do employers set up secret “gotcha” tests for job candidates?

A reader writes:

A few years ago, I was applying to a position (entry level, only about a year or so out of college) and I noticed a fairly obvious spelling error in the job posting. It has been a few years so the exact error escapes me now, but it was one that was very easy to miss (I only noticed because I was so nervous I had taken to reading the listing a bit obsessively before sending my application). Since the job was specifically calling for someone with solid editing skills, I mentioned it in my cover letter. Something like, “Just a heads-up, but I noticed that instead of xx it says zz on the website.” I ended up getting an interview and they mentioned that they had put it there as a test, something to see if people were paying attention.

Now, I think this is a slightly annoying practice, (not sure if you agree or not) but it has stuck in the back of my mind over the years. And now, if I am applying to a job and I notice an error on a post, I can’t stop myself from calling it out. Partially because I am paranoid that it could be a test, but also because I have been in a role where I have been responsible for that content posted on a website, and if I had accidentally left an obvious error out there, I would want to know!

Sometimes I get a thank-you, and occasionally I think that this does help my cover letter stand out. Even so, I brought this up to a recruiter friend, who told me that no matter how hard I tried to sound helpful and polite, I would inevitably come across as condescending and I was most likely hurting my chances.

So what are your thoughts? Am I making myself stand out in the “hey, look at her attention to detail” way? Or in the “dear god, wouldn’t she be the worst person to have on an email chain, I bet she would reply all when you used the wrong form of their, there, and they’re” kind of way?

I have yet to run into another person who has specifically mentioned that this is a “test,” though I have seen other listings that include similar things. (I’ve seen some “tests” that are innocuous, like asking your favorite candy bar or book or asking you to solve a simple math problem, but none that go so far as to expect you to notice a small spelling error.) I recently had an interview where the recruiter listed out a bunch of software and asked if I was familiar with any, and I had to admit that I hadn’t heard of a few of them, only for him to admit that he had made two of them up, just to see if I was lying about my experience. Am I alone in finding this annoying?

Gotchas are always annoying.

But they’re also pretty rare in hiring.

Very few employers will put intentional errors on their website just to see if candidates notice. For every candidate who notices and says something, there will be 10 more who notice and don’t say anything (because they worry about being seen as presumptuous or even rude, like your recruiter friend said), and others will think the lack of proofreading of a public posting reflects poorly on the employer.

Smart employers who want to assess candidates’ proofreading skills or attention to detail do that via exercises during the hiring process.

The same is true of that interviewer who asked you about fake software — that’s not a common thing. It’s also weirdly adversarial and will turn off good candidates. (“I wanted to see if you were lying about your experience” — what?)

In general, most employers aren’t laying traps for people. Of course, you can always find interviewers who are outliers — interviewers who do bizarre things like ask to look inside your purse or tell you to make dinner for 20 people or pretend there’s a fire to see how you’ll react — but most employers don’t do things like that.

In fact, I’d argue gotchas are often a red flag. Interviewing is a two-way street, and part of what you should be looking for is an employer who operates straightforwardly and transparently.

As for what to do if you see a typo in another ad sometime: Eh. I’ve seen applicants point out typos well, and I’ve seen them do it wrong. (I’ve also seen people point out “mistakes” that weren’t actually mistakes. Which is … not good.) In general, I’d err on the side of not doing it unless you’ve been invited to, because offering up unsolicited edits can come across as annoying at least as often as it comes across helpfully. There’s a small potential upside but a larger potential downside.

{ 284 comments… read them below }

  1. I'm just here for the cats*

    Not only is this sort of gotcha really odd to do, but it’s not going to show how well someone works. I don’t know how others work, but I would be reading with a diffuser of eyes if I was reading a job ad, compared to reading materials for a job. So even if I was an excellent copy editor I just don’t use those skills when I’m reading other items.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I’m the same way. If you give me copy and ask me specifically to proofread it I’m going to be MUCH slower and more methodical than if I’m reading something for my own gain/pleasure.

    2. Kella*

      Yes, handling the test this way sort of implies that you are hiring me, not just to copy edit specific material, but to copy edit literally every piece of written material I come across in any work related exchange. That is probably not what they would be hiring me to do

    3. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      When I did proofreading (not my main job, but our publication division used a pool of people to proofread for content, grammar, spelling, and formatting errors), I’d read in completely different ways for spelling than I would for content or readability. It’s a completely different focus.

    4. Canadian Valkyrie*

      I don’t think I’d trust a boss who thought this was a good idea. I’d be worried they’d constantly try to trip me up on the job and not just be straight with me about feedback

    5. Felix*

      I am wondering if the employer who told OP it was a test was actually just saying that to cover their own mistake. I think it is more likely that they would laugh that off as saying “we meant to do that” rather than admitting it was a mistake that a junior applicant caught that no one else did.
      If OP is using that one experience as part of her frame of reference, she may consider that it a false test to begin with.

      1. Yessica Haircut*

        I’ll be honest, reading the post, I assumed the interviewer was making a bad, self-deprecating joke, and it just didn’t land. “Oh, yeah, the website error. We put it there, uh, on purpose! Congrats, you passed the test, haha!”

        This 100% sounds like a joke a particular leader at my company would make, and I’m sure that people who didn’t know him well would assume he was being serious. I think this is way more likely to be an awkward joke than it is to REALLY be an insidious test.

  2. Colette*

    I’d point it out only if the following applied:
    – it’s a small company (less than 50 people)
    – the job involves editing or proof-reading

    If it’s a large company, the odds are that the person who posted the ad is not the hiring manager. And if I’m hiring for something where that kind of thing doesn’t matter (e.g. anything where the candidate would be doing little writing, internal writing or writing that will be vetted by someone else before being published), it would be a negative. I don’t want an employee to correct my grammar when I send a quick email, for example.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      My mother was a professional proofreader. Apparently, this used to be a common practice when hiring proofreaders.

      1. Edward Williams*

        A local college was up front about it. The recruitment for a proofreader provided a document draft and said “Bring to your interview a list of errors in it.” Examples were misspelled words, “who’s” for “whose,” etc. The whole process was completely aboveboard.
        On the other hand….the interview lunch with a menu prearranged with the restaurant. The interviewee, and only he, received French onion soup — none of the seven (!) interviewers did. And the server carefully spilled a glass of water on the interviewee, in a “well-chosen” spot.

        1. Laure*

          Can you explain the significance of the onion soup and the glass of water? Was it hazing? (By the way, I’m French, so I love onion soup. :))

          1. Artemesia*

            I suppose they wanted the awkwardness of dealing with a messy dish to eat, with the melted cheese etc. I am allergic to onions so this would have been it for me.

            Who wants to work with people who think this is acceptable as a way to screen candidates?

          2. UKDancer*

            I would also be pleased with onion soup because it is a dish I love so I am not sure what the point of the activity would be unless it’s to weed out people who don’t like onions. I’d have thought that would however be risky given people can have allergies to various things so it’s not always wise to preselect their menu.

            And now I’m thinking I must go back to my favourite French restaurant for dinner soon.

            1. CaliUKexpat*

              Yeah, severe onion intolerance here, to the point I tell waitstaff it’s an allergy. If I accidentally get onion I start violently retching, and it’s inevitable that someday I will vomit all over. I’d really rather not do either of those in an interview!

              Though I do wonder now how the interviewers would react to “no thank you, I’m allergic” upon serving would go down.

              1. Pickled Limes*

                I have IBS and onion is one of my strongest trigger foods. If it was brought to me as my meal at a job interview, I would probably just sit politely and not touch it. And with interviewers who believe a person’s reaction to their soup is a significant factor in their hiring, I would probably not be selected.

                As for the water, I assume they wanted to see whether the candidate would yell at the server for spilling on them?

          3. CoveredInBees*

            I adore onion soup too. However, I’m vegetarian kosher. Since it is often made with beef or other meat stock, I’d have to ask the waiter if it was made with meat stock and maybe have to explain why which could come off as fussy and complaining in that situation. The waiter intentionally pouring water, which I assume was very cold, on the interviewee is horrible. Both by the interviewers and waiter.

          4. Edward Williams*

            French onion soup is well-nigh impossible to eat neatly, due to the cheese covering on top. Dipping the soup spoon into the soup and then bringing it to the mouth will entail long thin strings of cheese extending from the soup bowl to the spoon. (And yes, I do enjoy French onion soup, but books on interviewing advise interviewees to avoid “messy” foods (e.g., spaghetti, French onion soup), so if I was on a lunch interview, I wouldn’t order it.
            Until the interviewee’s trousers dried out, he appeared to have a problem with enuresis during the afternoon interviews after lunch.

          5. Edward Williams*

            French onion soup is well-nigh impossible to eat neatly, due to the cheese covering on top. Dipping the soup spoon into the soup and then bringing it to the mouth will entail long thin strings of cheese extending from the soup bowl to the spoon. (And yes, I do enjoy French onion soup, but books on interviewing advise interviewees to avoid “messy” foods (e.g., spaghetti, French onion soup), so if I was on a lunch interview, I wouldn’t order it.
            Until the interviewee’s trousers dried out, he appeared to have a problem with enuresis during the afternoon interviews after lunch.

  3. Save the Hellbender*

    Really curious as to how a favorite candy bar could be a trap or a test! (besides that Snickers people are definitely wrong).

    1. Generic Name*

      I think it’s meant to be a test to see who has read the entire job ad and who can follow simple instructions. Like in the how to apply section it says to send applications to a certain email address, tell them what your favorite candy bar is, etc. Although honestly, you can assess to see who follows directions by telling applicants to include a cover letter and resume and to put the job title in the subject line of the email. All stuff that makes the process go more smoothly, but also will show you who follows instructions without an explicit “gotcha”.

      1. Save the Hellbender*

        Ah, I see. That’s annoying and reminds me of that grade school test where it’s a list of 20 things you need to do but the first direction is “read all the directions before doing anything” and the last one is “do none of this and just turn in the test”

        1. Jenna*

          Oh my gosh, I remember that! Except I argued that you were supposed to do the instructions in order, which would make it impossible to fully follow the instructions.

          1. Nanani*

            The version I had in high school had
            Step 1: Read all the instructions
            Steps 2-29: fold, cut, write, etc
            step 30: Ignore steps 2-29 and turn it in

            So if you did actually did step 1 you were fine, if you tried to do the middle steps before finishing step 1 you failed.

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              Isn’t playing Simon Says a better way of teaching grade-school kids how to follow instructions?

              Also, I’m starting to feel a lot of people need a refresher on Red Light, Green Light.

              1. a clockwork lemon*

                Not really, because the point of Simon Says is to test rapid-fire verbal processing and physical execution in young children, whereas the annoying “read all directions” tests are more to evaluate and/or prove a point about how even the smartest person in the room is going to get it wrong if they skip steps and don’t precisely follow instructions because they think they already know what the task is going to be.

                The latter format is also a surprisingly useful primer for an actual skill you’ll need in your professional life–almost everyone has at least one experience where they either cut a corner or jumped into something without doing all their due diligence, or put a bunch of unnecessary work in on a project based on a misunderstanding of what the final output was supposed to be.

                1. Charlotte Lucas*

                  Well, that’s just a life experience. I don’t think it needs an annoying test. Do I need a special test to know that if I don’t do the reading, I won’t do well on the finals? No, because I figure that out by taking the final.

                  I think my teacher was giving us logic problems when everyone else was doing that. Much more fun for a similar lesson.

              2. tamarack and fireweed*

                (It is? I never got the point of Simon says. There is a point? Mind blown :-) )

            2. Butterfly Counter*

              I had this, but the instructions we had were to read every question on the test first that was a series of instructions, then take the exam. The last question on the exam was to just put your name on it and turn it in.

              I read the whole test, including the last question, but panicked because how was I supposed to get credit on a test where I hadn’t actually answered any questions!!!??? That’s not what a test is supposed to do!!! It was a test on following instructions and I wanted to follow the majority of the instructions, not just the last one because if I was wrong and just followed the last one and had to follow all of them, I’d fail. But if I followed most of them and not the last one, I’d still have done the majority of the test and would get an A.

            3. JB*

              The strange thing is that they always told us this was to help us learn how to take tests better, because, the teacher would claim, you should read all the questions before completing the test.

              I tend to test very well. Not once have I ever read all the questions before starting the test. As far as I can tell, on a normal test with no ‘gotchas’, that’s a total waste of time.

              1. Nanani*

                If -that’s- the moral then I absolutely agree. Most tests in a school or other standardized setting are timed anyway, why risk wasting that time!

              2. Darren*

                Well I have had a few tests which weren’t gotchas, but did have things like you only need to answer X amount of questions from each section (clearly listed at the start of each section).

                So if you just do them in order you might be doing harder (or what are harder for you) questions than if you read all of them and assessed which ones were easier you’d do better on the test (and in less time) than if you just answered them in order (or didn’t read thoroughly enough and tried to answer all of them which would leave you with insufficient time normally to complete the test).

                It gets a lot of the same points across, while not being a gotcha. Add in some higher mark questions toward the end that are easier than some of the lower mark questions in the beginning and you start to teach students how to strategically take tests to maximise their score.

                1. Nanani*

                  That strikes me as pretty terrible test design tbh. Tests are for assessing subject matter knowledge; this sort of meta-game is just testing the ability to take tests :/

                2. just a random teacher*


                  Depending on the specifics of what you’re testing, it can make a lot of sense to let students select which questions to answer (although you have to make it really clear that they’re not supposed to answer everything).

                  For my final exams, I’d have a two-part test: a multiple choice exam to cover “breadth” (did you understand how to answer typical problems from each type of math we did this term?) and an essay portion with a single in-depth problem to cover how well they could tackle a larger problem-solving task. However, I wanted to make sure they could show their problem-solving, organizational, and explaining skills in that essay portion, so I didn’t want to risk having it all be about one specific topic that might be the only thing they didn’t “get” all semester. So, I’d always give them a choice of questions, one per major topic taught, so they could write on their strongest skill and I could better evaluate the math communication, problem-solving, and organizational skills I was looking for.

                  Generally, students read the directions on that page well enough to realize that they were only supposed to answer one of the five questions (I did a bunch of formatting tricks to make it very obvious, including not leaving any room after each question to actually answer it but rather telling students to attach an extra lined or gridded page for the one problem they chose, and also told students this while handing out the test and during the pre-test review sessions), and the rare exceptions were so disengaged with the process of taking the test that it wouldn’t have mattered if they had realized they were only supposed to answer one question. (Those students tended to write in numbers with no explanation immediately next to each question. Sometimes the numbers even seem inspired by the question being asked. These students were also generally not passing to begin with.)

            4. Elenna*

              See, when I got this in grade 6, I didn’t actually read all the instructions. The second step was “write your name on the back of the paper”, so I flipped the paper over and started writing my name in the blank space below the last instruction. My eyes drifted up, as eyes do, and I semi-accidentally read the last instruction. And then I went “oh, one of *these* tests, I’ve heard of these”, erased my name (I was using pencil), and sat there doing nothing for ages.

              I think I was the only person to “pass” the test. I felt too awkward to admit I hadn’t actually read all the instructions first. It was a silly test.

              1. Bells at dawn*

                When I got this test, I read all instructions, waited five minutes and then got bored and decided to do all the activities anyway. Maybe the point is to test your patience…

              2. ErinWV*

                I remember getting handed one of these tests in 7th grade. I read all instructions as dictated, wrote my name, and then settled in to watch everyone else tearing corners off their sheets and drawing pictures of bears in the margins. I think it’s a good lesson in following directions–or more broadly, having full view of what you are doing before you jump in. That is, if it is done right.

        2. an infinite number of monkeys*

          I clearly remember having one of those as a homework assignment in third grade, so about 45 years ago. At the top it stressed that you must read all the directions first. Then the page was full of very difficult math problems which took me quite a long time to work through. Then, in fine print at the very bottom, it said to turn the sheet in blank.

          I’m not still bitter about it at all.

        3. Just @ me next time*

          I just watched an episode of Midsomer Murders involving a Mensa-like society for geniuses, and the society pulls a similar trick on their lateral thinking exam (last question on the massive exam says something like “If you’re reading this question before you begin answering the exam, turn over your paper, write your name in the top right corner, and leave the exam room. You’ll get 100 per cent.”) But in that case, the organization was also at least partially a cover for sketchy criminal behaviour, so I think we can maintain that questions like that are a major red flag.

        4. Bryce*

          I had a high school biology misterm that did that (“don’t answer question 6, just write ‘happy holidays’ or a similar greeting”), but it fit with the class’s attitude and Question 6 was intentionally complex dealing with material not even close to anything we’d covered so people wouldn’t fall into traps trying to solve it.

          For context, our final included “Mr. [teacher] always wears what to class: A snorkel, a tuxedo, A TIE (circled with a smiley face), or high heels.”

        5. Artemesia*

          They also involved things like 9. Stand up and shout ‘I am the best’. or something mildly humiliating like that.

        6. CoveredInBees*

          Ugh. We had a professor in law school who would include a ‘gotcha’ question in every final, which was 100% of our grade. He smugly told us about it ahead of time. All of the other questions would need to be answered in an essay (normal), but one could be answered in a sentence or two if you read it just so. He was smug at seeing the panic spread through our group of brand new 1Ls. Then again, he was often like this and seemed to need to make sure we always knew he was the smartest person in the room. As if being the professor with an JSD ( a law doctorate which even most law professors don’t bother with) in addition to a JD in front of students who’ve literally just started studying law.

          This is my association with people who do surprise ‘gotcha’ elements in job applications…schmucks.

        7. nonee*

          The one I did in high school chemistry had “stand on your chair” as the last instruction. I was the only person to comply, and the looks I got!

          … I did get a Mars Bar out of it, but the chemistry teacher did make me stand there for a good 10-15 minutes until the other students started making tortured groans that they’d missed the point of the exercise.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Several years ago our University Relations Manager told me about a hiring initiative she managed. She was hiring a dozen accounting co-ops for our auditing department, and she sent job postings to our core universities. At the top of the posting, in bold-face, extra-large letters, applicants were instructed to save their resume, transcripts, and cover letter in a single PDF file, so the hiring managers would have everything they needed in one document. Anyone who submitted separate documents would not be considered. There was no way to miss these instructions unless you just weren’t paying attention.

        About 2/3 of the applicants were disqualified. Paying attention to detail is kind of a big deal for an auditor., even a co-op.

        1. I'm just here for the cats*

          That’s a bit different though. The company is being transparent. They are not hiding something in the ad.

        2. CoveredInBees*

          I wouldn’t be surprised if part of that was the schools’ fault in some of those cases. I applied for a part-time job that would have been easy to get to, according to the address listed in the posting. Except, when I got invited to an interview, it was at an entirely different location (the one near me was a very small, barely-used office). This one was impossible for me to get to without a car, so I had to decline and the person I was emailing expressed frustration that when they sent the info to my school they had only listed their primary address. There were other ways that they messed up postings all the time.

      3. Letter Writer*

        Yes, sorry I didn’t make that clear. I believe they try to make it more of a “hey look how cool and quirky we are!” while also trying to see if you read the entire thing.
        I have seen some say they use it as a way to track where you saw the job listing, so they ask a different question on each site (favorite candy bar on Indeed, favorite book on LinkedIn, etc).
        Also, I have been out of work since the beginning of 2020, so job hunting is essentially my full time job at the moment, in case you are wondering why I seem to have such a bottomless supply of examples when it comes to weird job posting habits. :)

    2. Exhausted Trope*

      I’ve seen questions like this in postings before and they ask that you answer in a cover letter. They usually want to make sure you read the entire posting instead of skimming. I think it’s cheesy.

    3. Nanani*

      I can’t help but think of it as weeding out people who name a foreign bar or one that’s mainly available in a region the boss doesn’t like (like asking your favourite sport team to screen out people who support the boss’s favourite team’s rival) – it’s just -not- a thing related to job skils.

      1. Nanani*

        The interpretation that it’s about testing for following directions is a lot more charitable, and reassuring of faith in the world.

    4. anonymouse*

      That caught my eye. I think it’s a “let’s see if you can follow directions” or “let’s see who is blast applying to jobs v. who is really reading the descriptions.”
      But I think people could waste too much cover letter real estate on answering that one question and miss a chance to stand out.

      1. Daisy*

        I’ve seen it a few times and they wanted you to put it in the email subject line (like ‘Data analyst Snickers’). There’s nothing to waste your time on, it’s just a bit annoying/ patronizing.

        1. scribblingTiresias*

          Huh! You see this a lot in submission guidelines for writing- especially fiction- and I’ve never found it patronizing. Maybe it just means that the job’s in high demand?

          1. Daisy*

            As many other people here have pointed out, you can have someone follow directions in an application or writing test without using these asinine ‘write the word umbrella in your subject line’ things hidden in the small print. It’s not usually a sign of a high-level or high-quality role.

            1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

              I would assume in situations like unagented fiction writing submissions, it’s to try and weed out some of the people who spam the same pieces to every submission call regardless of relevance and without bothering to read the submission guidelines because they figure if they can just sneak through the “gatekeepers” the “real editors” will see their brilliance and they will finally get the recognition they deserve. (No, this SF magazine is not going to want your ten page poem about trees with no SF elements in their submission call for short stories about life on space stations, even if it is the best possible such poem. It probably doesn’t want it even if aliens invade on page 4 of the poem and steal the trees for their space station.) I could see it being used similarly for job postings that get a lot of applications of similar irrelevance, although asking for reasonable things like a well-tailored cover letter should have the same effect in those cases even if it does take slightly more time to weed out than something in the email subject line.

              Personally, I would totally agonize over which candy bar was the best possible answer for me to put and spend far too much time on it. Favorite book would be absolutely a mess where I’d worry I was being judged and spend a lot of time deciding what book would put the best foot forward (do I pick my favorite book from childhood, which I still really like, or something more recent to show that I’m still reading new works? Do I try to pick something “mainstream” even though most of what I read is genre-specific? Do I pick something well-known that gets nominated for awards, or something more obscure? And so on), but that’s just the way my brain works with books.

    5. The New Wanderer*

      The first question I was asked in an interview once was “What is your favorite snack to have during work?” It was specifically asked as an ice-breaker, not a gotcha, so it was kind of fun.

      Telling people to include that in their cover letter specifically to weed people out is less fun, since as Generic Name points out, just doing the requested cover letter should be enough to show the applicants are paying attention.

      Also my vote would be 100 Grand.

    6. Mobius 1*

      My fave is Payday, but I could never use that as an answer in a job interview. All kinds of hidden subtext there that I don’t need.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        SAME. Which is weird because I love chocolate and yet my favorite candy bar has no chocolate. Except they recently brought back the chocolate-covered PayDays so I guess I no longer have this dilemma.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Wait…what? Chocolate-covered Pay Days? I don’t have a sweet tooth but that sounds awesome.

        2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

          WHERE? I adore Paydays; every place that does salted caramel is just trying to play catch-up to the original.

  4. Bee Eye Ill*

    I could see this backfiring as somebody may not want to apply to a place with obvious errors in their job ads, especially given the amount of online fraud and such. Most job apps want your social, birthday, etc. That’s asking a lot when they don’t even proofread.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      I’ve skipped applying for a few jobs in my time just because the job descriptions had obvious typos. If I really liked the sound of the job or really wanted to work for the employer, it wouldn’t put me off. But if I was on the fence, it would push me into “no” territory.

      1. Bee Eye Ill*

        It can be a major concern when they don’t list the name of the company. I get why they hide the name, but when it’s coupled with errors like that, you have to be really careful.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          Yeah, agreed. And I think it’s more common to see typos in job ads from agencies than those directly posted by the employer, probably because it’s easier to mess it up when you’re copy/pasting so much text in so many places.

      2. CaliUKexpat*

        Yep, me too. Especially if it’s through an agency and not a direct posting – all the red flags!

        I do wonder if these companies are just oblivious to the number of scams dressed up as job postings. There are many.

    2. Bluesboy*

      I once saw a job advertisement for an editing position with a lot of errors, but it made it clear that it was deliberate.

      It described the job and other relevant information, with quite a few spelling and grammar mistakes, and then finished with a line like “If your good in editing, pleaze fix ar advertizemant for us and send it wiv you’re aplication”

      It was probably only about 100 words or so, so not asking for seriour time to be dedicated, and it wasn’t a ‘gotcha’ because they made it very clear. I remember wondering at the time how effective it might be.

  5. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I’ve only encountered gotcha errors of this type when it was a listing for a sub-editing position, and the listing told us to find them (I found six out of five and got the job).

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Six out of five: Heh! I once had a potential employer give me a copy editing test. Fair enough. The problem is that he thought the word for very small is spelled “miniscule,” leading to a disagreement when we went over it. I didn’t get that job.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        Holy cow, I never realized that before! If we’d had a bet, I’d have owed you a beer.

        1. Eliza*

          The easy way to remember it is that it uses the same vowel as “majuscule”, which is a word you’re less likely to get tripped up on since there aren’t really other related words starting in “maji” the way there are with “mini”.

          1. DyneinWalking*

            I just keep in mind that “minute”, spelled like the time interval, also refers to something small/insignificant.

      2. sacados*

        Wow, that’s kind of shook me, haha. I’ve ABSOLUTELY been spelling it “miniscule.”
        Just looked it up and grammarly says “Many feel that miniscule is a misspelling, but it occurs so frequently that it appears as a variant spelling in some dictionaries”… So I guess I’m one of the people contributing to that language shift, haha.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          This is what Merriam Webster has on “miniscule”:

          “The adjective minuscule is etymologically related to minus, but associations with mini- have produced the spelling variant miniscule. This variant dates to the end of the 19th century, and it now occurs commonly in published writing, but it continues to be widely regarded as an error.”

          The thing to keep in mind reading this is that Merriam Webster is famously (some would say notoriously) descriptive in its approach. The fuddy-duddies have been complaining about it for over half a century. That entry on “miniscule” is as close as it would ever come to saying “wrongety wrong wrong!”

    2. mcfizzle*

      Math isn’t your strong suit, eh? (Totally kidding – great to find a “bonus”!)

  6. KHB*

    Maybe I’m getting curmudgeonly in my old age, but I’m developing a grudging respect for interviewers who ask “What’s your experience with [thing that doesn’t exist]?” type questions. They still annoy me, but people who try to BS their way through interviews annoy me more.

    1. Firecat*

      Play stupid games win stupid prizes.

      I can see this eliminating otherwise good candidates.What’s you’re experience with Tableroo?

      Candidate assumes you are just terribly mispronouncing Tableau, as hiring managers frequently misprounance software, oh I’ve used it for a few years. If you are looking for general expertise with reporting dashboard softwares I have 7 years experience.

      This is a perfectly reasonable not BS answer but since Tableroo is made up the HM thinks the candidate is lying.

      1. Data Analyst*

        Right?! I had a manager rattle off a list of skills/areas of experience for a job, and one of them was AI as in artificial intelligence, but in the copy she was reading, the capital I looked identical to a lower case L and she kept saying “AL” like the person’s name and it took me a good moment to realize what that meant. There’s all kinds of ways for wires to get crossed when it comes to names of software or technical skills, and we should err on the side of giving each other grace rather than trying to trick each other. If a hiring manager can’t come up with a better way to detect BS than making up a trick, well, maybe they’re not well suited to the task.

        1. learnedthehardway*

          Add to that that there IS an AL language (for cloud applications, apparently), and you could be disqualifying someone is is MORE qualified than you had expected.

          1. Data Analyst*

            Ha! I love that this thread has so many examples of people tossing off examples of non-names that turn out to actually be something. Definitely shows that the fake software name idea is a bad one on many levels.

      2. TechWorker*

        Right. I do think it’s important to be able to admit if you don’t know something, especially in tech, and especially if you’re reporting into someone who isn’t technical or expected to be – there has to be a lot of trust there. I’m not sure how you can get this in an interview but I would agree this probably isn’t it ;)

      3. KHB*

        “What’s your experience with Tableroo?”
        “Do you mean Tableau? I’ve used that for a few years.”

        Easy peasy. If it was just a slip of the tongue on the interviewer’s part, there’s no harm done – but if they really were asking about something called “Tableroo,” they have a chance to clarify.

        Even apart from any possible “gotchas,” there’s value in seeking clarity when you’re not sure what someone means, rather than editing them in your head and assuming that they must have meant something other than what they just said. Because (switching to my own field of expertise here) if I’m asking you something about Wolfgang Paul, and you assume I must mean Wolfgang Pauli and that I’m an idiot for pronouncing it wrong, you are really going to end up annoying me.

        1. Nanani*

          Easy enough in theory, harder in practice because a lot of people won’t want to risk embarrassing the interviewer by pointing out their mispronunciation, or might even think their own pronunciation was wrong.

          You say yourself that you’d be annoyed by people assuming you meant something else, but like, a lot of people would be annoyed by “did you mean” because that can be read as the same underlying logic.

          1. Your Local Password Resetter*

            A softer version might be repeating it without correcting. Like: “Tableau? I’ve used that for a few years.”

        2. Firecat*

          I have had this exact experience.

          What is your experience with S. Q. L?

          You mean sequel? I …

          No. Es. Que. El.

          Are you talking about the querying language used to manage databases?

          I think it’s that one. It makes queries.

          OK just so you know it’s pronounced sequel and I …

          Well actually I’ve heard many people pronounce it S.Q.L. so I think you are wrong.

          Literally a transcript from an interview. So no, in general, I don’t correct the hiring managers pronunciation.

          1. JG Obscura*

            To be fair to the interviewer, there are a number of people who called it S.Q.L. (myself included…)
            This probably stems from the fact that a lot of people learn SQL online and without verbal instruction. It’s like those words you read all the time but never actually say out loud.

            1. TechWorker*

              It did amuse me when I learnt that ‘tcl’ is pronounced ‘tickle’. But I learnt that right at the end of the project I’d fixed a bunch of code in it, because as you say, you don’t always talk about things out loud.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            Except…both pronunciations are acceptable. Structured Query Language. SQL. “sequel”. Same same same. She’s wrong for telling you “sequel” is wrong, but “ess cue ell” isn’t wrong either.

            If the conversation had been about .NET and they kept calling it “period En Eee Tee” that’d be a straight up interviewer error.

          3. tamarack and fireweed*

            This is a case where it’s quite clear for the knowledgeable that both pronunciations are acceptable, with one or the other being prevalent in different sub-groups of practitioners. The candidate was behaving like an ass. (Sorry if the candidate was you. We all behave like asses sometimes. But I would have seen this argumentativeness-based-on-no-knowledge as a major turn-off.)

          4. De (Germany)*

            Donald D. Chamberlin, one of the creators of SQL, calls it S – Q – L, not “sequel” so yeah, that conversation should really not happen in interviews, it does not earn the person being interviewed any favors.

      4. Wintermute*

        I am also in the “this is a brilliant idea” camp because I see WAY too much outright lying on a resume and with stack overflow and interview tip sites it’s quite easy to fake it well enough to get hired and then not actually be able to do your job. In addition to the fact that some recruiters outright preach that you should lie about your software and language skills because “any competent IT professional can learn a programming language in a weekend”.

        And honestly your theoretical really isn’t how it plays out in practice. They’re not just going to pick a sound-alike product off the top of their head, and you’re going to google it first. Sometimes they’ll make it deliberately ridiculous. In addition oftentimes it will be real but with some nonsense qualifier, awesomesoft version 14.0 and above (when in reality the latest version is 2) or awesomesoft on-premises deployment when awesomesoft is famously cloud or software-as-a-service only.

        1. Yorick*

          I agree this can be a big issue, but you can ask specific questions about the software you need expertise in or have them complete a small test. Asking them if they know a fake software doesn’t tell you if they know the real one or not.

    2. Don*

      I am a big believer in the value of being able to say “I don’t know” but just like the typo thing there are better ways to get there. It’s just as easy to pose a question with insufficient information and see whether the candidate seeks clarity or explains an inability to choose based on provided information. It’s a better dialog and doesn’t require making things up.

      1. Again With Feeling*

        Yes. It’s a lazy shortcut for effectively assessing candidates. If you can’t tell who’s BSing or not based on the interview process, improve your interview process.

        1. KHB*

          You’re not wrong. But there’s also a lot of schadenfreude in all the stories of BSers being called out on their BS.

      2. Firecat*

        That’s what behavioral interview questions are for. Tell me about a time you didn’t have the answer or know what to do, how did you approach it?

    3. Cat Tree*

      Candidates with other options will probably choose a different company than one that plays these games, leaving you with average performers who can’t find a job at a straightforward place. By using this method to eliminate the worst candidates, you are also eliminating the best. Frankly, if so many BSers are getting through that you need to include this “test”, I seriously question your hiring process overall.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      The version of this that I encountered was an interviewer who asked me if I could explain what [obscure statistic] was. I said I didn’t recognize that one and asked him what it was. He explained it was a gotcha to see how I would respond to being asked something I was very unlikely to know, and then he looked it up in some hefty stats textbook in his bookshelf.

      I’ve also been through a job talk where one of the audience members asked what he later told me were intended to be tough-but-fair questions to see how I would respond to being put on the spot over and above giving a public presentation, which was already part of the job expectation. FWIW, I once sat through a job talk that was 100% memorized from a script and the candidate could not handle interruptions, and another where the candidate responded to several tough-but-fair questions with a blunt “That’s out of scope for this talk.”

      I think both can be reasonable approaches to weeding out BS’ers or people who can’t admit they don’t know something, as long as the questions aren’t overly aggressive or asked in a mean way like in a stress test interview.

    5. Glenn*

      I was at one time aware of an interviewer, within a large tech company I worked for, who allegedly took this one step further: he created a webpage with a fake definition of a term, the only hit for it, in order to catch people googling for answers during phone screens.

      Of course, the danger is that someone stumbles across the webpage when _not_ interviewing, and thinks the fake term is real… Or god forbid it makes it into Wikipedia or something.

    1. Caboose*

      And so much of it sounds alike! With all the wild names out there, if someone asked if I was familiar with, I dunno, Mongoose or Mango, I might assume they actually meant Mongo, and say yes.

      1. Alex Beamish*

        Many years ago, after working on a DEC VAX 11/780, I had a recruiter ask me if I were familiar with DELNET. I said I’d used DECNET to communicate from one VAX to another — and he said, oh yeah, right. (He’d written it down sloppily.) At the time, DEC was a really big company in the industry, so that really smelled of “I haven’t done my homework” from the recruiter.

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          Yeah there’s a way out though to say this without being either condescending or letting opportunities slip away: “OK, you have to pardon me, but did you ask about a software called Mongoose/Mango? Maybe I misheard, or there are different pronunciations out there, but professionally I *have* used the Mongo database system for X years / in Y framework / to do Z. Or are you referring to something different?”

      2. Wordnerd*

        Mongoose is an actual texting software used in higher ed recruitment and admissions. I laughed when I first heard an admissions colleague refer to it. What if the interviewer made up a software name that did actually exist??

        1. TiffIf*

          What if the interviewer made up a software name that did actually exist??
          This is what I was thinking! I mean Mongo is databases, but Mango is a language learning platform (similar to Duolingo), I was trying to remember if I had heard of a program called Mongoose–the world of software is so wide that I would be super cautious about making one up a a gotcha.

          1. Nanani*

            That essentially turns this “gotcha” into a mind-reading test doesn’t it? Read the asker’s mind to figure out if they meant a similar-sounding thing or if they made it up on purpose, or if they made up X but don’t know the real thing called X – all unknowable unless you are psychic.

          2. Caboose*

            I mean, that’s what I thought I was doing, but it turns out that…yeah, there’s a whole world of crazy software names! (And in my field, there’s a bunch of providers to get data from, all of which are named like… LlamaPath, LlamaAssemble, OpenPath, and all of which do broadly the same thing. I get them mixed up CONSTANTLY.)

          3. CoveredInBees*

            The ones that annoy me are when they ask for 5 years experience with a software or language that has only been in use for 2.

      3. quill*

        Also so much of it is abbreviations, that could ALSO MEAN SOMETHING ELSE, and I’m sorry, if you named your cutesy little software that you bought last year to do a specific office task MRI, don’t ding me for assuming you’re talking about a much better known MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

    2. El l*

      I think a lot of people in job application/interview are…just trying to get along.

      By doing those sorts of “see if you’re lying” questions they’re privileging difficult, disputatious people. Which unless you’re going specifically for that…

    3. The New Wanderer*

      How do you make up names that are both plausible and not actually in use? I read a list of desired (real) software for a particular job and I had never heard of 9/10 of them.

      Or if you’ve only seen them written so you don’t know if it’s pronounced “S-Q-L” or “sequel”? That’s probably not a problem for people who work with them, but could be for the HR person who’s not familiar and trying to go off the job description.

    4. Rav*

      I remember reading about someone hazing the new employees by sending them on a wild chase for nonexistent parts. Until the hero (or villain) arrived. Same script, he’s send off to buy 4 of certain parts with the company’s CC. About 2 hours later he called in, saying he found them, at around $1000 each one, and how did they want it delivered.

      Apparently he had worked in an industry that called certain parts by that name, and went there to buy them. Lots of explanations were given.

      1. Wintermute*

        I heard that story too, he was sent for a “long weight” (aka a “long wait”) and the expected result was he’d stand there in Purchasing for a while and the clerk would say “I think it’s been long enough, head on back” but it turns out that is actually a tool used in the garments industry, and thus they were now the proud owner of a set of Long Weights.

    5. Letter Writer*

      It felt very much like those segments Jimmy Kimmel used to have on his show, “Lie Witness News” where he interviewed people attending Coacehlla and made up fake band names and got them to pretend they were big fans. (Not sure if I can post links here, but I think it is worth a watch

  7. Snarkus Aurelius*

    When I was fresh out of grad school, I applied at Macys to do gift wrapping during the holiday season. I had to apply on a computer at the store and…

    * I had to list every job I’ve ever had with exact dates, why I left, and a phone number for my supervisor. Doesn’t matter if the job was more than ten years ago and that I’d lost track of people. I couldn’t leave those fields blank, and I couldn’t omit a job either. (How they’d know, I have no idea.)
    * I was required to list the title of my graduate thesis.
    * I was required to give my GPA in high school, college, and graduate school. I also had to list the names and phone numbers of my counselor, academic advisor, and thesis advisor for each.
    * Then came a personality test, which took over an hour to complete. The questions weren’t numbered, and the test doesn’t show progress so I have no idea how many there were. (Another company did the same to me as well a few years later, and I felt very manipulated.) They asked the same version of the following questions over and over again: would you steal; what would you do if you saw someone else steal; how would you steal; and how often would you steal.

    The whole process was a gotcha test because I simply do not believe some Macys HR person is reading my graduate thesis or calling my high school guidance counselor to verify a GPA I don’t remember for a TEMPORARY GIFT WRAPPING JOB.

    I don’t appreciate being manipulated. If you want to ask me something, then ask me directly. Don’t play games.

    P.S. This is why I LOATHE the What Would You Do? show. It’s such BS for the same reason.

    1. thatoneoverthere*

      That is ridiculous. I loathe those stupid personality tests. Many years ago, my husband worked at a very widely known insurance company that was growing rapidly. With my experience he knew I would be a great fit for a role. Employees at the time, could refer anyone even spouses. I applied and was auto rejected immediately based on the answers to my test.

      The best part was about a year after applying my husband switched roles into workforce management. Basically managing the call offs, call flow of the call center they had (a roll I had applied for). He said the people they were hiring were terrible. Constant call offs. People getting hired and fired in crazy numbers. He quickly left the company. Guess the test wasn’t that great after all!

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Microsoft tried this too with games and unrealistic questions.

        How do you determine the weight of a 747? (You can’t Google it or ask Boeing or look it up.)

        People would end up coming up with elaborate solutions like putting a 747 in a pool or building a massive scale with barrels or something.

        So Microsoft hired a bunch of people who developed complex solutions to problems that either didn’t exist or could be solved by asking someone or doing research instead.

        Explains why Vista failed.

        1. Your Local Password Resetter*

          To be fair, they may have thought of and preferred the simple solutions themselves. But it’s not a good look for their company culture.

        2. Ursula*

          This sounds exactly like Microsoft (I worked there for 4 years). Everything is extremely unnecessarily complicated, and that extends into their products.

    2. Shad*

      At least on “what would you do?” The contestants presumably knowingly signed up to be manipulated and have games played! With job applications, there’s also a sense of bait and switch because I did not sign up for games and manipulation, I signed up to give a prospective employer straightforward information so they can make a preliminary assessment of my suitability for the job and hopefully so we can have a reasonably honest conversation to further assess that fit.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      Versions of that “Are you a thief” personality test have been floating around since at least the 1980s in my personal experience, and likely are older than that. The “correct” answer is always that you are an angel, never having had even the most fleeting thought of crime. Don’t worry that this is obvious BS. Everyone knows that. Treat it as an intelligence test: Are you smart enough to give the “correct” answers. At most it is an initial filter, to cut down the number of applications a real human looks at.

      1. Money*

        Whoa, the best ones are designed to weed out liars. 2 things:

        Whoa, they have procedures for that. The trick question fake people will respond to:

        1) ‘Have you ever dropped litter’? Fakers say no. Test producers say this is a lie (I know, the obvious issue is that some people would never drop litter)

        2)The same questions asked in a different way, if you respond inconsistently between these questions you are assumed to be faking.

        There are other means but I would need to dig up the lecture I did the research for.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          The best ones, perhaps. But there are some decidedly not best ones out there. Back in the late ’80s I managed a chain convenience store for a while. We were required to give one of those tests. It was terrible. Then my next job after that was working for Walmart. I had to take the exact same test. As a point of information, if you manage a store you have to know how to steal from it. I am very knowledgeable about how to spoof 1980s store technology. This put me in a quandary applying to Walmart. My previous experience was a part of my pitch, but the test sought innocent babes. I went with answering those parts honestly, on the basis that pretending otherwise would be too blatantly pretending to be an idiot. I guessed right. The answers were points that needed to be discussed in the live interview, but were not deal killers. Frankly, I think that the entire test is used that way, not actually influencing who is hired.

          As for those better tests, this becomes an exercise in guessing what the test designer wants. This in turn is the hallmark of standardized tests. The issue with this sort of standardized test in general is not merely that some people in fact do not drop litter, but that the “correct” answer is defined as the one that statistically correlates with whatever it is the test makers are looking for. Whether or not it makes a lick of sense in its own right simply doesn’t enter into the discussion.

          1. Nanani*

            Liars and thieves assume everyone else is always lying and stealing, so if a lying thief wrote the test, welp.

          2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

            I am reminded of the story about Timothy Leary being sent to prison for something involving illegal drugs.

            The standard procedure for new inmates was to give them a personality test and then decide what job to assign them.

            Leary, who had written the test, carefully gave the answers that said “assign this person to the library”: even if the warden had remembered that Leary was a psychologist, people don’t stop and think about where the test came from (other than “the Bureau of Prisons”) let alone that tests are written by actual human beings.

            1. Deejay*

              That reminds me of the NCIS:Los Angeles episode where the villain used personality tests. At the end she tells Hetty (short for Henrietta Lang) something to the effect of “I’ve seen your results from the infallible HL test. I know all your dark secrets! Mwa ha ha!”
              Hetty simply asks her what the HL stands for.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            Depending on the job you’re applying for at Walmart, though, they may absolutely NOT want people who answer anything other than “never” to the question of stealing. Source: I worked at Walmart.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Now that I think about it, there were some anti-union questions too.

        If you heard warehouse staff talking about not showing up to work until they get better wages, what would you do?

        1. UKDancer*

          Put them in touch with a trade union representative to structure their pay claim and then help organise the industrial action so it worked efficiently and yielded the desired results?

          I’m guessing I wouldn’t get through.

      3. Business Socks*

        Yeah I encountered this when I was a teenager applying for a job at a Kay-Bee toy store (remember them?) I had to answer like 100 questions over the phone and I over-thought it, assuming giving the goodie-good answers would flag me as a liar. I realized as soon as I hung up that I messed up.

        1. AntsOnMyTable*

          I did the same thing when going for a convenience store job. I have of course pocketed a pen or something like that with a previous job and ended up stealing it (aka taking it home without thinking about it) so I was like of course I can’t answer no, I have never taken anything. Didn’t get that job. haha

    4. Lacey*

      I had a very similar experience in high school when I applied to work at a Payless!
      It was insane.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Didn’t they just file Chapter 11 last year?

        It’s Payless! Not the Pentagon.

      2. Sleepless*

        I did too, when I was applying for a seasonal job of a Walgreens type store in 1986. My previous cashier jobs had basically wanted to know if you could show up for work most of the time and had a pulse, so I was taken aback by the 15 page “would you ever shoplift” quiz. I didn’t get the job, which mostly speaks to how clueless I was at age 19.

    5. PT*

      I worked somewhere with a similar application (though, thankfully, no personality test.) We hired a lot of 15, 16, and 17 year olds for summer employment.

      Well when 15, 16, and 17 year olds see questions about “title of your graduate thesis” and “all of your work history going back a minimum of 10 years” they tend to say “Oh no, this job is not for me” and then they close the application. Which means you end up hiring…no one.

      1. Siege*

        I mean, I’m 44 and a few years ago I put in an application for a comms role at a bank, which was fine. What was not fine was that the response to the application was to email me at 11 PM on a Sunday night (which says bad things about the organization’s culture) to give me a list of 12 “exercises” to do before considering me for an interview. They ranged from rating my experience with various software programs and programming concepts and the like (so, way too long but at least it was radio buttons 1-5 for each so it would be quick) to writing a 1-2 page plan to deal with their biggest comms problem, which they didn’t specify. And there were like 12-14 of these things, most of them on the longer side.

        I wrote back pointing out that this was incredibly problematic when we hadn’t even spoken yet but now I knew this job was not for me and moved on with my life. It’s just ridiculous how many employers want vastly irrelevant information. I’m sure my dissertation on Palestinian culture is really relevant.

        1. Allonge*

          2 page plan on solving an unknown problem? Wow. I mean, also the others, but… Sounds like their largest communications problem is insufficient sharing of information?

  8. El l*

    I’d say to not overlearn from this case. Eveyrwhere else this focus will be viewed as “pedantic missing-of-big-picture” rather than “OMG this person really is focused on the job at hand.”

    The only rationale I could see for doing this test, ever, was your initial situation:
    1. It’s entry level, and HR is desperate to find some way to sift among dozens of apparently-identical resumes
    2. It’s an editing job, where this is a point-of-emphasis of the role and HR can plausibly claim they’re testing a relevant skill

    For everywhere else, the mentality you’ll get in reply is, “That’s nice. How can you help meet our strategic goals?”

    1. Lacey*

      The OP did say it was for an editing job, but even then it feels pedantic. Mistakes will slip through. That’s just a fact of publishing anything anywhere.

      I’d only point it out if it was something likely to be actively causing them problems, like a misspelled email or incorrect phone number.

      1. Money*

        Everything I write has an error in it. Brain damage cannot be reversed. But my job is science and statistics, not grammar.

      2. GothicBee*

        I agree. When I was hired for an editing job, part of the hiring process was that they evaluated my editing ability by giving me a document to edit for spelling, grammar, and clarity. I wouldn’t expect to be looking for gotcha type mistakes in a job ad. It’s not even a good indication of your ability as an editor because it’s going to be pretty hard to introduce errors in a job ad that aren’t just spelling errors/typos and maybe a really obvious grammatical issue or two. Any really serious errors would probably impact readability to a point that you’d be turning off most of the good candidates you want to attract.

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, I’m an editor who has had many interviews for editor positions at most of the major UK publishing companies, and none of them has ever used any sort of ‘gotcha’ in their application process. It’s standard practice to have an editing/writing test as part of an interview, but you’re always notified of that in advance when you’re setting up the interview (they’ll say ‘The interview will take the form of a discussion with our Editorial Director, which should last around 45 minutes, and a short editorial test of no more than 30 minutes’. So you know exactly what you’re getting into, there’s no ‘Aha! We put a typo in the job advert and you didn’t spot it!’.

          The only time I’ve ever emailed a company to query an error, it was when I was filling in an application form for a job that I’d downloaded from the company website, and one of the questions was repeated twice. I emailed back to ask whether that had been a mistake, and they replied to say yes, sorry, they’d accidentally uploaded the wrong form, and sent over a new one. There was no ‘Congratulations! You spotted the deliberate mistake!’ and I’m sure if anyone had filled in and submitted the incorrect form, they’d have responded with the correct version.

  9. Drago Cucina*

    If working with a recruiter I might mention the typo to them, so they could gently pass it along. In no way would I bring attention to it in a letter, email, or interview.

    It reminds me of the interview where someone went off on how bad our website was. It wasn’t even an interview question. I had just spent a good month cleaning it up from the previous webmaster. I changed the 12 different fonts to just one. The orange font on a green background to standard colors. In short. I had made it very vanilla so we could begin fresh. All the person did was alienate me.

  10. Rayray*

    I see a lot of job postings labeled as “Entry level” but then wanting a candidate with 5+ years experience. I also see jobs wanting someone with a graduate degree and an extensive list of qualifications and I actually really hope these are “gotchas”. I’ve actually reported job postings on LinkedIn that are labeled Entry Level but demanding years of experience.

    1. Rayray*

      Posted before I finished my thought. I see job postings wanting someone with a graduate degree and many qualifications and the pay is $15/hour which has to be a gotcha.

    2. introverted af*

      Yeah those are hard. A lot of the different levels that are available (internship, entry level, associate, director) don’t necessarily make a ton of sense outside of business and don’t mean the same thing. Also, entry level at my job would be something like 5 years, because of how long people stay in the company and what they want to hire. An experienced hire in their minds would be 10+ years.

    3. anonymouse*

      This reminds me of the jobs that require 5/8/10 years’ experience with a technology that is three years old…or not yet available.

      1. Susan Ivanova*

        My theory on that one: the hiring manager will say “highly skilled in $newtech”. Tech being the way it is, you might be able to leverage existing knowledge to become highly skilled in a matter of weeks or months. Or you might even have been one of the creators of $newtech. But the people posting the job application want hard numbers for the requirement and are convinced you can’t be “highly skilled” without X number of years.

        This is why I would say “X years in $oldertech, the precursor to $newtech. Created project Y in $newtech”. And it got me past the “X years in $newtech” filter, even though it only took me a month to write project Y, and that was the entirety of my $newtech experience.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          We generally ask for “X years experience” (as in overall) but then list the various programming languages (or whatever it is). We don’t mean must have X years in all of those things, since we know they didn’t all exist that long, but if we’re hiring a super senior engineer or something, we theoretically are looking for someone who has been an engineer for a while, not just the lifespan of whatever current medium is. Not to say there haven’t been plenty of terrible job ads that do literally say “X years experience in X-3 years old thing”. I know that exists. But it also seems like sometimes some people interpret the former as the latter when that’s not the same thing.

  11. alienor*

    As someone who both does hiring and has hired editors/proofreaders, I would never do something like that as a deliberate test. Not only would it be weird, it would be an extra hassle to manage because I would have to ask the recruiter who posted the job description to insert an error, and then rely on that person to report back to me if anyone pointed it out. If I want to check someone’s skills in that area, I have an actual test I’ve put together to do it.

  12. NewCommenter*

    I could see myself pointing out a typo, but only if it was something major, potentially ’embarrassing’ (like pubic health instead of public health), or would majorly affect the posting (like if the application deadline said 2/31 and I wanted to check when it actually was). Even then, I’d still only say something like, “I noticed there’s a typo in public health – figured I would point it out in case you weren’t already aware” or “I’m working on an application now – can you clarify the deadline” and then move on. A polite heads-up or clarification seems much more likely to make you look like a decent employee than making a big deal over someone you don’t even work with yet making a mistake.

    1. El l*

      Completely agree…a mistake has to be either really embarrassing (‘pubic health!”), or substantive.

      If, for example, a recruiter is contacting me, but gets my name wrong…that’s worth a correction. Or they add/drop a zero in the quoted compensation number.

      Otherwise, meh, we’re all human.

  13. RCB*

    I always a put a follow-the-directions test in any job posting I do, usually “Email your cover letter and resume to and put ‘Teapot Designer’ in the subject line”, just something very simple to see who can actually follow directions.

    1. Xavier Desmond*

      Yeah that’s perfectly reasonable and a different thing entirely from a gotcha. You’re asking people to follow instructions not trying to trick them.

      1. Allonge*

        Also it’s instructions that make sense. I suppose in some jobs you want people to follow whatever they are told, but I never hired for any post where critical thinking was not at least as important.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I’d say that in almost all jobs, you want people who can follow simple instructions that make sense. Critical thinking is important, but those expense reports have to be filled out the way the company wants it done.

  14. BRR*

    I’m with Alison that I would consider it a red flag. I wouldn’t want to work with/for any person or company that thinks a gotcha test is a good way to hire.

    1. glt on wry*

      It does reek of ego and “catching out” someone who “isn’t as smart” as the employer.

      An example (I want to tell this story!): Back in the ’90s, I applied to an independent bookstore. A question on the interview test had you figuring out the (big math problem) till balance on February 30th. The owner wasn’t around when I was filling in my questionnaire, so I asked a soon-to-be colleague if I was supposed to answer the question, since the day, therefore the sales, didn’t exist. He kind of sighed (he was used to this owner’s plays) and told me to go ahead and do the math but to make sure I mentioned that I noticed the non-existent date on my answer.

      The job was in a very nice city in the world that is lovely in the spring, so I don’t regret working there, but yes, that line of inquiry should have alerted me to the not-great aspects of the job. I was still pretty young and new to critical thinking.

  15. bananab*

    Once I had a mini onsite test with a piece of software I have a ton of experience in, and they had set up all sorts of bizarre traps within the file, but this wasn’t presented in any way as a troubleshooting exercise. So they would ask me to perform some semi-common task, then sort of smile and laugh when something completely unrelated to that task prevented me from doing it. Like I get wanting to get a handle on someones problem-solving skills, but at a certain point it’s just like: this interview is basically a prolonged practical joke.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      3 years ago I had somebody ask me to write an algorithm to invert an array with the least amount of memory used.

      Dude, this is 2018. Any decent language does that in one function or method. Making me write it out by hand to save a couple of bytes of memory (which is cheap) just means that I’ve spent a lot more labor (which is expensive), and have a much higher chance of introducing bugs (which are really expensive).

      (And no, they weren’t working on embedded systems or something where memory was actually a constraint.)

      Which told me I didn’t want to work for them.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        I’ve had several of those, too.

        Interviewer: Sort this array
        Ego: Foo.sort();
        Interviewer: No, we want you to write the sort() method.
        Ego: Why?!
        Interviewer: We want to see how you work.
        Ego: Assuming foo.sort() doesn’t actually already fulfill the need, I’d maintain the array in a passively sorted state; whether that’s building the backend as a sorted linked list and insert new elements into it where appropriate to maintain the sorting, or if it’s a contiguous memory block, just adding n+1 to the array and copy n to n+1, walking the array until !(n(x) < y) for each insertion. If all else were to fail, for a one-off I'd just write a bubble-sort since they're easy to implement and troubleshoot; processor cycles are cheap and liability is not. Maybe a cocktail shaker sort if I were feeling fancy.
        Interviewer: Well, that's all well and good, but you really should have a more sophisticated algorithm memorized.
        Ego: Why would I do that when they're built into most modern languages and available on countless reference sites online?

        Interviewer: Thank you; that'll be all. We'll let you know if there are no other viable candidates, no vendor it outsource the role to, and we fail to figure out how to eliminate this position.

        1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          I know of exactly one case where the sort algorithm wasn’t implemented in a relatively modern language – I think it was MatLab. When my brother discovered this, he implemented it by doing a quick internet search and translating the results into the appropriate syntax. He’s the only person I know who has ever had to do this – and I work in software development! (My brother is a chemical engineer.)

        2. Quantum Hall Effect*

          This is the code equivalent of the Fermi problem. Nobody cares how many piano tuners are in Chicago, and nobody is ever going to use the number for anything. They do want to know how you think. Just show them how you think.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            I might not have given the expected answer, but had the interviewer been actually listening, I do think there’s a lot of insight into how I tend to think and compose solutions for challenges.

          2. The New Wanderer*

            But that only works as a question if the interviewer recognizes/appreciates that there are many ways to get at the ‘right’ answer. If they’re really only looking for one specific solution and don’t care about the other paths, this is not the kind of question they should be asking.

          3. JB*

            How did you get from ‘you should have one memorized’ to ‘they want to know how you think’?

            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              To be fair, there is a grain of truth in the answer; one can’t look *everything* up and still maintain some semblance of productivity, and where the line between trivia and core skill lies has an element of subjectivity to it.

              It also makes more sense when you apply it to a different algorithm than sort–e.g. Luhn (mod 10) checkbyte–or if you’re recreating a client’s logic on your end for verification and the two must be in perfect sync.

              In retrospect, I think they wanted a fresh graduate for the role, and I was a 10-year programming veteran at the time. As a new grad, I wouldn’t have thought twice about writing a new sort (or algorithm) from scratch and would likely still have something like Merge or Quick Sort memorized from classes. Over those 10 years, I’d seen it go wrong and my sense of danger had strengthened.

          4. Allonge*

            Disclaimer: I know nothing about coding.

            It seems like the answer they want ignores the most obvious (3 or so?) options, which are using the tools at your disposal for exactly this problem. This is a very artificial situation.

            I know we like to pretend that we need out-of-the-box, lateral thinkers everywhere, but it’s not true. As a manager and coworker, I am really happy with a team where most people can think inside the **** box, and use the tools we have as intended. I would argue that for most jobs, that is more than sufficient.

      2. Susan Ivanova*

        There’s a recent XKCD for that: #2483, Linked List Interview Problem.

        Tech interviews used to be very fond of tests requiring low-level C string manipulation, like capitalize all the words or reverse the order. Finally they’re starting to say you can use the high level libraries, because that’s actually what you’ll be using in your job.

        1. Klio*

          The answer to the first part in my job would Google, the answer to the second part would be “no, use the standard install we have. If you want to install the higher libraries, do a risk analysis, make a business plan on who is responsible for updates and issues and sustaining, and show us how it saves oodles of money with in the first year”.
          We only need low level C, string manipulation is already advanced stuff in what we do.

  16. insert pun here*

    I hire/work with editors of various types, and am one myself, and I would not insert a “gotcha” into a job ad like this. We can test those skills, if necessary. With that said, I wouldn’t mind at all if someone pointed out an error (assuming it’s actually an error! You need to be really sure!), if they did so politely. That may not hold true for other industries/other kinds of jobs, though.

    1. Siege*

      I got tired of it fast, but I come from fiction editing. This book has over 100,000 words in it, it’s basically just a law of the universe that the best you’re going to get after multiple rounds of proofing and editing is only three of them misspelled. Writing in to tell us how awful we are at our jobs is not going to win you friends. (And seriously, at that job I had more than one person berate us for X, then turn around and try to either get a job or get published with us. I’m not talking about politely pointing out an error, I’m talking about “our next step was going to be a restraining order”.) So I’m not charmed by it unless you can work it in some way that demonstrates who you are in the cover letter.

      1. insert pun here*

        Yeah, nonfiction here, and we do get the aggrieved “how dare you make a mistake” folks/folks who are a little TOO invested. But I’ve also gotten very polite notes saying “uh, I loved xyz book but one signature was printed upside-down and obviously I don’t know if this happened with all the books or just mine so I thought you might want to check?” or something like that. (Obviously easier to spot than a typo.) Never as part of a job interview/app. It might come across weirdly in a cover letter/first contact but I could see it happening in a conversation, or at least I wouldn’t fault someone for pointing it out, if they were polite and matter of fact about it (and correct.)

        1. Siege*

          Oh, THAT’s very different. I didn’t handle those, but I’d never mind that. Making sure someone can read your book is the best way to ensure they read another book!

          And it demonstrates a little something I’d love – put in the cover letter something like “when I saw X Major Error, I learned that people get paid to catch these problems, and I was hooked on copyediting. I got Y certification…” I mean, I’ve had three books that had upside down or out of order sigs, it happens! It’s the “on page 347 you misspelled cat” that I can’t stand.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            The comedian Joe Lycett tells a story of going to renew his passport, in which his countersignatory has misspelled “neighbour” on the form, so the entire thing is rejected.

            Joe says, “Oh no, he didn’t misspelled ‘neighbour’; he misspelled ‘friend’.”

            The spelling pedant at the desk says, “No, no, no, that clearly says ‘neighbour’.”


            She submits the form.

            When I was younger, I was terribly interested in showing off how clever I was and how much I knew about language in general and English in particular. Then I grew up and learned that what matters is communication, not 100% accuracy. Spoken language has faaaaar more “errors” than writing, and native/fluent speakers cope well (less confident language learners are more likely to be thrown).

            I have never encountered a real life situation where the difference between “its” and “it’s” caused confusion or ambiguity, so I no longer care if I see the wrong one (unless in my own work, or writing I’m in some way responsible for, such as published work product or my children’s homework).

            Clue: if they truly caused confusion, they wouldn’t still be homophones.

          2. mdv*

            So… I’ve just been reading a series of ten books by the same author, and in books 9 and 10, there were some mistakes that just hadn’t happened in earlier books, like using the wrong words. I keep thinking about sending a note that says “hey, FYI, you used the word ‘revealed’ where you clearly meant ‘reveled'” and a few other examples. Is that the same level of annoyance as that last example?

      2. Cat Tree*

        I don’t work in editing at all, but I understand that errors happen. As a reader, it’s actually mildly fun when I find something like that. It makes life more interesting. In the book I’m reading now, which is over 800 pages, I noticed that the author mixed up two similar names in a scene where one of them wasn’t present. It just means the author and editors are human. I can’t imagine getting annoyed by that as a reader.

        1. allathian*

          When I was younger I was a GrammarNazi and proud of it. At times I must’ve been insufferable. I’ve learned to tone it down, a lot, but the fact is that I find it almost impossible to respect people who can’t spell and no matter how good a person was otherwise, I’d never want to work for a dyslexic manager who hadn’t learned to deal with it to produce at least reasonably readable text in more official documents. I don’t nitpick casual emails or IMs, never have. Luckily, since my job is comms-adjacent, with a heavy focus on written communications, this is extremely unlikely to happen.

  17. Beth_P*

    Many years ago when I was interviewing for bookkeeping positions, I found a typo on a company’s website. I thought it looked sloppy, but didn’t plan to say anything. However, as I finished my interview I found the words coming out anyways in a ‘by the way’ manner. I did get the job so it couldn’t have hurt me much, but to this day I have no idea how the person who was in charge of that copy felt about me bringing it up.

  18. Jessica Fletcher*

    I bet that original company /didn’t/ put it in as test, but they said that out of embarrassment for a typo.

    1. anonymouse*

      Agreed. I wonder what they said to other candidates who mentioned it, but who they weren’t as excited about as OP.

    2. Money*

      That is the most likely option. What are they going to do, not interview anyone who didn’t notice one word? That is the best way to ensure you don’t hire the best candidate.

  19. TheHotNerd*

    I interviewed at a well-known tech company several years ago. The supervisor who would be MY supervisor if I took the job was a real piece of work. Rude, condescending, dismissive, belligerent. It was AWFUL. Then halfway through the interview he says it was all act, and he wanted to see how I’d respond since some of their customers behave like that.

    Uh-huh. :/

    When I reached out by their recruiter for feedback, I told them I’d never work there and why and how inappropriate the supervisor’s “technique” was.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      And that approach makes no sense! Customers who act like that are in a completely different relationship to an employee than a manager who acts like that towards a would-be direct report. No one in their right mind would want to risk reporting to someone who can turn that rude act on and off.

    2. Money*

      Next it will be ‘I only sexually assault staff because it is going to happen in the job anyway’.

      1. JanetM*

        That was just in Dear Prudence yesterday! — “Help! My Teen’s Boss Is Handsy. I Think She Should Keep the Job Anyway.” The mother’s rationale was, “She will encounter plenty of dirty, old men and pushy, young men in her life and, even though it is completely unfair, I feel she needs to learn to set her boundaries and not just quit.”

        1. Nanani*


          Quitting is HOW you set a boundary though? Not the -only- way but refusing to work for them and working for bosses that don’t pull that crap is a very healthy way to deal with it.

          1. Your Local Password Resetter*

            Yeah, any other boundary setting I can think of would be dangerous or probably end up with her fired anyway.

        2. nnn*

          WTF? Even if creepy men are inevitable, that doesn’t mean you have to put up with a situation where the creepy man is your boss! I’d advise the daughter to ask her peers who are working in similar jobs and see if any of them have workplaces where the boss isn’t harassing them.

  20. Elle Woods*

    I saw a job at a small company a few years back that asked to you to submit your resume and cover letter and to identify the four errors in the text that followed. I read and re-read the text several times and could only identify three errors. I applied anyway. Turns out there were only three errors and they considered the fourth error to be that it said there were four errors. As I moved along in the hiring process it became clearer to me that this was the kind of place that frequently engaged in “gotcha” type antics. I wound up turning down the offer because I realized that not being able to trust their truthfulness was going to be anxiety-inducing for me.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      If they put it the way you have worded it, the fourth error was not in the text that followed. It was in the text that preceded the text that followed.

    2. Nobby Nobbs*

      That’s a paradox and it makes my head hurt. Good judgement on turning down the job.

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I’d actually say “No, the fourth error was mine; applying.”

  21. ObserverCN*

    Hello, fellow editors! :)
    At a previous job, I took a candidate for an editing position out to lunch during his interview. He noticed a typo on the menu, and I was impressed. He got the position. I wouldn’t deliberately put errors in job listings, though — that’s why we have editing tests.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, and this was also a case where the stakes were lower than in a job ad, for example. The candidate usually has no way of knowing if the HR person who wrote the ad is on the panel. Many people wouldn’t mention the error even if they notice it because they want to avoid embarrassing a potential employer, unless the error is truly egregious or confusing. Someone mentioned “pubic health” for public health above, or a deadline of 2/31.

  22. Pineapple Pizza*

    Don’t forget that HR is often the one posting the ad. If you point out the error to the hiring manager, it isn’t their error and that might now bode well.

    I interviewed and got a job where HR posted incorrect work hours. When I asked for clarification they were confused (the hours posted were for another role), and I said that was what was posted on the job posting on their site and the HR director (who posted it) became combative and defensive. I was not trying to point out an error. I was just trying to get clarification. Stupid me for just being shocked at how bent out of shape he got (there were other red flags), because two years later I quit that job due to how toxic and dysfunctional it was and that HR director? He had his fingers in everything, so I blew him off as someone I wouldn’t have to deal much with, but he was the biggest bully in the organization!

  23. Richard Hershberger*

    Pointing out “mistakes” that aren’t really is sometimes called “miscorrecting.” This is a minefield. There is endless terrible grammar advice out there, often from seemingly authoritative sources. There is nothing wrong with using the passive voice, though it can be done badly. There is an entire body of bogus rules about words you can’t begin a sentence with. Or end a sentence with, for that matter. And so on. This is before we even get to the difference between grammar and style rules. Many people, even ones who should know better, are constantly confused about this distinction. Worse, the people most prone to making miscorrections also tend to think of themselves as particularly well educated on the points of grammar, and often are insufferable about it. Miscorrect me and there is not a chance I would hire you, if I would have to interact with you later on.

    1. Just @ me next time*

      This reminds me of something that happened in my high school during a career and personal planning class. The teacher had drawn a diagram on the board without any labels. One of my classmates, who was a really insufferable know-it-all*, jumped up right before class started and began labelling the diagram.
      Teacher: “What are you doing, [Student]?”
      Student: “This is obviously a diagram of AC and DC electricity. I’m just finishing it.”
      Teacher: “Actually, it’s a diagram of your life on drugs. Please sit down.”

      *To be honest, I was also an insufferable know-it-all in high school. I remember derailing a conversation in an English class because people were using “antisocial” to mean shy and I had recently read in my sister’s psychology textbook that it meant something different and I needed EVERYONE to know how smart (and not antisocial) I was.

  24. Money*

    I’m a lecturer. Half of our students write abysmally. I’m not talking about typos. I’m talking about long paragraphs without any full stops. Overly long sentences where the same words are repeated within one sentence. The degree of plagiarism. Their refusal to not even use Microsoft word spell check. The sheer amount of repetition in a 1500 word document.

    It takes ages to try and figure out what some of them are trying to say.

  25. DarthVelma*

    Part of why I got my current job was catching an error in one of the exercises. It wasn’t intended as a gotcha – the person making up the fake numbers for an Excel exercise didn’t do the math. I caught that one of the formulas would result in an impossible number.

    But I didn’t just point that out. I noted in my written response that in the real world my first step would be to talk to someone with more programmatic knowledge than I had. That the number looked impossible to me, but that I’d want to confirm that with someone before doing any analysis. Then I talked about the process for trying to get corrected data. Then I described the data as if it was correct.

    The hiring manager really liked that answer. But we still don’t put intentional “gotchas” in our postings or exercises.

  26. animaniactoo*

    My view on gotcha tests…

    I don’t wanna work for a place that “tests” people this way. I have no idea what their next “test” is going to be.

    So personally, I wouldn’t mention the correction probably until I had the job. Because if it’s a test, it’s a test I want to fail.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      I worked for a boss who would do this. I was young, I was new, and he would put things in the wrong place to see if I would fix it. Hell, he’s the boss, he ought to know better, I figured that’s where he wanted it.

      He finally told me what he was doing after three months and I noped out of there. I ain’t got time for that kind of BS.

  27. Falling Diphthong*

    OP, consider that that long-ago employer was trying to save face. “That’s not a bug, it’s a feature! We totally planned that spelling error!”

  28. Kits*

    God I don’t have time for little tests and games. Probably hiring you because I have too much work on my plate already!

  29. J3*

    If there were a typo in a job description I was hiring for, I would definitely not consider it a plus for a candidate to spontaneously point it out… Intuiting when is and isn’t appropriate to call attention to a minor error is a legitimate and important soft skill in my role and probably any role I’d be involved in hiring.

  30. MCMonkeyBean*

    I agree to err on the side of not pointing it out.

    If you come at it from the POV of wanting to be told if you had an error, then I think you can maybe casually mention it if you actually speak with someone but I would definitely not include it in the cover letter.

    I’m curious to know Alison’s take on the other “tests” you mentioned that sound more like just screening for people who actually read the whole job listing rather than people just sending their resume out everywhere. That sounds reasonable to me but I’m definitely open to being told it’s not a great practice for some reason.

  31. The vault*

    Oh…if I had someone correct a spelling error or something in a job posting, not to mention in their COVER LETTER, I’d toss that thing. I don’t need someone like that working for me.

  32. Quantum Hall Effect*

    just to see if I was lying about my experience.

    I once went to work for someone who thought I must be lying about my experience. The full context is that after many years in the field, I left a job I hated to pursue an MS full-time, but I also wanted full-time employment (where upon I would go part time for the MS). Since I was a full time student, the manager hired me as a summer intern bc she thought I might be lying about my experience. It was preposterous to hire me as an intern, but I really wanted the job, so I agreed.

    In retrospect, there are other ways to check on a candidate’s experience. She could have asked me to describe a problem that I solved or called my references to talk to them about my work. It took me going through that experience to arrive at my current stance, and my current stance is that hiring managers should do their due diligence investigating backgrounds, not play games with applicants.

    1. Quantum Hall Effect*

      Oh, to finish the job story, it didn’t work out. There wasn’t enough work to fill a whole day, and they kept telling me to go home early. I don’t know how they thought that was going to work out for a full-time permanent employee who was *required* to put in a full day.

      I gave them the date that I needed to have an offer by, and they did not make me an offer by that date. So I gave two weeks notice. My manager was surprised that I was leaving. Her manager told me I could just leave and not serve out the notice period, which, again, I wondered how that worked out for regular full-time employees (I wasn’t walked out, I was just told it wasn’t necessary to stay. I was counting on that two weeks income, so I did stay.). Neither of them spoke to me again for the next two weeks.

      This was the kind of company where security was high, and non-employees need an escort at all times, including people who have turned in their badge and need to walk out of the building. My manager didn’t arrange for me to be walked out. She was actually on PTO on my last day, so I left my badge on her desk and walked myself out. I *really* wonder how that played out when she returned.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, me too. Sounds like she wanted to avoid you to the point that she intentionally took PTO on your last day so she didn’t have to walk you out of the building and exchange polite small talk on the way out.

        I work for a government agency and we’re also pretty strict about security. Our badges also double as smart cards for accessing our computers, and we need to keep it visible whenever we aren’t actually using our computers. This also means that your computer’s automatically locked whenever you leave your desk. We also have secure printing, and need to use the smart card to access the printer. If an employee’s leaving, and the manager can’t be there to pick up the badge and computer, it’s handled by another manager at the same level.

    2. Wintermute*

      That doesn’t really work in IT and that’s the reason why gotchas are sometimes used, like fake software, and contract-to-hire is becoming the norm.

      Learning just enough to get hired is fairly trivial, learning enough to do your job without being a major drain on other people’s time and resources is not. There’s also a culture that’s developed among some people, and some recruiters even encourage it (or will actually add things to your resume without your knowledge knowing it’s a keyword filter they’re using for resumes, I have had it happen to me!)

      The questions like you described are less than useful and almost all companies won’t give references– you can sometimes wrangle one from a peer or a manager who quit and doesn’t care anymore but even then those won’t speak to your full experience and qualifications usually.

  33. Ozzie*

    I’m definitely the person who is seriously put off by a typo in a job listing. I wouldn’t correct it, but depending what the position was – and the company posting it – I would at the very least laugh about it. I saw a typo in a publishing house’s job listing the other day, of a major company name, and I definitely raised my eyebrows at it.

    But I would never think it was a test, and would never treat it as such. That’s such a weird thing to do. I would consider reconsidering my application process with a place if this was how they treated potential future employees.

  34. Emma Dilemma*

    The thing about attention to detail is you also need to have good judgement on when to use it. If someone can’t ever contain themselves from pointing out a typo, that isn’t always a good thing.

    1. allathian*

      Oh, absolutely! And I say this as someone who took far too long to learn this lesson. People are human and mistakes happen. That said, I’d have trouble working for a terrible writer, mainly because I prefer to communicate in writing whenever possible, and I wouldn’t want to have to adjust my communication style to a manager who prefers to give instructions by talking. But I guess even that would be preferable to a poor writer who nevertheless prefers emails over Skype calls…

    2. Bluesboy*

      I used to be like that, I would correct anything and everything and didn’t have the judgement to know how or when to do it. Then one day someone took me aside and said “Bluesboy, it isn’t about being right. It’s about getting what you want” and taught me that it was more important to use my judgement, to let things slide sometimes when bringing them up would be a distraction or show bad judgement.

      I still struggle with it sometimes, but I think at least half of any success I have career wise comes down to that conversation. I was insufferable before it…

    3. Letter Writer*

      For the record, I wouldn’t actually reply all if someone used the wrong for of their, there or they’re. :)
      And the only time I ever consider pointing out an error is if it is something substantive that changes the meaning of a sentence, or that is potentially embarrassing. Trust me, my attention to detail is not accurate enough to be the perfection police. Plus I do not have enough friends that I can just go around infuriating all the people around me by fighting about the Oxford Comma.
      But I have learned my lesson, I am going to keep my red pen away from applications. Thank you everyone for my justly deserved wake-up call!

  35. CW*

    I would say a typo here and there is no big deal – mistakes happen. However, if the job description is full of errors, then it is a huge red flag. I came across more than I would like to have seen when I was job hopping, and they were obvious scams, robots, or fake job descriptions to bait someone into taking another job entirely.

    But for a few typos, I would say it is no big deal.

  36. Anita*

    I don’t think it’s quite the same as making up software, but when I used to run an IT service desk I would ask applicants progressively more complex and obscure technical scenarios until I got one they didn’t know the answer to (usually about the third one).

    I wanted to know what they would do if they didn’t know the answer, did they make shit up? Tell the person they would find out and call them back? Put them on hold and click about desperately? Tell the person they’d log it and second level would be in touch? If they tried to figure it out themselves how did they do that? If they passed it on, did they say they would follow up to find out the answer?

    It wasn’t a gotcha so much as it was a way to answer a genuine hiring question; what did they do under pressure to perform when they didn’t know the answer? That was my single highest risk in the actual work, people who wouldn’t fess up to being stuck and instead dug a big hole.

  37. Mrs. Bond*

    Once, about 15 years ago, I was in an interview and the hiring manager had stapled a page from someone else’s resume in between the two pages of mine. She kept asking me questions about what was on that page. I was completely baffled. I didn’t understand why she didn’t notice that the typography on that page was completely different from my resume. Later I realized that it was probably a test to get me to pull out a fresh copy of my resume or something. I still don’t get it. It just made her look bad IMO.

    I didn’t get the job.

    1. Quantum Hall Effect*

      It probably wasn’t a test, she probably did notice that the typography was different, and she probably was wondering why *you* hadn’t noticed.

      1. Mrs. Bond*

        I did notice and pointed it out to her but she didn’t tear the page out and kept asking the master’s degree that I don’t have. {{shrug}}

  38. Me (I think)*

    “just to see if I was lying about my experience”

    Yeah, that interview would be over right then and there. Thanks very much for your time, I can see that this role is not for me. Goodbye.

    1. linger*

      I have some sympathy for them if they arrived at that solution (i) when needing to hire for expertise they don’t personally have, and (ii) after experience of interviewing applicants who had exaggerated their expertise. There are certainly more reliable solutions (such as an actual skills test) but those are not always practicable if an expert isn’t already on staff.

  39. Bryce*

    Tangential, but the innocuous “what is your favorite candy bar” question is one I find tricky. Explaining why I don’t have one would require me to disclose medical issues (food allergy) but if I just say I don’t have one people always try to push because “everybody has a favorite”. It doesn’t need to be scrubbed or anything, but if someone declines to answer a non-job-critical question like that please let them do so.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, I agree. That said, this is a very low stakes question. I would have absolutely no issues with making something up if I couldn’t come up with a real answer.

      1. allathian*

        Maybe something like “oh, I don’t really know because I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I really like [something salty and greasy].” There’s really no need to disclose any medical issues at this stage.

    2. Kesnit*

      I’m diabetic, so can’t eat candy bars. I never really ate them before my diagnosis. However, if asked, I’d be able to mention which ones I liked without having to go into anything beyond that.

  40. learnedthehardway*

    If you have to use a “gotcha” in your interviewing and hiring, then you don’t know how to interview or hire. Full stop.

    Using these kinds of gimmicks is a great way to introduce biases and poor decision criteria.

  41. Madame X*

    I don’t like the idea of “testing” job candidates without telling them they are being tested, it feels unethical. Of course, a job add is not the same as subjects consenting to psychological/biomedical research, but I think the current standards in biomedical research offer some valuable lessons about how about how to properly inform people before initiating a test. My issue is that, it is unethical to evaluate someone on a “test” that they have not agreed to participate in when they are applying for a job.
    Also, putting a typo in a job add is not testing proofreading skills, it is testing whether people are *willing* to inform a (potential) employer about a typo in their job add. As others, have pointed out, there are better ways to actually evaluate proofreading and copy-editing skills.

    Finally, they might have just lied to the letter writer because they were too embarrassed to admit their mistake.

      1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

        I noticed it, but wasn’t going to point it out :) I guess that demonstrates which group I fall into!
        I do agree about the consent to testing, you don’t necessarily need to specify exactly what the test involves, but at least that there is one. At least then there should be less of the uncertainty around “are they actually testing me or did they just make a mistake?”. Just be clear with your expectations!

  42. Student*

    In the context of bringing up spelling and grammar mistakes in interviews, please keep your audience in mind. If you are talking to folks who speak English as a second language, then they are not giving you a secret test, and it’s going to be pretty off-putting to make corrections in that context.

    I used to work with a lot of foreign nationals in a STEM job. Most of my colleagues were brilliant, but many struggled with various bits of English. Pretty much all of them had native languages where spelling and grammar are more standardized (the concept of a Spelling Bee is bizarre in many other languages, for example). So, jobs with an international flair – don’t do this.

  43. Maltypass*

    To my chagrin I noticed a prominent children’s charity in the UK recently did this on their twitter feed – I follow them there and they tweeted out that they had included a deliberate error in their recent job ad for an editor as it included attention to detail as a needed quality and they’d wanted candidates to point it out. I couldn’t believe I saw this happen in the wild.

  44. Bibliothecarial*

    If one is applying to a job where you would be a future hiring manager, it could be a meta-gotcha. As in, they’re testing to see if you’ll point out the ineffective interview tools they’re using. [removes tongue from cheek]

  45. Dudley*

    Gotta share. My boss used to correct my “grammar mistakes” all the time. The worst was when she explained to me that its’ (yes that’s “its” plus an apostrophe after) is how you show possession, as in “the cat is black; its’ fur is shiny.”

    She “corrected” me for writing “its fur is shiny” repeatedly and never once noticed when I showed her many tutorials on the matter. I figured out ways to avoid using various words, so that I didn’t have to deal with her fixing my “mistakes.”

  46. Can you do the can-can?*

    Does it count as a “gotcha” question if you check if the applicant is reasonably polite to the staff while they are waiting, interviewing and leaving? (Nothing unusual – just being professional and pleasant)

    1. allathian*

      Nope. That said, don’t expect too much. A greeting should be enough, rather than expecting lots of small talk. Some people shut down when they’re nervous, and most people are at least a bit nervous before an interview, but this doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad employees, or incapable of pleasant chat when they aren’t nervous.

      There’s at least one consulting company that at least in the late 90s made all those who are waiting to get interviewed wait longer than necessary, to see who’ll start working on something and who’ll just sit around waiting. They wanted, and probably still want, to hire the go-getters who’ll use any idle time to continue working. I’d never be happy in that sort of environment, that’s for sure.

      I do know that in some places when they’re hiring executives and managers ask the receptionist or EA about their impression as well. It’s like the waitstaff test, I once declined a second date with a guy who seemed otherwise really pleasant, because he was nasty to an obviously inexperienced waitress. Ours isn’t a tipping culture, but as we were leaving the restaurant I said goodbye to him, went back inside and paid something into the tip jar (any tips are shared between the whole shift, including kitchen staff), and apologized on his behalf to the waitress. I lingered a while, and luckily he got the message and didn’t wait around for me to come out. Then I blocked his number. I know I wouldn’t want to work for an organization that hired people who kiss up and kick down.

      1. Kesnit*

        “There’s at least one consulting company that at least in the late 90s made all those who are waiting to get interviewed wait longer than necessary, to see who’ll start working on something and who’ll just sit around waiting. They wanted, and probably still want, to hire the go-getters who’ll use any idle time to continue working.”

        That makes no sense. First, who brings work from an existing job to an interview with another company? Second, there is a risk of being in the middle of something you can’t easily back out of when the interviewer comes to get you. How bad would it look to say “Sorry, I need a minute to finish up this other thing”?

      2. Nanani*

        Ooof, bullet dodged with that guy!

        “Small-talk tests” are such a bad idea for the reasons you mention. Some people want to concentrate and/or don’t want to bother the receptionist. If there’s a secret “must make small talk” test then you’re filtering for a personality type, not a skill.

  47. Arkady English*

    I remember seeing an advert looking on the tube (UK version of a metro train) which had a pretty clever version of this idea. The text was something along the lines “If you can spot ten errors in this advertisement you might excel as an editor for us. Apply at…” but messed up.

    Several of the errors were obvious, some were more subtle. I think I spotted six immediately and found another two when I looked for them. But it took the better part of my commute to find the last two. If I remember right the obvious mistakes were things like spelling and inconsistent font usage. The less obvious ones were repeating a word at the line break and some bad kerning. And I had to really look for some inconsistent tenses and I think there might have been a subtlety in the punctuation but I can’t remember the nature of it.

    I thought it was a fun way to engage with me, and by openly framing it as a puzzle there was no awkwardness about potentially accusing someone of making a mistake.

  48. Jennifer Juniper*

    The purse story wasn’t as bad as I expected. I thought the guy would see her tampons/pads and then be disgusted with her for daring to menstruate.

  49. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    At the translation agency, I had to devise proofreading tests for new hires. One had to be tested in German, which I studied for like three years a good thirty years ago. I took a German translation and just made a few minor changes that would imply either bad spelling or bad grammar, pretty basic stuff.
    The interviewees would then make all sorts of “corrections” to the text and my trouble was that my German wasn’t good enough to tell whether they were improving the translation or not, I could only check whether they had corrected the errors I had introduced!
    The woman we hired turned out to be absolutely brilliant though.

  50. JamieG*

    I was recently interviewing a tech writer to join my team. We have a lot of very old docs and a lot of them are not very good. Part of the interview was to have candidates review a couple of docs and talk about how they would fix them. One of the candidates said she assumed that a lot of the errors she was seeing was because we had introduced them for the purpose of the interview. I laughed out loud. I wish we had, but nope.

  51. Betteauroan*

    If I caught a glaring error in a job posting, it would irk me because I am such a spelling/grammar stickler. (Catholic school nuns education. They took it very seriously). However, people do not notice that kind of stuff as much anymore and I would not want to step on any toes. I would just keep my mouth shut and assume it was a mistake since it is so common.

  52. Serious Pillowfight*

    What about trick interview questions? I’m still a bit bitter about almost getting a position (I was told an offer would be forthcoming after one final phone interview with an out-of-state higher up), and then said higher-up didn’t like my answer to the question “What’s your dream job?” so I didn’t get the position. Like, thanks for ignoring my past experience and qualifications and the obvious fact that the rest of the team clearly liked me and wanted me there … and tricking me instead. But yet I see these types of questions in lists of commonly asked interview questions so I know it’s “normal.”

  53. and they all rolled over*

    I had an interviewer ask which type of database column I would use to store a particular kind of date/time information. I am pretty sure that one of them was very recently released, so he was testing if I was keeping up on the industry, and one of them was made up, so he could attempt to sniff out a BSer.

  54. Sara*

    I had a job in once that directed applicants to email resumes to and not call the front desk. There wasn’t an Esther that worked there so we were told if someone called asking for them to remove their resume from the candidate list. It was a test to follow the application directions.

  55. user432532*

    If a company has errors in its job ad (spelling but also other types), I would think twice before applying.

    I would think that, at least, their HR is not super professional. If there were more errors I would think the whole company is not a good place to work, since they don’t offer quality in their processes. I mean, I wouldn’t like to be paid a wrong amount because of an error, even if that can be fixed after a conversation.

    I would never think that’s sth for me to identify and tell them.

  56. Carrie Oakie*

    I recently had a job candidate try to “gotcha” me – We had scheduled a meeting, in the emails I had said one day, but our Google Calendar had another. We are in different time zones so there was confusion and I had mistakenly put the interview on the wrong date, but the correct time, because I was more focused on the time zone. My boss reached out to the candidate via Skype per the Google Calendar instructions, the candidate acknowledged my boss, then signed off. The next day candidate emails me saying “will I be messaged for the meeting?” At which point I explained it was yesterday, they reached out to you and you logged off. Then it became that I had made a mistake and given the candidate the wrong info, thought they accepted the Google Calendar invitation as it was over a week prior. I politely rescheduled, acknowledged my error on the dates, and then candidate missed the rescheduled meeting and instead spent a day emailing me about how I was the only one who had made an error and it should be on me and not them at all, clearly trying to get me to say that the rescheduled meeting had an issue due to my error, which it did not.

    I finally replied “My error in the original scheduled time was acknowledged. At this point I believe it is best for us both to consider this a lesson learned and to move on. Thank you for your time, best of luck.” AND THEN I GOT THREE MORE EMAILS. They’re on our “do not hire” list now. We didn’t have one before cause we like to give people chances. SMH.

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