Mega Millions raises tough question for job seekers

Bryan Smith / Zuma Press / Today
Sure, a $500 million jackpot is big, but after taxes ... better just tell the hiring manager you would have to think about your options.

The Mega Millions lottery jackpot has hit a record $500 million. Would you quit working if you won it?

If you have a job interview this week, that is hardly an idle question.

The lottery, to be drawn Friday, is on a lot of people’s minds this week, and as a result hiring managers may pull out a doozy of an interview question.

Joyce Lain Kennedy, author of “Job Interviews for Dummies,” calls the lottery question one of the top 10 “prime-time tricky probes” employers lay on workers these days.

When you answer the lottery question -- or any interview question -- you want to leave out any inkling you’re not excited about working hard, no matter what the circumstances.

“Recruiters report that high numbers of job seekers blab negative information without realizing they’re making a farewell address to a job opportunity,” Kennedy said.

Even if you would dump work in a heartbeat following such a windfall, it’s best to keep your feelings to yourself.

Kennedy advised responding along these lines: “While you’d be thrilled to win the lottery, you’d still seek out fulfilling work because working, meeting challenges and scoring accomplishments are what make most people happy, including you.” And don’t forget, she added, to “say it with a straight face.”

Many of you would have no problem with the question, based on an unscientific poll of my 13,000-plus Twitter followers.  When I asked, “Would you stay in your job if you won the lottery?” more than 90 percent offered a resounding “yes.”

Most comments were along the lines of @heatherecoleman’s tweet: "Yes - I love what I do!"

But a few tweeters were contemplating post-winnings career adjustments.  “There would be major course change," said @ed_mcfarland.

For some employers, the best answer to the lottery question is one that’s honest.

“I think it is worse for the candidate to say that they would stay, never leave, etc.,” said David Lewis, president of HR consulting firm OperationsInc. “I’m looking for honesty and real people vs. fakers who are trying to tell me what they think I want to hear.”

Others believe an answer that sounds like you’re looking for any reason to get away from the daily grind is troublesome.

Ken Wisnefski, CEO of Internet marketing firm WebiMax, often asks applicants a lottery-type question: “What would you do with $1 million?”

“I have had one gentleman say, ‘I wouldn’t be here right now,’ and that gentleman did not receive a second interview," he said. "I have, however, heard responsible answers including, ‘I would invest it and grow it to $2 million.’  That response earned a second interview and eventually a position at my company.”

Patricia Siderius, managing director of executive outplacement services at BPI group, offered a good suggestion for an answer to the lottery question: “I would need time to understand how this fortune will or will not change my life.”

A life change is exactly what Benjamin Flynn, 38, a New York City cab driver, is worried about and why he’s not sure he even wants to win millions.

“Money is the root of all evil,” he said. But, he added, if he did win he’d quit his job and go back to school to become a surgical nurse.

Before we all start planning our lives post lottery-winnings, it may be time for a reality check.

Your chances of winning the Mega Millions is 1 in 176 million, according to Jim Lackritz, professor of management information systems at the San Diego State University’s College of Business Administration. “Not a good chance, and not worth it,” he said.

An individual winner of Friday's jackpot could elect to take an immediate cash payout of $359 million before taxes.