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Convincing a stranger of your qualifications, dedication, and creativity can be awkward and scary. To help, here are a few of the most challenging interview questions, with advice on how to give impressive answers.

Who Are You?

Or, less existentially, “Say a few words about yourself.” This usually comes right at the beginning of the interview, and seems hard because it’s so broad. While it might sound casual, it’s really not. Don’t lead with quips about your social life or your childhood. Instead, focus on your skills, goals, and how they relate to the company’s core values.

Tina Haynes, an on-campus recruiting coordinator at the University of Oregon in Portland, says students will benefit from doing their “homework” before real interviews.

Describe a Situation When…

This question usually ends with, “…you were challenged,” “…you had to be creative,” “…you failed,” or “…when a colleague or supervisor was wrong.” Haynes says her mock interviews often focus on these types of “behavioral questions.” If you’re not prepared, you might feel like you have amnesia.

Here are some steps to prepare:

  1. Look carefully at the job description and anticipate possible questions.
  2. If you’re asked about a situation when you failed or struggled, include what you learned from the experience in your answer. You can also talk about what you would do differently in the future.
  3. If you can’t come up with an answer right away, take a moment to think. Maybe take a sip of water.

What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

The interviewer is probably trying to assess your self-awareness, not learn about your private insecurities. Pick a minor weakness, but don’t go with the common “I’m a perfectionist.” This can seem evasive.

Tyson C., who’s completing a residency at the University of Dubuque in Iowa, says he always keeps the position in mind. “Don’t highlight a public speaking weakness if you’re applying for a sales job,” he notes. Albert R., a senior at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, says, “Sometimes interviewers want to test your nerves, too.” So, practicing in advance is important. Haynes says, “It’s about being able to think on your feet.”

Zachgary G., a senior at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, says, “[Getting professional feedback] allowed me to know my own strengths and weaknesses as well as what to look out for.” Get in contact with the career services at your school, practice with a friend, or try things out in front of a mirror. A bit of preparation will help you feel more confident.

Review more common interview questions

Why Should We Hire You?

Challenging interview questions can be a blessing in disguise. They’re a chance to tell the employer how great you are. The key is to be well prepared. Know your strengths, and have a few specific examples of your successes in mind to talk about. Don’t worry about memorizing your whole answer; you want to seem confident and natural.

Here are some common questions and targeted responses to consider:
QuestionResponse
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  • Talk about your ambitions.
  • Show what’s important to you in a job.
  • Don’t be too specific unless it’s completely related to the job for which you’re interviewing.
  • Don’t talk about your personal life.
How can you contribute to our organization?
  • Be specific about your skills and accomplishments.
  • For example, say you can prioritize, identify and solve problems, and get things done.
  • Back up your statements with specific examples of when you’ve done those things.
Why do you want to work here?
  • Be specific about the company.
  • Avoid being too general by researching the company beforehand.
How do you deal with pressure and deadlines?
  • Give examples of your approach to prioritizing.
  • Also share how you’ve been graceful under pressure.
What do you do when you disagree with a supervisor or aren’t getting along with people you have to work alongside?
  • Give a specific example.
  • Keep it brief and don’t criticize the other people involved.
  • Talk about what you did to resolve the situation, and the positive result.
Do you have any questions for me?
  • Research is essential here.
  • You want to be logical, not just ask questions for the sake of asking questions.
  • Focus on queries about co-workers, company structure, and specific responsibilities.
  • If this is a first interview, don’t ask about pay or benefits or other “nitty-gritty” details.

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