During an interview, hiring managers have a short amount of time to determine if you will be a good fit for the role and the workplace team. They ask difficult questions to gauge how well you act under pressure and to gain a better understanding of you. In an interview, a hiring manager may ask a question like “what was the toughest challenge you have ever faced” to discern what things are challenges for you and how you handle frustrating experiences.
Points to Emphasize
When you respond to a question like this, it’s important to remember to keep an upbeat, positive tone. You may be discussing something very difficult for you, but it’s important to keep the tone of the interview confident and encouraging. Try to incorporate the following thoughts into your response:
- Briefly mention the challenge with minimal details.
- Focus on how you overcame this challenge.
- Discuss how you grew from this challenge and what you learned.
- Talk about helping others as they face similar challenges in their life.
Mistakes You Should Avoid
When a hiring manager asks a personal question that may or may not be directly related to work, it can be tricky. Try not to mention challenges that will cause you to be emotional or will change the overall optimistic tone of the interview. Here are a few things to avoid:
- Don’t provide a lengthy response. Keep it concise and brief with only one short example.
- Don’t dwell on the challenge itself; rather focus on how you overcame it and what you learned.
- Don’t mention personal or private things in an interview. This may make the hiring manager uncomfortable. Focus on work, school or athletic challenges you have faced, if possible.
- Never discuss people by name, especially in a negative light.
A solid response to a question like this might be:
Ten years ago I became very interested in mountain climbing. A few friends of mine decided we should take a trip to Nepal and hike K2, the second highest mountain the world and perhaps the very hardest to climb. They scheduled the trip around the time that I was scheduled to take the GMAT test for business school. I was conflicted on what to do, since both were very important to me. I ultimately decided I would be able to do both with extreme dedication and perseverance. I practiced climbing mountains as often as possible and went on many training trips, and everywhere I went my GMAT study guides came with me. I spent every free second with my nose buried in my books. I lacked sleep and proper rest, but I was able to pass the GMAT and take my trip to Nepal, where we successfully summited K2.
Although it was a challenge for me, I was proud of how hard I worked to achieve both goals. Now I coach college students in GMAT prep and provide training for mountain climbers. It’s one of the things I am most proud of.