prepare answers for tough interview questions.

Here are a few sample questions you may find yourself struggling to answer, and suggestions to approach them like a seasoned interview pro.

1. tell me about yourself.

Gulp. Talk about an open-ended question. The interviewer isn’t interested in your favorite colour, hobbies or that you’re a middle child, unless they relate specifically to your work experience or to the opportunity at hand. Start with your elevator pitch – the short intro you prepared at the beginning of your job search that covers the who, what, and why of you. Don’t have an elevator pitch prepared, yet? Now’s the perfect time to create one! 

2. what are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?

Another way of asking this question is: ‘can you tell me about a time you faced a challenge and how you responded?’ The way to answer questions like these is to list qualities and traits that are relevant to the job opportunity you’re interviewing for. In areas where you need improvement, focus on what you’ve learned from the challenge and how you applied your newfound self-awareness to other situations.

Though you want to be honest, don’t wallow in negativity or bring up something that’s a deal breaker. For instance, saying you have trouble meeting deadlines, while it might be honest, isn’t going to help your case for employment. When a question asks you to touch on something negative, always focus on what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown. We guarantee you learned or gained something you can use to turn it into an advantage and paint yourself in the best possible light in the context of the job you’re applying for.

3. why do you want to work for this company? OR why do you want this job?

The best approach to a question like this is to highlight facets of the job you’re applying for, using whatever research you’ve been able to accumulate about the organization and the role, in the context of your own experience, personality and the work environment you’re looking for. For example, you want to work for a small not-for-profit because you want your work to make a difference. You like the camaraderie and support of a small office and work well in an open work environment because while you’re a self-starter and enjoy working independently, you thrive in a collaborative workplace. Your answer should reflect the research you’ve done on the organization and what you can determine of its work culture. You’re painting a picture of how you fit in and the value and contributions you bring.

4. what achievements are you most proud of?

The answer isn’t the quilt you made or scoring a home run in little league (unless these relate specifically to the opportunity). Focus on work experience (or school, if you don’t have any work history to speak of). No matter how limited, and the value it could bring to this prospective employer. Think about how your work delivered results, even if you have to reach for it. Were you a camp unit head for several seasons? Maybe your organizational skills and interactions with campers encouraged them to bring their friends, increasing attendance – and revenues - at the camp. Did you initiate a new method of scheduling at the coffee shop you worked at through college that resulted in fewer redundancies and a more equitable way of staffing? Quantifying results based on your actions, regardless of where you worked or in what capacity, is something any prospective employer can understand and relate to.

We’ve outlined four questions that seem to be asked, in some form or another, most frequently. There are lots more. As much as you prepare, there are going to be moments where you’re at a loss. Take a deep breath, don’t panic, and say something like: “That’s a great question. I need to think about that. Can we circle back to it later?”