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It’s tricky! Answering tough interview questions

Difficult interview questions are meant to challenge job candidates and make you think on your feet! Some questions during an interview can seem rather simple on the surface but are designed to give the employer a better sense of who you are and whether you're a good fit for the team and company. Here are a few tricky interview questions and how to handle your answers:

Tell me about yourself.

The “tell me about yourself” question is often asked during interviews in order to assess your communication ability and how your experience ties into the current opportunity. Many candidates make the mistake of diving into extensive details regarding childhood, schooling, hobbies, etc. A strong answer to this question includes an overview of relevant work experience, qualifications, career interests and what you can bring to the position and company at hand.

Describe a time when you failed.

The first step to answering this question is to pick a real failure. You’ll want to avoid choosing an example that would be detrimental or cause a major concern on the employer’s behalf. After walking through your example, show how you handled the setback. Aim to spend more time emphasizing what you learned and the key takeaways from the situation. The goal of this answer is to show that you can acknowledge mistakes, take risks and learn from the experience.  Identifying 3-4 concrete action items that you have taken to begin to address the weakness is an effective strategy.

Tell me about a time when you didn’t get along with a co-worker or team member.

This popular interview question aims to judge how a candidate handles conflict. Your response needs to be thought out, as you do not want to speak poorly about a previous employer or co-worker. It’s important to show how you kept a positive attitude throughout the situation, even when you may be tempted to criticize someone. You want to convey that you are a team player who can use communication skills to resolve any issue.

Why do you want to work here?

Employers ask this question because they want to know what interests you, how well you have researched their company/industry, and how much you want the position. Avoid discussing items such as your unhappiness with your boss, co-workers or wage at your most recent position. Focus on how your skills relate to the position at hand. Think about specific examples of where your actions led to positive outcomes. Explain why you want this position and not just any position, how you identify with the mission and goals as well as how you can help that company reach their goals.

Even when you have prepared as much as you possibly can for an interview, there’s still a chance that you could get stumped by a question.  If this happens, remain calm! When faced with this situation, consider asking, “That’s a great question, can I take a minute to think of an example?” You can often gather some additional time to think of an answer by rephrasing what was asked of you or asking the interviewer to provide clarification. Ultimately, maintaining confidence and a positive attitude when confronted with a tricky question will show the interviewer that you work well under pressure.

“Pressure can burst a pipe or pressure can make a diamond."
-Robert Horry

About the author

Kaitlin Schafer

Kaitlin Schafer is a Career Counselor at Engineering Career Services.