Career Advice Interview Tips

Job Interview Preparation: Handling Difficult Interview Questions

By: Fiona Su
Jun 29, 2023 • 2 min read


The job interview is an integral part of any recruitment process. The questions asked during an interview can vary from straightforward to challenging, testing not only your skills and qualifications but also your mental agility and poise under pressure. One of the most daunting aspects of any job interview is the possibility of encountering difficult questions. This blog aims to offer guidance on how to handle challenging interview questions effectively, bolstering your confidence and increasing your chances of making a positive impression.

Understanding the Purpose of Difficult Questions

Why Interviewers Ask Difficult Questions

Interviewers ask tough questions to learn more about your problem-solving abilities, assess your communication skills, and evaluate how you respond under stress. Often, the questions may seem unrelated to the job, but they are designed to gauge your critical thinking, creativity, and adaptability. Understanding the underlying reasons for these questions can help you respond more effectively.

Types of Difficult Questions and Their Purpose

There are several types of difficult questions that interviewers might ask, and each serves a different purpose:

  1. Behavioural Questions: These questions are based on the premise that past behaviour is a good predictor of future behaviour. Examples include “Tell me about a time you had to handle a difficult situation” or “Describe a situation where you had to use your leadership skills.” These questions aim to assess your problem-solving skills, ability to work in a team, leadership potential, and more.
  2. Situational Questions: These questions present you with a hypothetical situation related to the job and ask how you would handle it. For instance, “What would you do if you were working on a project with a tight deadline, and a key team member called in sick?” The aim here is to evaluate your problem-solving abilities, decision-making skills, and how well you perform under pressure.
  3. Competency Questions: These are designed to test specific skills or knowledge related to the job. Examples might be “How would you go about designing a social media campaign for a new product?” or “What methods would you use to debug this piece of code?” They’re used to determine whether you possess the technical skills and knowledge necessary for the role.
  4. Stress Questions: These are intentionally unsettling questions designed to test your ability to handle stress and think on your feet. Examples include “Why shouldn’t we hire you?” or “Tell me about a time you failed.” The intention is not to make you uncomfortable but to see how you react under pressure and whether you can maintain composure.

Understanding the types of difficult questions and their purpose can help you anticipate what might be asked in an interview and prepare your responses accordingly. This understanding can also assist in maintaining composure during the interview, as you’ll realize these questions are not designed to trick you but to assess your skills, personality, and fit for the role.

Preparing For The Interview

Research and Self-Reflection

To handle difficult interview questions, start by understanding the company and the job role. The more information you have, the better equipped you will be to answer any questions. Research the company’s mission, culture, values, and recent developments. Understanding the job description and required skills can also provide valuable insight into the type of questions you might face.

A crucial part of the preparation involves self-reflection. Analyze your past experiences, skills, strengths, and areas for improvement. Being able to speak confidently about these aspects will help when tackling difficult questions about your personality, work style, or past performance.

Practice Makes Perfect

Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to practice. Familiarize yourself with common interview questions and practice your responses. Remember, it’s not about memorizing exact answers, but being comfortable articulating your thoughts and experiences. Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method to structure your responses to behavioural questions. This method helps you describe a specific situation, the task involved, the action you took, and the result of your action, making your answer concise, focused, and impactful.

Navigating Difficult Interview Questions

Staying Calm and Composed

No matter how difficult a question may seem, it’s important to remain calm and composed. Taking a moment to collect your thoughts is better than rushing into an answer. This shows the interviewer that you can handle pressure and think on your feet. Deep breathing techniques can be beneficial in maintaining calm during the interview.

Honesty and Positivity

When faced with questions about your weaknesses or past failures, it’s crucial to be honest while also showcasing your ability to learn and grow. Emphasize the steps you’ve taken to improve upon your shortcomings. Similarly, maintain a positive attitude when discussing challenging situations or difficult colleagues. Negativity can often leave a poor impression.

Asking for Clarification

If a question seems ambiguous or confusing, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. It’s better to make sure you understand the question than to guess what the interviewer is asking. This also demonstrates your ability to seek clarity when needed, a valuable skill in any professional setting.

The Importance of Body Language

Your body language can also communicate your responses to difficult questions. Good eye contact, a confident posture, and a warm smile can convey positivity and self-assuredness. Fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, or slumping can project nervousness or insecurity.

Closing the Interview Strongly

Addressing Unasked Questions

Towards the end of the interview, you may be asked if you have any questions. This is your opportunity to address anything you feel was not covered during the interview. Ask thoughtful questions about the role, team, or company, showing your genuine interest and thorough preparation.

Expressing Gratitude and Interest

As the interview concludes, express your appreciation for the opportunity to interview. Also, reiterate your interest in the role and the company. This leaves a lasting positive impression and highlights your enthusiasm for the job.


The key to handling difficult interview questions is preparation, practice, and poise. Understanding the purpose of such questions, researching the company and role, and practicing your responses can greatly enhance your confidence. Stay calm and composed, be honest and positive, and use the opportunity to highlight your skills and qualifications. Remember, every question is a chance to showcase why you are the best candidate for the job.

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