Job Interviews: How to Answer Authentically to the Toughest Questions

Job Interviews: How to Answer Authentically to the Toughest Questions

“Strong waves make strong sailors.” – English proverb

Why do so many hiring managers ask open-ended questions in job interviews? What possibilities – and perils – do these questions present? How can job-seekers prepare for ten tough, yet common, interview questions?

When answering seemingly broad interview questions, it’s often difficult to know where to begin. “The more open-ended the question, the wider the variation in the answers,” Brian Krueger, author and former VP Global Talent Acquisition at Amazon, notes. While many of these answers are neither right or wrong, they are certainly not equal. But what makes up the best possible answer?

Pointers from A Pro

To that end Krueger, writing for, identifies several key components in the article Ten Tough Interview Questions and Ten Great Answers. Reviewing ten tried, true and thought-provoking interview questions, he examines the intent behind each, providing insight on what employers are really looking for. Example answers are provided afterwards as a framework on which to base your own along with some pointers.

While practical and savvy, it’s important to remember that not all employers or interviewers are identical. Nonetheless, these general guidelines should help young graduates present a clear, strong case for themselves as focused, young professionals. Some of our favorite pieces of wisdom include:

When talking about yourself:
  • Be brief.
  • Present your weaknesses as challenges to be overcome.
  • Focus on achievable goals (relevant to the job.)
  • Embrace the diversity of working collaboratively.
  • On the subject of conflict, focus on reaction and resolution.
Always use examples with clear evidence to corroborate your statements.

Prepare several more than you’ve planned to talk about in the event they ask for more.

Ask for references

Collect references pre-interview from previous employers or professors. They’ll serve as a readily-accessible perspective for questions asking how others would describe you/your work ethic.

“Fear of the unknown can only exist when there is an unknown,” Krueger states. Knowing how to give good answers to challenging questions requires practice. No answers are one-size-fits-all. Backing up your statements with detailed, behavioral examples is the best way to showcase your unique talents and the value of your experience.

Preparation, in time, brings peace of mind

Your level of preparation, especially when it comes to answering tough questions, can make or break an interview. However, it’s also important to ensure your responses aren’t too rehearsed; the best interviews are, above all, a good conversation. Be open and responsive to new information, and remember to ask questions of your own!

For further reading, it is once again worth mentioning the work of best-selling author and human resources guru Richard Bolles. His 2014 Rethinking Interviews is worth reading if you have two hours. I have frequently assigned this thin, savvy book in my own advanced speaking skills course at USC. Jammed with very detailed tips and some surprising suggestions for tackling interviews, my international students have consistently found it useful for both job search and guide to American work culture.

What tough interview questions have you been asked? How did you handle them? How do these experiences help you prepare your ESL/VESL students for interview questions? Share with us! 


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About the Author

Eric H. Roth teaches international graduate students the pleasures and perils of academic writing and public speaking in English at the University of Southern California (USC). He also consults English language schools on communicative methods to effectively teach English.Roth co-authored Compelling Conversations: Questions and Quotations on Timeless Topics in 2006 to help English language learners increase their English fluency. Recommended by English Teaching Professional magazine, the advanced ESL textbook has been used in over 50 countries in English classrooms and conversation clubs. Easy English Times, an adult literacy newspaper, has published a monthly column, “Instant Conversation Activities,” based on the book since 2008. The first specific version for a particular country, Vietnam, was published in 2011. Compelling American Conversations came out in 2012, and Compelling Conversations – Japan arrived in 2015. Eric enjoys sharing reflections, resources, and teaching tips on this #ESL #EFL #ELT blog.

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