging you to really give them a juicy description of what happened and how bad it was, and how horrible. They will say things like, "That's awful.." Or, "Really," or, "Wow!" And in doing so, they are going to instigate you into saying more.

That's the sucker move.

What they are really looking for is how you took ownership of the situation. Again, this is a question about ownership. This isn't about vomiting some deep-seated resentment of your life. Follow that? It isn't about vomiting deep-seated resentment, it is about how you took ownership of the situation.

Ownership can take a variety of different forms. For example, I remember one instance in my case where I set for the panel was evaluated and I thought I was treated very badly. They changed the rules of the game on but didn't tell me so I way with one expectation; they went with a completely different one that they didn't tell me about, at the end, I felt very frustrated and angry and hurt because I felt betrayed.

If I left the story at that point, I should be rejected because what they are looking for is someone who takes ownership. However, if I continue the story by saying, "Afterwards, there were a number of people who had the same experience. We got together and created a panel they made recommendations for a new process that panels could use to evaluate candidates.. From that, we developed a model that is still used to this day." You follow what I'm doing here?

It isn't the story, but what you did with the story that's important to the employer. Or what you learned from the experience at the most important part 2 what you relate.

To summarize, if you stick the feeling of persecution or being treated unfairly, you lose. If you convert the story into one that talks about how you use this experience to change process or change an organization or change the world, or do something, or what you learned from this experience that you apply even to this day, then you win.


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching and life coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1000 episodes,“ Job Search Radio,” “and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice” and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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4 Responses
  1. Simone Bailey

    I think people would like example answers, people will have their own experiences to write about. People know what they are looking for but are stumped on the HOW to craft their answer. If you supply this your views and engagement may be higher.

    1. Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

      Thank you for the suggestion. You might also try the playlist for for answers to Tough Interview Questions

    2. Simone Bailey

      @Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter ok continue to make videos with zero engagement then. Was only trying to be helpful I have a job application coach so I’m good thanks.

    3. Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

      @Simone Bailey I apologize if my reply seemed critical. I did not intend it to be that way. I know you were helping. I was trying to do that, too, by also pointing to other questions that might help you. That’s all.

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