This study concerns the extent to which people who display evident problem behaviour show signs of applying inefficient cognitive and attributional strategies in an achievement context. Twenty unemployed young adults, 14 people with health problems, and 23 students of a vocational school were compared in terms of the strategies they applied. The Strategy and Attribution Questionnaire (SAQ) and the Cartoon-Attribution-Strategy Test (CAST) developed for this study were used. The results showed that the unemployed young adults reported higher levels of failure expectations and task-irrelevant behaviour, and lower levels of self-esteem and self-serving attributional bias, than the control group. This pattern of results does not fully fit in with the conceptualizations of self-handicapping and learned helplessness. Therefore, a failure-trap strategy is discussed as an alternative type of maladaptive strategy. Typical of this strategy is that people with low self-esteem concentrate on task-irrelevant behaviour, but do not refer to this behaviour as an external excuse for failure.