You followed the process, did your due diligence and were able to secure an interview. Now you need to convince your potential employer that you are the best person for the position.

In an interview, there will be questions that can be challenging to answer but if you are aware of them, you can be prepared to provide a response that will impress any interviewer.

Let's look at how you should answer difficult interview questions or any interview question that you may be asked during an interview.

This process can be made easier by considering interview questions in three parts…

Answering difficult interview questions

As easy as 1-2-3

One - the question itself

There is a well-known quote… “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” – Epictetus.

This may sound obvious but you would be surprised how many interviewees do not answer the question asked. Listen to the interview question fully, even if you believe you know what is being asked and you have the answer to it.

The question may have some of the elements you have heard in the past but the way it is phrased during your current interview could require a completely different response.

Two - what is the interviewer trying to discover from you?

Not all interviewers are trained to conduct proper interviews.

Interviewing someone is a skill that is acquired with training and experience. Some interviewers may not have the required training, lack the relevant experience or because of professional demands on their time, may even arrive at the meeting unprepared. It happens.

You need to be alert to decode exactly what the interviewer wants to extract from you. Their goal is to ensure they are choosing the best candidate by asking that particular interview question.

Three - phrasing the response to the question correctly

This is the part where you can really shine.

You have listened to the question attentively, deciphered what the interviewer wants to know and now it’s your turn to fill the silence.

The exact answer you are able to provide will depend on many factors such as your knowledge, skills, experience, capabilities, potential etc.However, there is one thing you should weave into EVERY answer to your interview questions… alignment to the job description and by extension the direct benefit to the company if you are chosen.

Let’s look at one example from the many contained in the course - Achieving Professional Excellence.

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Making it crystal clear

The question... Describe a difficult work project and how you overcame it?

What is the interviewer trying to discover?... This is used to see how you handle uncertainty, pressure and collaboration.

Phrasing the response to the question correctly... Be brief in describing the project and emphasise how you overcame it e.g. did you overcome it by researching on your own, asking questions, involving colleagues, inquiring deeper into the concerns of others or did you use other methods to create your solution?

Here is a strategic tip for you. When responding to these types of interview questions, use the STAR approach to provide a focused answer that covers the concerns of the interviewer.

S.T.A.R - Situation, Task, Action and Result.

Continuing with the example question above… Describe a difficult word project and how you overcame it?...

“The company had a limited product offering that negatively affected their potential to generate additional revenue”. SITUATION - you have just set the scene for better understanding.

“They wanted me to rapidly increase their portfolio”. TASK - that also highlights the need of the organisation.

“So I created product road-maps to guide and standardise the expansion of the curriculum portfolio”. ACTION - what you did based on the task to be accomplished as a result of the situation.

“The company's portfolio offering was increased by 60% in two years, and generated an additional 18% of revenue by end of year one”. RESULT - measurable evidence of your success.

By using the star approach, you provide a focused answer to the interview question that contains all the elements of a good response. This will gain the attention and approval of the interviewer.

There are many elements to being successful at an interview such as adequate interview preparation and proper interview etiquette. However, a vital element is being able to respond to interview questions in a way that highlights your unique contribution to the company’s benefit.

Get this part right and you will be on your way to making an unforgettable impact and standing out from the competition.

Use the course - Achieving Professional Excellence - to help you impress your interviewers and ace your interview.

... remember, stay curious and keep learning.


Want to ace responding to difficult or tricky interview questions? This video will show you exactly how to answer challenging job interview questions that interviewers love to ask.

The Institute for Achievement and Excellence ©