If you’re reaching the end of your university career, you might start to get invited to interviews for internships, graduate roles and jobs. Some of these interviews will be tough, and trying to find answers to these questions isn’t always easy. So we’re here to offer some words of wisdom and tips for answering tough interview questions.

Why do employers ask tough interview questions?

One of the main jobs of an employer in an interview is to find out crucial information about you as an applicant. This is why they ask things like ‘tell me about yourself?’, which can prove quite difficult to answer in a coherent, succinct way.

Employers are also looking to learn about your thought processes, and so ask seemingly odd, bizarre abstract questions like ‘if you were a pet, what kind of pet would you be?’. This shows them that you can think on your feet, and whether or not you can support your answer with a logical explanation.

And, of course, employers are looking to judge how much experience you have. They might ask technical questions related to the job you’re applying for in order to gauge your comfort with difficult tasks and your experience in the field.

How to deal with tough interview questions

1. Bring a spare copy of your CV

how to answer tough interview questions

When you go to your interview, it’s always a good idea to take a copy of your CV for the employer, just in case they don’t have yours. If you’ve applied via a web form or a recruiting office, this might be the case. But as well as a copy for the employer, it’s worth taking a copy of your CV for your own purposes.

By having your CV with you, you not only have a bit of an ego boost by having a little list of all of your achievements, but you also have a sheet for general reference if your mind goes blank. If you’re asked about a role where you acted a certain way or did a certain task, you can check through your CV.

Finally, employers often track through your CV as the interview goes on. If they do this, having a copy of your CV will allow you to keep up as they go.

2. Bring paper and a pen

tough interview questions

In an interview, employers give you a lot of information about the job, the company and other important details that you might find useful to remember for the second interview or to keep track of which job is which. Take a pen and paper with you to your interview and note down anything they tell you regarding holiday, pay, the job role, when you’ll hear back, etc.

But as well as a notes sheet, paper can be used as a cheat sheet. You can jot down any thoughts you have throughout the interview, and use them to help you answer any questions they might ask about the information they’ve given you.

It also works as a chance to pause. If you get a question that stumps you for a second, take a look at your notepad, have a read, and then answer. This shows the employer that you’re poised and able to take a moment to think, rather than erratic and nervous.

3. Answer a question with a question

tough interview questions

If the interviewer asks you a question that you’re really unsure how to answer, you can answer it with another question. This could be to ask for further clarification, or you can ask something related to the question they’ve asked in order to give yourself time to think and perhaps more information to answer with.

For example:

Interviewer: Tell me about yourself? 

You: What is it specifically you’d like to hear about, my personal, academic, or employment background? 

4. Think about what they’re really asking

interview tips

One way to figure out how to answer an interviewer’s question is to figure out what the motivation behind the question is. Are they asking something about your personality? Or are they pushing to see how you handle stress? Maybe they’re trying to see if your morals align with that of the company? Once you have an idea of what it is the employer is really asking, you can get on with figuring out how to answer.

5. Keep it conversational 

interview questions

If you are really stumped, and you can’t figure out what it is they want you to say, it’s alright to say something like: ‘That’s a really good question. Let me think on it for a second’, and perhaps take a sip of water or ask them something about the role. This shows that you can keep your cool, you’re polite, and you can handle challenges. Even if you can’t come up with an absolutely perfect answer, you’ve not let yourself get flustered!

6. Plan answers in advance

how to answer tough interview questions

If you’re really nervous about your interview, it might be worth doing some research about what kinds of questions get asked in interviews for that specific role. You can then write these down and prepare your answers. Whilst these might not be exactly what the employers ask, it will give you a good base to build off of for most questions.

Now you know what to do in order to cope with a tough interview- but what about what not to do? Click here to read about some of the weirdest things people have done in a job interview.