How to Give Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions

Interviews are tricky. For inexperienced job hunters, even the simplest question—tell me about yourself—can be a minefield. Interviewers aren’t interested that you were the middle child of working-class parents, or that you enjoy reading and spending time with your significant other. They want to know something about your education, background, or interests that might be relevant to the job you are trying to land.

Stories are one of the most powerful tools you can use during an interview. It helps connect you to the interviewer and creates a richer conversation between the two of you. When faced with tough questions, you’ll want to employ a storytelling response, where you talk about a situation you’ve come across, the actions you took, and the results that were achieved.

Here are a few tough questions that interviewers love to ask, and ways you can emerge from the interview looking like the best candidate. 

What is Your Greatest Accomplishment?

This can be a tough question for someone who doesn’t have a lot of work experience. However, you want to think about your accomplishments in business terms, even if the accomplishment didn’t take place in a business setting. Perhaps you took initiative, did something innovative, or wrote a report summarizing the accomplishment. These are all traits that employers are looking for.

If you’ve had summer jobs or internships you should easily be able to come up with a story about something you did, but you can even turn comic book collecting, playing sports, or deep dives into social media into great accomplishment stories. Talk about research into valuable comic books, leadership and preparation on the sports field, or engagement and connectivity while online.

What is Your Biggest Weakness?

A lot of candidates like to say their biggest weakness is they work too hard, have no work-life balance, and can spend all night working on projects. It’s tempting to take this route because what you’re really saying is that you are a dedicated worker. However, the interviewer really wants to know how self-aware you are and whether or not you are trying to improve.

Pick a real weakness that you struggled with at college or in summer jobs. Tell the story about the difficulties you faced by taking on too much coursework, or how you used to have trouble following directions. The key to turn this weakness into a winning response is to follow up your weakness with actual steps you are taking or took to overcome the weakness.

For example, you can talk about how you started to prioritize activities to ensure that the most important things are completed on time or how you developed a system that helps you stay on top of directions. By showing that you are taking steps to overcome this weakness, you are demonstrating your desire to improve.

Where do you Want to be Ten Years from Now?  

Your interviewer is interested in your long-term goals, to see if you want to be an individual contributor or move toward management. It’s a hard question for entry level candidates who might not know what they want to do ten days from now, let alone ten years.

Your best bet here is to tell the interviewer your primary goal is put yourself in a position where you have a number of options available to you, so that you can make the best possible choice for you at the time. Share a story where you were able to keep multiple options open, such as applying to multiple colleges, which allowed you to make the choice on your timeline.

Getting Great at Storytelling Responses

Nearly every question your interviewer asks can be answered with a story followed by actions and results. It can be hard, however, to come up with an answer in the moment. One of the best ways to prepare for an interview is to practice.

Together with a friend or colleague, create near-interview circumstances, which may be over video or face-to-face across a desk. Dress the part, relax, and start to answer questions. Focus on using this technique, and when your real interview comes, you’ll be prepared with the answers that will land the job.