How to Answer the
Five Toughest Interview Questions

See also: Commercial Awareness

Interviews are hard to crack.

Being skilled in your craft isn’t enough.

Employers are looking for candidates who have the right personality for their organizational culture. Some want people who can work under pressure, others want people who have a knack for innovation.

Top entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have established that you need to hire the best people to become the best company. That is why employers are extra careful with the hiring process.

But it doesn’t mean you are doomed. All you need is a good level of preparation.

Research shows that most interviewers take 5-15 minutes to make a decision about a particular candidate. Fortunately, this amount of time is enough to make a good impression if you prepare well in advance.

Here is how to answer the toughest interview questions:

1. Why Should We Hire You?

This question is tough because it asks you to sell yourself. The natural response to this question is to list some skills along with some random achievements. But that’s not how you do it.

Your answer needs to show three things:

  • You can do the work
  • You can blend in the company's culture
  • You can commit to the job

First, you need to scan the job description and find the specific skills that the recruiters are looking for. This also includes soft skills such as communication, creative thinking, and time management. Also, check some of their employees’ profiles on LinkedIn to know the skills they value the most.

Second, you need to check the company’s website to know about their culture and values. Know whether their work culture involves high creativity and free thinking, or following instructions and high levels of discipline?

Third, you need to know your unique selling point (USP). What differentiates you from other candidates? It’s best to use a success story to showcase this unique quality. Or you can use any relevant results you have produced in your past job.

Once you know have done these three things mentioned above, you’re all set to answer the deadly question.

If you are not sure yet, check these things to do if you can't answer an interview question.

2. What is Your Biggest Weakness?

When most people hear this question, they tremble with fear and want to run for cover. But don’t worry. It's not as tough as it sounds.

The last thing you want to say is “I am lazy” or “I like to take long breaks”. Never point to lack of a particular skill that is needed to perform the job.

The interviewer wants to know your:

  • Degree of self-awareness
  • Honesty
  • Desire for self-improvement

The right way to answer this question:

  • Point to a skill that is not highly essential for the job
  • Show how you’re trying to improve it.
For example, if you’re a Math teacher, you can say that you’re not good at telling interesting stories to engage students because a Math teacher doesn’t need to have the artistic mind to tell stories.
Or if you’re a software developer, you can say that you are not good at writing emails to team mates. Programmers need to write code; writing emails is not an essential skill for their job profile.

3. Tell Me About Yourself

Some people love to talk about themselves all day. We all know at least one person who never runs out of stories to tell. They will tell you everything from how they bunked off school to attend their favorite music concerts, to the kind of food their dog likes to eat.

But when the same question is raised in a job interview, they go blank or answer ineffectively. Neither the dog nor the school bunking stories can help them get a job.

Here is what you need to include in your answer:

Step 1: Show your professional personality

  • Mention your job role and experience
  • Mention the companies you’ve worked with
  • Briefly mention the kind of work you do

For example:

I’m a Graphic Designer with 5+ years of experience working for media and communications companies. I’ve worked with VaynerMedia, QVC and NBC to create user-facing content and increase performance marketing efforts.

Step 2: Mention two or three of your best achievements
First, mention the role you have at your current job and then emphasize your achievements. To mention your achievements, you should use the STAR method. In Situation S, you took task T, performed action A and brought results R.

For example:

As an online marketing strategist in XYZ company (situation), I am in charge of bringing more visitors to the company’s blog. Last year, I had to increase online traffic (task). I built an online marketing strategy in collaboration with our creative team (action) and achieved 40% growth in traffic (result).

Step 3: Show why you’re a great fit
Tell them how your personality traits match with the company’s cultural values. Also, mention how your career goals align perfectly with what the job is offering in the long-term.

For example:

I like to work in an atmosphere where creativity and innovation are emphasized over everything else. As we know, to remain competitive in our industry, innovation is necessary.

Remember, never answer this question with random words taken off your resume.

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Getting a Job

Develop the skills you need to get that job.

This eBook is essential reading for potential job-seekers. Not only does it cover identifying your skills but also the mechanics of applying for a job, writing a CV or resume and attending interviews.

4. Why are You Leaving Your Current Job?

Answering this question is not easy. Because if you’re not careful, you may say something wrong about your previous employer. And it may be used against you while making the hiring decision.

No, you can’t say that your boss is a maniac!

The right way to answer this question:

  • Never badmouth your former colleagues or employers
  • Focus on your search for the right company culture (“I like to work in a culture where professional growth is emphasized”)

Don’t blame your former employer: “My company doesn’t provide any professional growth and only wants results”.

Instead, say that you’re seeking the right work culture: “I want to work in a company that invests in the professional development of their executives

Some good answers to this question are:

I have enjoyed working with [Panda Productions] and learned almost everything I could. But now there’s no room for growth [because pandas are ridiculously big] and so it’s time to move on.
I am really interested in working in the social impact space with your company, and I don’t see this opportunity anywhere else.
The organizational goals were increasingly becoming misaligned with what I wanted to do. And I never got the chance to use my [Taekwondo] skills. I’d love to [knock people out with powerful kicks] in your company.

5. Explain a Situation When You Dealt with Conflict or a Major Problem

The right way to answer this question:

  • Mention the problem, but focus on the solution
  • Tell them what you learned
  • Break it down into steps (first, second, third)

Here’s what you must avoid:

  • Don’t change the subject
  • Avoid stories where you contributed to the conflict
  • Avoid blaming people in your organization

For example:

First, I analyzed the problem to find the reason behind server shutdown
Second, I told my supervisor about the problem and requested them to organize a meeting with the technical team
Third, I presented all the relevant data to the tech team and showed how technical flaws were hurting our results
Fourth, I left the decision-making to our supervisor, who then instructed the technical staff to fix the problem
Within a week, the tech staff came up with an efficient solution and our operations went back on track
Finally, I learnt that we can never blame anyone when things go wrong because it creates negativity. Instead, we should join forces and focus on finding a solution.

Finally, the secret to acing interviews is preparation. Follow the steps mentioned and you’ll make a solid impression on the interviewers.

About the Author

Akshay writes on career and personal growth. Having worked his way through many career and life challenges, he has learnt a great deal on how to tackle both.