'What would you do if you won the lottery?' Tricky graduate interview question

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:41

Have you ever thought about what you will do if you win the lottery? Your interviewers want to know because it will help them to see that you are the right person for the job.

A pink piggybank looking perplexed and surrounded by coins

For many graduates, answering an interview question about winning the lottery can be tricky because it appears to be a trap: why are the interviewers asking what you’d do if you won big money? Are they trying to get you to admit that you would quit your job to travel around the world? That the only reason you’re applying for the job is that you need the money?

In truth, this question is not intended to trip you up. Instead, it aims to help the recruiter find out more about who you are as a person. And the secret to answering the question successfully is to use it to shine a light on all that’s interesting about you and to demonstrate that you would fit in well at the employer.

Tell me more. Why does an interviewer ask me what I’ll do if I win the lottery?

As mentioned above, this question is designed to give the interviewers a sense of your character – what inspires and motivates you, what is important to you and what your aspirations are. Essentially, it is asking what you would do, and to a certain extent who you’d be, if you were free from financial constraints.

It is in part a values-based interview question , which aims to explore whether you share the same values as the employer and whether you’d act in accordance with those values in the workplace. Your choice of what you'd do with a lottery win shows your life’s priorities. As such, it will give interviewers an insight into whether you would be a good cultural fit for the organisation and for the team.

The interview question ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’ could also be asked in a strength-based interview . What you do with your winnings may also reflect the pursuits you simply enjoy doing, and strengths interview questions aim to find out what you are good at and what you like to do.

Note that this question isn’t asking you ‘What motivates you?’ or ‘How ambitious are you?’ , although you may end up revealing these things while saying what you’d do with a lottery win.

How to answer the interview question ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’

DO choose a topic that is true to yourself, that you are sufficiently knowledgeable about to talk about confidently, and that you care enough about to want to discuss. It should be an idea you feel able to play with and expand upon in different directions. And DO try to pick a topic that chimes with what is important to the employer: for example, its values, its mission statement or main area of business, any corporate social responsibility projects or qualities it looks for in new recruits. Your employer research will help you here.

For example, if the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects involve animal welfare or community projects (and your values align) you could say something along the lines of: ‘I would use some of the money to support a city farm, donate to an animal charity or help create a feline equivalent to the dog show Crufts.’ Then expand your answer to bring the subject back to you and your abilities. You could, for instance, say that, although you like cats (for instance), you wouldn’t want to be one as you’re more of a pack animal and work well in teams (if that’s true).

Of course, you don’t have to say you’d contribute to a charitable cause. It’s a job interview, not a competition to see who can be most virtuous. Whatever you choose, however, try to show how well matched you and the employer are. For example, if the recruiter is looking for employees with a sense of adventure, it would be good to ensure your answer reflects a sense of adventure in you.

DON’T choose a topic you know little about. For example, don’t talk about using the money to travel to countries of which you know little and have little to say. For the same reason, DON’T make your ambitions so far-fetched you can’t feasibly talk about them in some detail or which may make you seem impractical.

Should you demonstrate your kindness and say you will buy a big house for your friends/parents/guardians and take them on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday? By all means but do also move on to spending your winnings on a project with wider values. Imagine that you can buy your aunt an end-of-terrace dwelling, fund your paraglide from the summit of a Hawaiian volcano and still have the cash to make the world a better place.

Example answers to the interview question ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’

You’ll have read enough by now to know that your answer has to be personal and genuine – you can’t rely on template answers. But the following should give you inspiration, depending on the job, employer and industry.

Example answer 1

‘Ever since school, I’ve volunteered at animal shelters – at a donkey sanctuary in my hometown and with the RSPCA at university. I’d definitely start my own rescue centre, probably initially for donkeys and then expand. I’d also form partnerships with other sanctuaries worldwide and I’d blog on what’s required to care for them.’

Example answer 2

‘My family’s been affected by cancer and types of cancer most consistently under-funded are said to be bladder and lung. So, if I won the lottery, I’d fund research into those areas. I’d take advice on whether the money would be best used by me funding an annual research grant, setting up my own charity or giving to existing charities.’

Example answer 3

‘Having a secure place to live is essential for overall well-being, so first I’d ensure that my parents’ mortgage was paid off and then I’d buy myself a house. I’d make sure a trust fund was set up so that my baby niece had the prospect of a good deposit in the future. Then I’d work with Shelter to see how my financial resources could bolster their campaigns.'

Example answer 4

‘Before I started work, I’d go on a world tour – but not just any tour. I’d budget for and organise a global trip looking at the great, transport-based engineering achievements in history: the Suez Canal in Egypt, the world’s longest road bridge in Turkey, and the launch pad of Cape Canaveral from where the moon rockets launched. All of these would be on my itinerary. I want to see things that inspire me and make me feel humanity progresses.’

How not to reply to the interview question ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’

While you should answer honestly, it’s best to avoid the following answers:

’I’d stop job hunting (or take early retirement) and I’d live off the interest from the capital, paragliding from my private beach house in Barbados.'

‘I’d set up my own business in [insert the industry to which you are applying].’

Why are these answers unlikely to get you the graduate job you want?

In general, try not to undermine your position by saying anything that suggests that you don’t passionately want the job that you are currently applying for. Use the opportunity to suggest what you would do in addition to working.

Similarly, you may want to demonstrate your commitment to your profession – but not by setting up a competitor organisation. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to set up a business in an area that – while not exactly the one you’re being interviewed for - is so closely related that it leaves the interviewer picturing you in another profession and questioning how much you want their opportunity.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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