How to answer difficult interview questions

9 min | Travis O'Rourke | Article | Interview advice

colleagues talking in an office

Are you prepared for your next interview? 

In this article, we will see how:

  • How to answer interview questions directly.
  • How to react to challenging interview questions without getting defensive.
  • How to use the STAR method to get your point across.

Imagine you've been invited to interview for your dream job and you're beginning your important preparation. As part of this preparation, you thought about the most likely things that might be asked and prepared your answers diligently. But are you prepared to answer the most challenging interview questions?


How to answer difficult questions during a job interview

Before we talk about the toughest questions in a job interview, remember that the interviewer wants to hear the best about you and how you can apply your skills to the vacancy to move the company forward. This means recruiters may ask some challenging questions to see how you react to difficult situations. They may also ask you some vague questions to see how you organize your ideas.

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These are the most difficult questions to ask during an interview

1. "Tell me about yourself."

This may seem like an easy question, as it simply asks you to talk about yourself. However, people can panic at its vague nature and tend not to respond effectively.

What the recruiter really wants is three things:

  • A brief look at how you have achieved your goals so far.
  • How you are the best fit for their role and company.
  • Any interesting aspects related to the industry.

Try to answer this difficult interview question with a brief narrative format, including the beginning, the development and the end:

Open your answer with what first attracted you to your profession. For example:

"I had my first contact with Marketing during my Management degree. Since then, I realized that it was an area that I really liked and excelled in."

Link this to a general description of a (relevant) career opportunity you experienced. For example:

"Since then, I have applied this knowledge in different areas of Marketing and continued to develop new skills. This allowed me to progress in my career and reach my current position as Marketing Manager at company X."

Now, finish your story by explaining why you are in the interview. For example:

"I am now looking to expand my skills in a role with global reach that offers me more opportunities for growth. That's why I was interested in the position at this company."

This structure helps you tell your personal story, highlighting your strengths for the position.

2. "Tell me about a time when you implemented a great idea."

Don't underestimate this question! Employers are increasingly aware that they need "idea people" who can stay ahead of digital, political and industry changes.

This also gives you the opportunity to showcase a typical "perfect day" in your profession. For example, if you were in education, you could discuss what lesson you would teach, the year group and your strategy. You can describe the resources you used and how the students used them.

Use the STAR method to tell your story concisely:
- S - define the Situation
- T - state the Tasks and your involvement.
- A - talk about the Actions and how you implemented them
- R - tell Results with numbers or comments 

Check out Interview guide: Your Guide to a successful job interview 

3. How do you keep up to date with industry news?

Many industries are constantly evolving, so it is worth reading some relevant news before your interview. With this question the interviewer wants to know if you are interested in the area and if you are looking to continually learn. It is worth mentioning any training or mentoring programs you have undertaken. The best answers will mention expert content such as podcasts, articles and books.

4. "Tell me about a time you failed".

The word "fail" can make you feel defensive. But remember, the worst thing you can say is that you never failed. Recruiters know that everyone has experienced professional setbacks. What they want to know with this question is how you overcame the difficulties and what you learned in the process.

You don't need to give a drastic example. You could mention a time when you simply missed a deadline or didn't meet one of your key performance objectives. In answering this question, explain what you learned from the experience and what you would do differently if you were faced with the situation again.

5. "What would be the ideal job for you?"

The purpose of this question is to find out if you would be happy in the position and if you would stay in it. Therefore, think about the main responsibilities of your current position and how you would apply your main skills in this context. Now think about how this might relate to the position you are interviewing for and highlight what they are looking for, what you can offer and why you are a good fit for the company.

6. "How would your friends describe you?"

This interview question helps the interviewer determine if your personality is a good fit for the position and if your personality is a good fit for the team and the company. To answer assertively, try to imagine the personality traits that best fit the position and whether you match them. For example, for a commercial vacancy, being friendly and a good listener is essential. So think about how your friends would describe you, depending on the position you're looking for. Be honest.

7. "What salary are you looking for?"

With this interview question, make sure you know the industry average for your position. Your interviewer will definitely have this information. If you're not sure what your ideal salary would be, check out our salary calculator. Having this information will put you in a much better position to negotiate. If you are still at the beginning of the interview and don't want to negotiate salary yet, say that you want to better understand the company and the expectations for the position before commenting on salary.

8. "Do you have any questions for me?"

This is your chance to end the interview on a positive note by showing genuine interest in the opportunity. Keep in mind some questions that have not yet been answered during the interview.

Learn more about interview questions here 


Let’s get that job   

This is your opportunity to end the interview on a positive note by showing genuine interest in the opportunity. Keep in mind some questions that have not yet been answered during the interview.

It pays to prepare for the tougher interview questions, as this will help you feel more prepared and confident in your search for the job of your dreams. 

Our professionals are ready to support you throughout your career at all times. Contact our experts today.

About this author

Travis O'Rourke, President of Hays Canada & CCO, Hays Americas

Travis is a Marketing graduate from Fanshawe College and was the 2023 recipient of their Distinguished Alumni Award. He joined Hays after holding various leadership roles elsewhere in the Canadian staffing industry. Travis setup and established Hays' outsourced talent solutions business and played an integral role in building Hays’ temporary and contract divisions throughout Canada. Initially joining Hays with a deep background in Technology, he holds extensive cross functional knowledge to provide clients with talent solutions in Financial Services, Energy, Mining, Manufacturing, Retail, and the Public Sector.

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