The Best Replies to Challenging Job Interview Questions


Job interviews these days can be very stressful.

They are often only twenty to thirty minutes long, involve maybe a panel of interviewers who are looking for concise answers to often challenging questions.

Here are some typical questions and tips on how best to answer them.

1. Describe a situation in which you needed to; tackle a difficult task / obtain a senior’s help / prioritise your response / handle a situation resulting from an error / act even though you felt out of your depth etc.

– Describe factually the situation and the risks ‘The situation I faced was……and the consequences of remedying it were 1,2 3 etc.’
– Summarise the key issues you needed to address in order of importance ‘I identified the key issues I had to address as firstly, secondly and thirdly’
– Describe the actions you took on each key issue ‘On the first key issue I…… on the second key issue I……. on the third key issue I ……
– Describe the outcomes of your actions ‘As a result of ( actions on first key issue ) I was able to….

S = Safety = minimise the risk so that….’
P = Performance = optimise the use of the resources I had so that…..
A = Appearance = protect/enhance the reputation of … that….
C = Convenience = solve the problem quickly and easily without involving….so that…..
E = Economic = save the cost of having to……. so that
R = Relationship = improve the relationship between X and Y so that……
– Summarise your learning ‘As a result of this experience I learnt that ……..which I have since used in ………..(similar situations)’

2.Describe…..your weaknesses…. your strengths…….how you would describe yourself…… others would describe you…….the three words people would use to describe you.

In Job Interviews rather than give general answers give qualified answers with a context: In my example I have used the context of a doctor working with others in a maternity situation.

Weaknesses – e.g. ‘Well when I was working with a midwife and the birth was beginning to go badly wrong I felt I just took over without explaining why. As a result, she was clearly upset and resented my intervention. In hindsight I should have offered her my help and still involved in the birth but with me still taking control. So, I think a potential weakness I have is perhaps not to be as sensitive as I could be in crisis or emergency situations.’

Strengths – e.g. ‘I remember a situation in which I had to undertake a procedure for the first time without help or support because none was available. I am pleased to say that I stayed calm, following the laid down procedure, checking the result of each stage before continuing on to the next stage until I had finished and was able to get someone more senior to check what I had done. I believe that I am very logical, rational and practical in high risk situations.’

How would others describe you? – e.g. ‘There was a situation when I had to tell a nine month pregnant women that we could not save her 2 year old little boy. She immediately became hysterical and went into labour. I am glad to say that we were immediately able to ensure the smooth birth of her new baby. Afterwards my colleagues who had been present told me how expertly I managed the situation. The father thanked me for my professionalism and the mother later write to me telling me how my calm and unflustered approach had really helped her.’

3.How do you handle negative feedback and/or criticism?  

Use this process in answer to this question in Job Interviews;

‘When I get negative feedback I:

– Ask the person for more information
– Listen carefully to the feedback paraphrasing and summarising where necessary to ensure I have a full understanding
– Get agreement to their description of the problem
– Analyse what I think is the cause of the problem and share this with them
– Get their agreement to the cause of the problem
– Ask them for their ideas on how I could remedy the problem. If I don’t like an idea I say ‘What else do you think I or we could do?’ to draw out other options rather than criticise or reject their ideas
– Agree a plan of action for me, them and/or others to take to deliver a solution we can all commit to
– Agree a date to follow up to check if the solution is working.’

I can give you an example if you like.’

4. How would you tackle a work colleague causing you a problem? 

Answer that you would use the process below. Again, frame your answer in the context of a real situation which you have encountered. This is vital in Job Interviews.

– I would ask the person if I could speak with them about a problem I need their help to resolve. I would choose a quiet, neutral location where we are unlikely to be interrupted e.g. a meeting room.
– I would describe the problem using descriptive language based on my experience of their behaviours.
e.g. I wanted to talk to you about a problem which is impacting me and which I need your help to resolve. What I see happening is that you disagree with me about planned patient treatments in front of the patient.

The last time it happened was yesterday when we were talking with Mr X and I proposed a treatment to him and you added ‘ Wouldn’t it be better to….’ I felt you undermined me in front of Mr X and I could see his confused facial expression. I had to overrule you which reflected badly on you and was embarrassing for me. It also showed a lack of teamwork which I believe is vitally important.

– I would then say: ‘ Do you agree that what I have described is a problem which we need to resolve so that it does not happen again?’
– Assuming I get a ‘Yes’ answer, albeit a reluctant ‘Yes’ answer then I would…
– Ask what the person can do about the problem to prevent it happening again e.g. ‘ What do YOU think YOU could do to resolve this problem?’ Notice the use of YOU and not WE to reinforce ownership of the problem.
– I would listen carefully to their answers. If the answers are not appropriate I would ask ‘What else could you do?’ versus putting down or criticising the answer. I would draw out workable answers which I could support, then……
– Ask what you could do to support the solution and show your commitment to playing your part
– I would agree a way forward and a plan to implement our agreed solution
– Finally I would agree to meet again to review progress.

It may be that the person refuses to agree to the problem despite my giving several examples. In which case I would become more assertive as follows:

‘ Clearly we don’t agree on this. However, your behaviour IS a problem for me. So what I shall do is talk to (name of your own superior) and raise this problem with them to take this further. I don’t like escalating the problem in this way, but I really need to resolve it and you have left me with no choice.’

5. How do you go about resolving conflicts with people?  

See the possible answer below. In Job Interviews the more concise you can be the better.

‘When trying to resolve a conflict with someone I like to consider five approaches. They are:

Compete –  I get my way, the other person doesn’t, resulting in a Win/Lose in my favour.

Complacent – I don’t get involved, resulting in a Lose/Lose for both of us.

Compliant – I agree to what the other party wants, resulting in a Lose/Win outcome for me.

Compromise – I agree to meet in the middle with the other party. Each of us gets half of what we want.

Collaborate –  I look for a new/different more creative way to resolve the conflict with the other person. We then solve the problem together. I then feel 100% commitment to the solution and so does the other person because we both own the solution. It’s a Win/Win outcome.

I believe that the Collaborate approach is by far the best conflict resolution approach to use as it encourages a partnership approach to working positively with other people in the longer term.

6. What makes a good team player? 

When attending Job Interviews you could answer as follows:

‘I believe there are six contributions a good team player makes to a team. These are:


They actively seek to collaborate with other team members to produce the best results and build team spirit. They have good listening skills, are good communicators and they encourage other team members to contribute to discussions particularly in the area of consultative, joint problem solving. Quite simply they are team players.


Although they hold different values and/or beliefs to other team members they work at being flexible and fitting in to create good working relationships. They do not always agree with other team members, but they show them respect. In times of conflict they remind team members of the importance of living out the organisations values.


They enjoy creating new ideas to improve team working and the results of the team. They enjoy brainstorming and other creative, joint problem-solving activities. They like the buzz from working with other team members to come up with new ideas and implementing them as a team. They know what strengths they can bring to the team and offer them.


They are unselfish when it comes to helping and supporting other team members. They compensate for others’ weaknesses by offering their expertise to assist them when they are struggling. They are proactive in helping to spread the workload and do not want to take the credit. They cover for other team members who may be absent for some reason. In a sense they are self-sacrificing.


They are people who like to work alongside others to give them advice, help, and support which might also include coaching or training. They are people who are generous with their time and like to befriend others who might need their help. They often ask for nothing in return preferring simply to rely on thanks and appreciation as their reward. They are great team players not looking for a leadership role but simply contributing their know how knowledge and skill whenever it is needed.

They are ‘Yes’ people when it comes to responding to requests from others.

-Continuously Improving 

They are people who like change and doing new and different things to improve themselves, others and the team as a whole. They get a big kick from achieving better results and are competitive in achieving awards for the team which improves its reputation and standing. They are catalysts for change for the better. They love to exceed personal and team goals and targets and personal development is very important to them.
Perhaps I could describe a real life example using the current team I work with’.

7.How does a team improve? 

If given this question in Job Interviews you could answer as follows:

‘I believe that teams improve when:

– They have a clearly communicated vision which they are committed to.
– They have clear, measurable, achievable but stretching objectives and KPIs which they have contributed to and are therefore committed to. These are both team and individual objectives.
– They understand the strategy and accompanying plan to deliver objectives and the vision.
– They have the right quality and quantity of resources including people, finance, equipment, premises, IT software/hardware, time and delegated authority to act.
– They operate in the most effective structure to deliver their services/products to their ‘customers’ satisfaction.
– They have internal processes and systems to give timely information on whether the team is succeeding or failing in achieving its objectives. Team members know how to respond the information provided.
– They have been properly trained and team members have the knowledge and skills to perform and meet their objectives and KPIs.
– They are led by people who use an appropriate collaborative leadership style and use up to date management skills to enable the team to achieve the highest levels of performance
– They are committed to the organisation’s culture and values and team members live these out on a daily basis.

I can give you an example of improvements the team I have recently worked with has made.’

8. Answering ‘why?’ questions 

Behind a’ why’ question in Job Interviews is the need for the interviewee to demonstrate critical judgement which shows the careful reasoning used by the person in arriving at their conclusion.

Those who use critical judgement effectively do the following:

1. Gather all relevant and up to date information from reliable sources.

2. Get a thorough understanding of the current situation and why it exists.

3.Identify the drivers of change from PESTCL – Political Environment, Economic Environment, Social (Demographic) Environment, Technological (Digital) Environment, Cultural (Commonly held attitudes and beliefs) Environment. and Legislative Environment (New laws, constraints, compliance requirements etc.) How have these drivers of change impacted other similar organisations?

4.Create a picture of a better, likely future situation – short term (up to 2 years) medium term (2 to 5 years) and perhaps longer term (5 years +)

5.Identify key issues which need to be addressed.

6.Check.your findings and conclusions with other respected people.

7.Formulate a view of what needs to happen to address the key issues to deliver a preferred future situation.

NOTE: In using critical judgement there are no absolutely correct conclusions and actions to take. There are only better ones based on your analysis of a situation.

Again, you could offer an example of when you used critical judgement to good effect.

9. How do you go about solving problems? 

You can be asked this question frequently in Job Interviews. You could answer as follows:

‘ I use a process I call the STRIPE process. This is how it works.

S = Situation. I describe the situation I face which is a problem
T = Target Situation. I describe the outcome I want to achieve if at all possible, and the time frame
R = Restraints. I then describe any obstacles I see getting in my way
I = Next, I identify the key issues I need to address and I prioritise them.
P=Then I plan in priority order how I need to address each of the key issues.
E=Finally I look at the evidence of my success. I assess if I have achieved the outcomes I wanted and why I was successful

Give an example if you can.

10. If money were no object what would be your ideal project? 

This is a tricky question in Job Interviews. Here is a possible answer:

‘I am not sure that I would start with the availability of money.

I believe that successful projects have three things in common.

Agreed Need

Key stakeholders in a given area of expertise are agreed on the need for change.

This need for change is either based on a current situation where things are clearly going wrong with disastrous consequences, or on a situation where the time is right to take advantage of an opportunity to act because it could deliver such a huge upside potential.

There must be a perceived need and the more urgent it is the better.


These key stakeholders collectively have the desire to give the proposed project a very high priority. They have the interest, the motivation, the energy, and enthusiasm to really commit to the project.


The capabilities exist to deliver the project or these capabilities can be can be acquired. These capabilities include the necessary know how (e.g. in project management), technical and specialist expertise, equipment, software/hardware, premises, leadership and of course sponsorship.

Money is therefore probably the last thing to consider. If the need is there, the desire is there and the capabilities exist or can be acquired then the sponsorship should become available. Providers of the money are likely to be people or bodies of people who have a vested interest in the success of the project because they will benefit from it. The leader and key stakeholders of the project would obtain this financial backing having presented their case for it in terms of need, desire and capabilities.

That’s my view anyway.’

11. How do you go about managing upwards? 

A demanding question you may get in Job Interviews. You could answer as follows:

‘ I believe that you will be able to do this a lot easier if you can step into the shoes of your manager and see life from his/her perspective. This means being able to:

– Understand their objectives and priorities. Show your support for these.
– Understand their values and sell your ideas in line with these values.
– Understand their challenges and offer your help to overcome them.
– Add value to the relationship by providing fresh insights to help them solve problems /overcome difficulties.
– Influence them in the way they like to be influenced.
– Present your ideas clearly and concisely and in a memorable way.
– Grow your personal credibility e.g. increased knowledge, more experience, improved reputation. This will give your manager more confidence in you.
– Choose the right time to meet with them so that they are not under pressure and are open to spending time with you discussing issues which are important to you e.g. problems you cannot solve without their support/help.

Doing these things should result in an open and positive relationship with your manager.

I believe you should only involve other key stakeholders/influencers in overcoming problems you are experiencing with your manager if you have to and you have told your manager you will be doing this.’

12. What in your view makes a good team leader? 

Again. if asked this question in Job Interviews you could answer as follows:

‘I believe that a good team leader focuses on four main activities. These are:

Work completion 

Getting the work done on a daily basis to the standards required utilising the capabilities of all team members and complying with laid down processes and systems.

Team building

Staying close to the team and how it is working and feeling. Providing direction, help, support and encouragement to build team morale. Recognising and praising team efforts and results. Solving problems the team cannot solve itself.

Individual Management 

Hiring, on-boarding, training, coaching, appraising and developing individual team members to meet their individual needs, and to provide them with the job satisfaction which enables them to be highly self-motivated and to willingly deliver high performance levels. Counselling them and disciplining them as required.

Manager Communications 

Communicating upwards to their manager their team’s results, their progress, and their morale. Sharing and any issues of concern they have and need their manager’s help with. Seeking updates from their manager on new or planned corporate initiatives, and on corporate news/ results which can be passed on to their team members. Ensuring a frequent, open communication with their manager.

Whilst there may be occasions when a team leader needs to focus more on one area than another it is best whenever possible to give equal time and attention to all four areas.’

13.Other more general tips 

Clearly there are many, many different types of question you can encounter in a Job Interview. In answering any questions try to avoid stating your opinions. These could lead to differences of opinion with interviewers and worse still arguments with them. Stay on safe ground. This means:

– Answering on the basis of your personal experiences, the views others have expressed to you, and/or the factual information you have ascertained from reputable resources.

– Being very careful of the hypothetical question. e.g. ‘ What would you do if….’ Answer this as follows: ‘ Well I can recall an actual situation pretty much identical to the one you have just described. The situation was……what I did was….the result was……as a result when faced with similar situations I always make sure that I ……

– Being prepared If asked ‘ Tell me about yourself ‘. You could use this process:

‘ Well, I am someone who is looking for an organisation to really make a contribution to. By this I mean an organisation in which I can contribute my talents and strengths in the areas of (describe talents), an organisation with similar values to myself (describe your values) and an organisation which I can help to grow as well as grow myself.

I regard my three greatest achievements as (those you have highlighted in your CV)
I believe my academic background/job experience to date has equipped me well for my next career move into a (type of job) job in a (type of organisation) organisation which is why I applied for this job.

Outside of work I enjoy (hobbies/interests) which provides me with a great work/life balance’.


So, there we are – a few pointers to answering challenging Job Interview questions effectively.

Remember to practise these answers thoroughly before an interview, customising your responses to the organisation you are meeting with, and preparing a few pertinent questions yourself e.g. How would you measure my contribution to your organisation? What opportunities would I have to grow and develop others? How would you describe the culture of your organisation? How would I be managed? versus questions about what you can get from the organisation e.g. What advancement opportunities do you offer? When is my level of pay reviewed? What opportunities for gaining qualifications do you offer?

Arrange to do a role play with a colleague if you can.

Getting really skilled in responding to Job Interview questions means that you should end up with more job offers than you can handle!