Killer Interview Question: Have You Stolen A Pen From Work?

Killer Interview Question: Have You Stolen A Pen From Work?

In a previous KIQ, we asked whether you can sell a pen. This new pen question is a bit more challenging.

Everybody has stolen at least one pen; be it accidentally or on purpose. It’s such an innocuous thing to nick because pens are inexpensive, abundant and — unless they’re from a renowned brand or have some sentimental value — not often missed. In a workplace, it’s quite common to ask to borrow a pen from a co-worker, take it home and never return it. It’ probably all from the office stationary pool anyway.

So what should you do when you’re asked the question, “Have you ever stolen a pen from work?”

That’s an awkward question because if you say you haven’t, it would sound disingenuous. But if you say that you have and pass it off as a small transgression, then you can come across as an unrepentant petty thief.

According to James Reed, author of Why? You? 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again, the worst way you can answer this question is by admitting to taking pens and claiming you always return them later. That’s because the interviewer might challenge you on that claim.

He suggests a more realistic answer, such as:

“Well, I’d be lying to say I haven’t ever absentmindedly slipped a ballpoint into my jacket pocket, but it usually ends up back on my desk the following day, unless I leave it at home. I haven’t got a spare room full of paperclips and staplers, though, if that’s what you mean.”

How would you tackle this question? Let us know in the comments.

[Via Business Insider Australia]


  • I would say that I haven’t stolen a pen from work, because I haven’t…

    Mainly because I always use fountain pens, and therefore I only use my own pens at work, rather than the ball point pens provided 🙂

  • The HR “consultants” that come up with these have far too much time on their hands. If the interviewer needs to fill in time with questions like this, they haven’t prepared at all for the interview and are wasting your and their company’s time.

  • Stolen? If one takes their laptop home to do work then that is stolen too. Petty beyond belief. Yes I would do that if my work provided them and bring them back by the handful as they tend to accumulate at home. Are we talking about someone running a business from stolen stationery out of their home? Any workplace I have worked are more than pleased for me to take a pen for either work or private use. I think a pen would last me about a year, unless I lose it.

  • Reminds me of the Dilbert book – Build a Better Life by Stealing Office Supplies. And also the story of the carpenter who, over several years, accumulated enough spare supplies to construct a significant portion of his house.

    Seriously though… this just seems to be a “gotcha” question that stupidly tries to make HR job easier, but instead just ends up removing people with honesty and integrity from the pool of applicants.

  • I’m truly hoping these are more of a US thing than AU.
    As I’ve been with my employer for 10 years, i’m not really up to date with hiring practices.

    back last time, the questions were around proving your skills, and most importantly for the hiring manager to get a feel on whether you could fit in the team, or cause issues down the track.

    These “trick” questions are disrespectful to the applicant who’s looking to get a serious job, and not entertain trivia questions.

    would probably feel like excusing myself and leave.

  • Pens, no.
    But if you asked me if I bought printers for home that used the same toner cartridges as the printers at work, that’s a different question 😉

  • I’m assuming this is a test of intent rather than action. “Stolen” implies malice. The fact that the item has trivial monetary value is not relevant.

    Presumably the desired response is to admit to taking a pen home (honesty test passed) but hotly defend it as an innocent mistake and show abhorrence at the concept of deliberately defrauding one’s employer (morality test passed).

  • I have taken pens home to work with, but also I have taken many more of my own purchased pens in to work to replace ones that coworkers steal and my company is too freaking cheapskate to replace.

  • Agree, dumb question.

    Inhave bags full of stationary in my garage collected over the years, who cares. I have no need for it, it seems to pile up at home some how. Cant take it back, no one wants a used pen.

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