Knock-Out Questions: How to Avoid Auto-Rejection When Applying for Work

knockout questionsWhen applying for jobs online, most of us focus on crafting a perfect resume and cover letter that will make a great impression. However, there are less forgiving gatekeepers standing between you and a job interview: application knockout questions.

What are Knockout Questions?

Knockout questions are typically asked early in the job application process. Their purpose: to eliminate applicants who are unable to perform key job functions. They might also expose a lack of required qualifications or exhibit other red flags. After all, they are designed to keep hiring managers from wasting their time with applicants unlikely to be among their top candidates.

Known sometimes as screening questions and also pre-interview questions, knockout questions come in many formats online:

  • Short answer
  • Yes or no
  • Scale of 1 to 5
  • Select all that apply

If you’re not getting responses to your applications despite submitting a keyword-optimized resume, one possible explanation is that you’re not making it past the knockout questions.


The term “knockout” is not an exaggeration. While a short answer question may be reviewed by an actual person, anything with preset answers could result in an automated rejection. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) allow hiring managers to send any applications with a failed response straight to the trash.

For example, the ATS JazzHR states on their website:

“Candidates who answer incorrectly to your knockout questions will be flagged as having been auto-rejected. They will be automatically dispositioned based on your selection. They will not show up in your new candidates and will go straight into a Not Hired disposition.”

Knockout questions can address concerns ranging from simple logistics to culture fit.

Basic Functions, Logistics, and Legal

In the JazzHR example above, the knockout question is “Can you work weekends?” Working weekends is critical to the job, so the hiring manager has no interest in interviewing anyone who can’t.

As a job applicant, maybe you really like the company and the job. But can’t work weekends, a requirement of the employer. There isn’t a good way to get around this. Answering “no” will sink your application. Answering “yes” in bad faith will come back to bite you when they uncover the truth.

If you can’t do the job as described? You’re better off pulling the plug and then putting your time and effort into a different application.

Other knockout questions in this category:

  • Are you willing to travel/relocate/work overtime?
  • What are your salary requirements?
  • Are you legally able to work in the United States?
  • Are you willing to submit to a drug test?


Some applicants believe they can overcome a lack of qualifications if they can just explain themselves. To combat this, hiring managers use knockout questions to enforce required qualifications listed on the job description.

For example, let’s say the job description demands a minimum 3 years experience as a graphic designer. You might try some resume formatting trickery to make your 2.5 years of experience seem more like 3. It’s harder for applicants to blur the lines with an unambiguous yes-or-no knockout question, however. For example: “Do you have at least 3 years experience as a graphic designer?”


Other qualifications-based knockout questions:

  • What degrees do you have?
  • Do you have X license?
  • Do you have X certification?
  • What experience do you have?
  • What is your skill level with X on a scale of 1-5?

Culture Fit and Character

Most knockout questions are simple and judge your eligibility and qualifications. Knowing this, some hiring managers won’t wait for a phone or in-person interview. Instead, they’ll use the application to filter out applicants based on culture fit, personality traits, or character.

These types of questions include:

  • Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team?
  • Can you concentrate in a loud environment?
  • Describe your preferred work style.
  • How well do you adapt to change?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • Tell me about a time you resolved a conflict with a co-worker.

How to Answer Knockout Questions

Be honest | You might get a little further by lying on knockout questions. But unless you’re committed to life as a con artist, the truth will eventually come out. The best approach is to answer honestly, or not at all. If the only way forward is to answer dishonestly on a knockout question? Move on to the next job application.

Do your research | There’s more wiggle room with subjective culture fit and character questions. Not sure what the “right” answer is? Research the company to get a better idea of company culture and what the hiring manager might be looking for. Re-read the job description carefully. Use Glassdoor employee reviews to get an inside look at the company. Also, scope out the background of employees in your prospective department on LinkedIn. You should still answer honestly, of course. But doing some homework can help tailor your response for the specific company.

Be real with yourself | Are you frequently knocked out due to your qualifications? It might be time for a reality check. Instead of looking for a job a step up from your most recent position, consider making a lateral move.  Or maybe take a slight step back into a role with more opportunity for growth. Add free certifications to strengthen your resume. Also, develop your skills with volunteer work, freelancing, and side hustles.

They say job hunting is a full-time job in and of itself. So don’t let that time and effort go to waste by blowing off knockout questions.


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Jobscan Blog!





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