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How to Answer the Toughest Interview Questions



toughest interview questions

Few of us ever enjoy the job application process. Filling out forms, revising resumes, writing cover letters – it can feel like a thankless task. But once you’ve made it past these initial hurdles, you still need to survive the interview. And really, you can’t just survive the interview – competition is steep. You need to walk out of that interview with flying colors. How can you prepare yourself to stun the interviewer with your charm, wit, and brains? Here are a few ways to get ready.

Research the company. It should go without saying that you should know a lot about the company you’re looking to join; yet not everyone thinks to do the basic background research. Look at the website, read the “About Us” section, and do a Google News search with the company name to find out if there is any recent news to know. If you know the name of the interviewer, look him/her up too. If you familiarize yourself with the obstacles the company has faced, you’ll learn what kind of solutions they like to implement or how they find those solutions. Echo these ideas and/or principles in any problem-solving types of questions.

Research the industry, too. If you’re interviewing with a technology company, familiarize yourself with the whole world of technology. What are the latest developments? Who are the industry leaders? Try to see the bigger picture. Read industry newspapers, magazines and news sites. What are the biggest challenges facing the industry and what are your ideas for solving them?

Bone up on current events. It’s not enough to know what’s going on in the world you’re working in, you need to know what’s going on in the world, too. Even if you don’t get asked directly about an event in the news, you can impress the interviewer by referencing it. If you are asked a hypothetical question about how you would handle a conflict between employees, for example, you can say something like, “Much like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did in China recently” You’ll sound worldly and smart!

Practice, practice, practice. Not only can you have friends and family give you practice interviews, if you’re applying to a big company, you can probably find questions that have been asked to other interviewees. Ask yourself how you would respond to those same queries. (Big hint: Glassdoor.com keeps lists of old questions!)

Think creatively. Some companies, like Google, have a history of asking whacky questions that have no real answers. It almost seems like they are written to confuse you. Embrace the freedom that that offers you: there is no right answer. Allow yourself to have fun with it and you might surprise yourself with your creativity. (Practice, practice, practice, is particularly good advice for those kinds of interviews.

Get comfortable being yourself. Often the reason behind those wild questions is less to test your expertise and more to test your people skills. Do you “fit” with the corporate culture? If given a problem, what tools do you use to solve it? Do you crack under pressure? Is your response confident, shaky, or obnoxiously proud? Sometimes the subtext of your answer is all the questioner is examining.

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About Steven Burrell

Steven Burrell has been through almost every type of interview and/or employee assessment method, including “Google” questions and the five factor personality test. He’s also been on the other side of the table, and is happy to share his best tips on how to impress employers.

View all posts by Steven Burrell →

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4 comments
Robin Rayburn
Robin Rayburn

Afifa and Josh both make great points! It really comes down to doing your homework, especially when it comes to really understanding your own background, the company, and the industry. The more you familiarize yourself with this information the more confident and prepared you will feel and the better you will be able to tackle and breakdown answering tough questions that may have stumped you previously.

Afifa Siddiqui
Afifa Siddiqui

These are great tips for interviewing. However, I would add "look over your resume." Familiarize yourself with your own skill set and be prepared for questions asking you to essentially brag about yourself. However, don’t look at it as bragging, considered it instead selling. Know which points on your resume are your strongest and how to incorporate them into standard interview questions. Figure out answers to tricky or challenging questions like "Give an example of a time you failed" by using your strengths to turn a negative into a positive. The more you study your resume and frame your answers off of your own skill set, the more you will be able to sell yourself without feeling like you're bragging. And above all, as suggested above, practice practice practice!

Josh Tolan
Josh Tolan

These are great tips on how to answer even the toughest interview questions. Whether your interview is in person or through online video, odds are you’re going to get at least a few questions to stump you in the interview process. The most important takeaway from your advice seems to be for candidates to do their homework. If the candidate is aware of the company and the industry, they’ll be better positioned to answer tough questions and sound informed.

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