Here’s How to Nail the Toughest Interview Questions

Interviews are a challenging part of job applications. Over a short period of time, you have to prove to someone that you are their best potential new employee. You’re up against usually a lot of other top quality candidates with their own strengths, and you’re under a lot of pressure.

On an average day, with people you’re comfortable with – it can be effortless to communicate clearly, show your strengths and reel off your elevator pitch on demand. But if it’s a job you really want, with a high-ranking manager you’ve never met before, your nerves can sometimes make things go a little pear-shaped…

We’ve heard a lot of interviews, been to many of them, and done quite a few ourselves. So here we compiled all the best tips to make sure you nail even the toughest of questions.

#1 Do you research

This is the most important tip that often gets overlooked by young candidates. Don’t go into an interview without knowing some basic knowledge of the company. Knowing the company shows that you are eager to work for THEM specifically, rather than just any company. And if they have two candidates with the same credentials side by side, they’re going to take into consideration who wants it more. This is an easy way to set you apart from the rest of the candidates, and prepare you for potential questions like “Why are you interested in working for our company?”

You don’t need to hit the library for this. Hit up Google and find out:

  • Key facts about the company’s history
  • Know key figures in the management team (and the role of the person interviewing you)
  • Know what service they provide and what kind of clients they have

Not only will it help with nerves – finding out about the company, their goals and their culture can give you pointers on how YOU should answer specific questions. Are the a company of self-starters? Mention as one of your strengths a project you started yourself in college. Are they intent on becoming international? Highlight the second language you picked up while studying abroad. Though everything may be on your CV – they’ll remember more clearly the things you tell them in person.

#2 Practice some Competency Based Questions

Competency based questions are a favourite of a range of employers. They require you to provide real-life examples as the basis of your answers. The aim of these questions are to get you to explain WHY you chose make a certain decision, how you implemented the decision and what effect it had on the outcome.

The competencies they are looking for often include:

  1. Communication
  2. Decision making
  3. Leadership
  4. Results orientation
  5. Teamwork
  6. Trustworthiness

To ensure that you answer a competency-based question succinctly – here’s a little tip. Remember the STAR structure (situation, task, action and result). This will ensure you touch all the aspects of the answer the interviewer is after.

  • Situation. Give an overview of what was happening.
  • Task. What were you required to do? Why?
  • Action. What did you end up doing? Why?
  • Result. Tell the interviewer what happened. Reflect briefly on the effectiveness of your actions.

Want to make sure you ace these? Here’s some more advice and examples of common questions.

#3 How to deal with a Curve Ball Question

Inevitably, even if you trawl the web for every difficult question ever asked in an interview, you’re going to hit a few curve balls. Though at this point you may become overwhelmed by fear and melt down, there is a smarter way to deal with a tough question:

  1. Gain some thinking time by asking the interview to explain what they mean by the question
  2. Take a deep breath, slowly nod and take time to contemplate what was said – answering with the first thing that comes to your head is far worse than pausing briefly to think things through
  3. Remember that tough questions usually don’t have a right or wrong answer, they’re there to show the interviewer how you think (whether you actually are “creative” and can handle pressure), so if they’re asking you something as odd as
  4. Answer as honestly as you can (this goes as a general rule – don’t tell the interviewer something that isn’t true to your personality)

#4 Interview the interviewee

Another one that is often neglected, you need to have some of idea of what to say when the interviewer asks “Do you have any questions?”

The Huffington Post rightly pointed out that the interview process is a time for both company and candidate ‘to feel the other out and see if it is a good fit.’ Remember this is as much about the company impressing you, as you impressing them! Now is the time to ask about anything you couldn’t find in your research. What would your day be like? Who would be your mentor in the role? What skills do interns usually leave with?

Eugenia Kang, the Web Content Manager at who has conducted around 600 interviews in the past five years, gave some advice to College Magazine on what to say at this point in the interview. Not asking any questions at this point may indicate a lack of inquisitiveness. While asking certain questions could show that you have ambition – e.g. “What roles do your interns often progress to after their placement?” It’s also a good way to again, set you apart from the rest of the candidates.

Remember in the end – the interviewer WANTS to meet you, they invited you in because they believe you could fit the role, so be confident in yourself and your attributes. Breath, smile, and take your time to answer.

If you keep these things in mind, you’ll stand out as a prime candidate for the role!

Stuck on what to wear? Read our guide for dressing to get the job here!

Photo: Marius Boatca

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