Ask the intern: How to answer the 7 hardest interview questions…and how NOT to

“Hi Laetitia! I’ve just submitted my application, and I’m nervous about the interview. I usually do quite badly under pressure and I’m worried that I’ll mess up my interview. Do you have any advice on how to answer difficult interview questions? Just to give me an idea of how to respond! Thank you :)” – Christina

 

Hi Christina! Interviews are always stressful, and being put on the spot can be very nerve-wracking. The interview process with The Intern Group is very straightforward and the main goal is to learn more about you and your ambitions, rather than to catch you out. However, it is often the questions asking you to describe yourself and your work ethic that are the hardest to answer. You have to strike the right balance between selling yourself and showing off. Here is my advice on how to answer difficult interview questions, and how NOT to.

 

1. Why should we pick you to do this internship?

What to say:

This is usually a good question to start the interview. Mention relevant past experience, and extracurricular activities that you’ve listed on your CV or resume and give more information and details. This will help the interviewer orient themselves and ask follow-up questions. Make sure that you give more information than you’ve written your CV or resume, without rambling on for too long. Keep your answer short and concise to keep the interviewer’s attention. Explain what you’ve learned from your past experience, and how you can apply this knowledge to your internship. Remember to keep linking your answers back to the internship, as this demonstrates that you have researched The Intern Group and have a clear interest in the company and its mission.

What not to say:

Don’t just list what you’ve already written down on your CV or resume. The admissions officer will already have read this, and without adding any more details and information, you are simply repeating yourself. Also avoid listing character traits such as hardworking, motivated, determined, etc. It’s easy to throw these terms around, but it is more impressive to demonstrate and give examples of how and why you exhibit these traits.

 

2. What sets you apart from other candidates?

What to say:

This is a good place to mention something that makes you stand out from the crowd, for example a cool hobby, travel destination or activity. It’s likely that many people will have a similar academic background and experience level to you, so bring out specific examples of why you are different. Mention your past experience, but take it one step further, and explain why you excel at everything you do. Again, don’t forget to convey enthusiasm for the internship; you should be picked because you want it the most!

What not to say:

It’s hard to find the middle ground between showing off and being too modest. Avoid putting down other hypothetical candidates, as this will come across as arrogant. Equally though, don’t play yourself down expecting your interviewer to interpret your answer. You have to sell yourself, so be confident in your achievements and interests.

 

how to answer difficult interview questions

 

3. What is your biggest weakness?

What to say:

The best way to answer this question is to be truthful. But the key is demonstrate that you have taken steps to overcome this weakness. For example, if you find it hard to plan or prioritise, explain that you are taking measures to change this, by getting a personal planner, or to-do list app.

What not to say:

Don’t pick a trait that is crucial to the job. For example, if applying for a Consulting internship, avoid saying that you are bad at finding solutions to problems. Equally though, don’t try and twist a strength into a weakness. For example, saying that your weakness is that you work too hard can come across as deceiving, and the interviewer will see right through you.

 

4. What was your worst work relationship?

What to say:

Again, the best way to answer a question targeting negativity or weaknesses is to be truthful, within reason. Think about previous relationships with your coworkers, rather than your managers. Be creative in the way that you answer, by explaining why the relationship was bad, without making yourself appear incompetent. A good example to use is a lack of communication between you and a co worker. Crucially, show that you took the initiative to mend the relationship or to maintain a functioning professional relationship, at least.

What not to say:

The trap here is to attack a previous boss or coworker, and blame them for the bad relationship. Avoid passing the blame to someone else, (especially a boss!) without shooting yourself in the foot either. For example, the worst thing to say is that your boss was bossy, or on the flip side that you didn’t collaborate with teammates or hand in work on time. Also, make sure that the relationship was strictly professional and work-related. It will look bad if you mention a personal conflict that got dragged into the workplace.

 

how to answer difficult interview questions

 

5. What was your biggest challenge and why was it so hard?

What to say:

Pick something original that will showcase your talents. Many people will mention getting into university, but I would suggest talking about a play audition, debating competition, or a sporting activity. This is not only a good opportunity to mention your extracurriculars or talents, but also a great way to make you stand out from the crowd. Remember to focus on the question and explain why it was difficult for you to achieve your goal. Perhaps you had problems with time management, staying focused for long periods of time, or difficulty understanding the task at hand. The important thing is that you overcame this challenge, so don’t be afraid to say that you found it tough.

What not to say:

If the interviewer pushes you to expand your answer, don’t get defensive. It’s fine to admit that you found something difficult; indeed, the fact that you overcame it is a great achievement.

 

6. Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

What to say:

Interviewers ask this question to judge how this internship will fit in with your future plans and goals. Pick realistic goals that are in line with the career field that you are applying for. However, keep your answer general, and focus on your enthusiasm as opposed to specific goals. Explain that you want to grow with the company and would like to see yourself taking on more responsibility in the future.

What not to say:

Don’t mention a job title or specific position that you want to reach, as you need to keep your goals realistic. Don’t be too broad either. Saying that you don’t have any fixed goals, and could also pursue another career field, is a red flag to an interviewer. You have to demonstrate that you’re interested in staying within the same career field if you want your interviewer to view your application seriously.

 

7. Do you have any questions for me?

What to say:

Always ask questions at the end of the interview. It conveys your enthusiasm for the role and shows that you are serious about the internship. You can find good examples of questions to ask during an interview here. I would also suggest asking a follow-up question from something that was discussed in the interview. For example, ask your interviewer to expand on the roles that you will be expected to undertake, or ask them a question about their work in the company. This will demonstrate your interest in the internship as well as the company, and show that you want to move forward with the application process.

What not to say:

Never say that you don’t have any questions! This can often be a deciding factor between two strong candidates. Set yourself apart by asking intelligent questions and ensuring that the interviewer remembers you.

 

I hope this helps for your interview preparation, Christina! Remember to stay calm and be yourself. Don’t panic if you make a mistake, as this is completely normal and the interviewer will understand. Good luck!

Have you got any questions for me? Write to me here: laetitia@theinterngroup.com, or leave a comment on the blog post.

 

If you haven’t signed up for your interview for an international internship yet, apply today.

 

Photo 1. based on Job Interview Question: What Is Your Greatest Strength?, studio tdes, CC-by-2.0.

Photo 2. based on consumer confidence, by Chris & Karen Highland, CC-by-2.0.

Photo 3. by The Intern Group.

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Laetitia Nappert-Rosales

Laetitia studies French and Spanish at the University of Oxford and is currently on her year abroad. She is working with the Marketing team at The Intern Group in Santiago until June. Laetitia is joining us after her stay in Montreal, where she worked for the fashion magazine ELLE Québec. She hopes to explore more of Chile and its exciting culture, vibrant nightlife and interesting sights, as well as making time to travel around Latin America. Laetitia enjoys dancing, meeting new people, visiting places and immersing herself in a new culture.
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2 Comments

  1. NIRMALYA THAKUR on April 27, 2016 at 8:56 pm

    First of all I would like to thank you for giving such informative guidelines related to cracking an interview. However with due respect I would wish to ask that on being asked a question about our weakness, if we are to portray it truthfully (Say for example if a person says he is not a good team performer) then wont it kind of send a negative impression to the interviewer about selecting the interviewee?



    • Laetitia Nappert-Rosales on April 28, 2016 at 2:17 pm

      Hi Nirmalya, thanks for your comment! Yes, it is always better to be truthful in an interview. Since the interviewer is asking you to highlight one of your weaknesses, they are expecting you to answer the question truthfully. However, if you show that you are taking steps to overcome and improve on your weakness, then this will help send a positive impression on the interviewer. Remember that nobody is perfect. It’s better to sound genuine than to say something cliche. Best, Laetitia.