You’ve got the new pencil skirt, a freshly printed-out resume and a smile—but are you really ready for the big interview? You’ve already done your research and know that you’ll probably get asked questions like these, but what happens when your interviewer decides to throw you a curveball (or two)? But before you hit the panic button, take comfort in knowing that you can prepare so you’ll be ready for any question that is thrown your way. You may already know how to answer questions like, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” or “List three adjectives to describe yourself.” But this time, we’ve upped the ante by taking the most basic questions to the next level. We’ll tell you how to tackle some of the toughest of the bunch, so when it’s time to hit a homerun on your interview, you don’t drop the ball. Read on for the trickiest interview questions these real college girls had thrown at them.
What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced?
-Julie Tibbetts, University of Connecticut, political science
While you may be enticed to talk about that epic all-nighter you pulled where you chugged three Red Bulls in preparation for that physics final, it’s probably best that you discuss a different kind of challenge. The best way to answer this is to think of a situation where not only were you challenged, but most importantly, where you can elaborate on what you did to overcome it.
“Try to draw from your leadership and/or work experiences to answer this question,” says Kathy Tevault, career counselor at the University of Connecticut. “Was there a project that had a quick turn around time, meaning that you had to rally your group, develop a strategy, complete your portion of the project and then pull the pieces together within a short period of time?” She adds that when answering the question, be sure to describe the situation you found yourself in, the tasks you needed to accomplish and the actions you took to accomplish those tasks and be sure to tell the employer what the result was.
Describe a situation where you successfully convinced others of your ideas.
-Lauren Peterson, University of Connecticut, psychology major
In order to prevent a fumble if this question is asked, think of a solid example ahead of time.
“This is another great question where you can draw from leadership and/or work experiences,” says Tevault. “You can also refer to a group project you may have had in one of your classes during college. Those projects are often designed to test your problem solving skills, and they’re great examples of when you may have had to present an idea to your group in an effort to solve the problem presented to you. Again, be sure when you’re describing the situation, that you also remember to tell the employer what actions you took to convince others of your idea and what the end result was.”
Your colleague is underperforming, and it’s hurting you and your division as well. So what do you do?
-Katie Cooney, University of Connecticut, biological engineering major
Nobody wants to seem like the bad guy, but this type of question is a testament to your character, communication abilities and people skills.
“This kind of question is designed to evaluate your communication and problem solving skills,” says Tevault. “It is a delicate situation requiring a professional approach. In most cases, you will want to talk to the colleague directly, expressing concern about how his/her performance is affecting the success of your whole team. If it’s appropriate, you can offer to help your colleague develop strategies to become more motivated or better organized.”
Keep in mind that it’s important to avoid making it personal, or leaving the colleague feeling as though he/she is being “attacked.” Professionalism is a term to remember when approaching this situation.
If given the chance, would you have done anything differently in your university career?
-Michelle Golden, Emerson College, writing, literature and publishing major
This is a chance for you to be honest. You might have had a perfectly satisfactory college experience, but if you would have made some changes, now is a good opportunity to explain what they are. Maybe you wished you had tried different on-campus activities, branched out with social groups or studied abroad. Don’t be afraid to say that even if you had a rewarding experience, you might have made a few tweaks within those four years.
“Nobody does everything perfectly, so there is always something that you can identify that you might have done differently,” says Tevault. “You may want to identify something that you didn’t do so well at the beginning of college, but that you have improved upon over the years. For example, you may not have been very organized as a first year student trying to adjust to the freedom of being on your own. As a result, your schoolwork suffered a little bit at the beginning. Maybe if you had been better organized from the start you would have done better in your first year, but once you realized this, you were able to make changes that made a difference in your grades later on.”
Tevault also says that you can answer this question by drawing from an experience that didn’t go as well as you planned. In answering the question, be sure to describe the situation and what you believe went wrong, and then offer the employer the solution you would have developed had you done things differently.
Let’s say you have three time-sensitive assignments due by 3:00 to three different editors (or supervisors). Which ones do you do first?
-Amy Schellenbaum, University of Connecticut, journalism major
In any type of job or internship, prioritizing your responsibilities is key and letting your future employers know that is just as important. Tevault recommends trying to avoid the simple answer to this question, which is often, “I make a list.” Instead, she says to give your answer some depth. “Describe the criteria you use to determine which tasks are more important than others, as well as the approach you take in order to tackle these tasks.”
What separates you from everyone else or what makes you stand out compared to other applicants?
-Olga Redko, McGill University, political science major
You might think this is an obvious question, but you’d also be surprised to see how many students choke when this question is thrown their way. “You have to know yourself well to know what you have to offer,” said Tevault. You might have some leadership experiences some other people might not have. This is also a great opportunity to identify some of your soft skills such as communications or interpersonal skills as not everyone does well with those things.
“The nice thing about this question is that it gives you a chance to tell them something they might not have asked,” says Tevault. If there’s a certain quality or an experience you’ve had that you haven’t had the chance to talk about during the interview, now is a good time to slip it in.
What would you like to improve professionally about yourself?
-Katie Amey, McGill university, political science major
“This is essentially a variation on the ‘what are your weaknesses?’ type of question, and nobody is comfortable telling a potential employer about the things they may not do well,” says Tevault. “But once again, nobody does everything perfectly.” Tevault says that the best way to answer this question is to identify a skill that you have started to develop through your leadership experiences or internship positions, but that you hope to continue strengthening in a full-time, permanent job. Tevault says an example would be that you have started to build your presentation skills by taking a public speaking class and presenting your project results at a company staff meeting, but you still get nervous and feel unsure about yourself when speaking in front of others. You hope that a full-time position that offers you the opportunity to present often will help you improve your skill in that area.
If hired, how do you think you can contribute to this company?
-Colleen Wilson, Fairfield University, psychology major
Saying,“I think I can bring good communication skills” isn’t quite going to cut it. Instead, Tevault suggests saying how you developed specific skill from different experiences. “The key to a good answer is to give good examples,” says Tevault. “Anyone can have good communication skills.” One example could be that you’re president of the Psychology Club at your school and have developed strong communication skills by acting as a liaison between student members and department faculty. Be specific: did you coordinate between the two groups via Skye and e-mail? How did you advertise your club and reach out to recruit new members? All of the above of actions that reflect the skill you are trying to show.
Ultimately, with any type of question, it’s true that actions speak louder than words; so being able to explain yourself through examples is key.
“Your past performance is a prediction of your future performances,” reminds Tevault.
For any interview—regardless of your major or the job—preparation is crucial to your success. Tevault also notes that it is increasingly becoming more popular for students to be asked to perform a task that they might have to perform as part of their job. Tevault recently knew a student who interviewed for an insurance company and had to come up with a marketing plan. Additionally, IT students are sometimes asked to write up programs and or marketing students.
With the right amounts of confidence and preparation, you’ll be able to get through your next big interview with ease—and hopefully walk away knowing you sealed the deal.
What types of interview questions have you worried? Or what’s the most difficult question you’ve ever been asked and how did you answer? Tell us in the Comments section below!
Kathy Tevault, University of Connecticut career counselor
College students from across the country