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How to answer the trick question one hiring manager says can make or break a job interview

Marguerite Ward
Take a hard look at what motivates you.

Staying calm and collected in a job interview is difficult to begin with. You have to know how to describe yourself to a relative stranger, discuss your weaknesses and respond to a slew of prompts — all while also coming across as authentic.

Have a trick question thrown your way on top of that, and you're in for a rough time. Yet, many hiring managers have a favorite curveball they'll throw your way, and knowing how to respond can help you stand out.

In this week's episode of CNBC's " The Job interview ," where candidates interview for real jobs all while being filmed, Lillian Roberts, co-founder of accounting firm Xendoo, sat down with several candidates hoping to fill the company's open position for a bookkeeper.

Roberts says how applicants answer this tough question will make or break the interviews she conducts: In what order do praise, financial advancement and personal accomplishment drive you?

"It's sort of a trick question to begin with, but it also reveals a lot about somebody," Roberts says.

And there is, in fact, a correct answer, according to Roberts and her co-founder Steve Gelley: personal accomplishment, financial advancement, praise.

No matter what, accomplishment should always come first. Saying that you are motivated by doing good work first and foremost shows that you pride yourself on what you produce, strive to be a good employee and are dedicated to your company's success. Those are all winning qualities.

Saying that you're motivated by financial reward should come after accomplishment, not before. Making the mistake of saying that money is more important than anything else raises a big red flag, and could signal to a hiring manager that you're greedy or are only taking the job for the paycheck.


"If they say financial first, it makes me wonder why in the world," says Roberts. "Even if you think financial, don't say that on an interview."

Unfortunately, one candidate did put it first in her response. She didn't get the job.

Praise should come last, Roberts says, because in the real world, you're not always going to get applause. While not every management expert would agree, Roberts says that your good work alone should give you enough pride and satisfaction.

Roberts admits that her interview style is "tough," adding, "I wouldn't want to be interviewed by us."

Check out 4 guaranteed ways to stand out in your next job interview .

CNBC's " The Job Interview " airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m.


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