One of the big questions which tends to stump many candidates is ‘what was the toughest challenge you have had to face’? This question can be a tricky one because you don’t know just how personal you should get.

Should you talk about the time when you got lost in the desert and found your way home using only a compass and map as your guide? Should you talk about that time in high school when you took on the big scary bully? Or should you talk about the time you completed a tough work project and made large successful leaps in your job?

This article will help you find the right story to tell. One which leaves your interviewer with a positive impression of you based on how well you act under pressure and how you deal with difficulties that come your way. Ultimately, this question gives you the perfect chance to advertise your skills and inner strength.

How to choose the right story

It could be that you have had a challenging life and can think of a multitude of times you persevered through them. So, what story is the right one to tell… and how personal should you get?

Well, first things first, think of strictly work-related scenarios that have posed a challenge to you that you were able to resolve. Take it one step further and describe a time when you dealt with a problem related to the job’s requirements or the company’s goals.

A sample answer of what TO say:

In my previous job I had dealt with a long-standing client who was thinking of taking their business to a competitor. I spent a lot of time dealing with their complaints, making changes to their account and improving our services. In the end, we kept them as a client and I truly learnt how vital it is to take care of client relations and customer service before issues come up. As a result, I helped my team and the company as a whole. They were able to enhance their operations to better suit customers’ needs and accounts in the long run.

Points to stress

Once you know which scene you would like to paint, then you can start drawing out an outline. Begin by highlighting the reasons why you thought it to be such an immense challenge. Next, colour in the details of the scenario. And finally, gloss it all over by emphasising the skills and knowledge you acquired which helped pull you through. Remember, the big picture should be a positive one, focusing less on the challenge itself and more on how you overcame it.

You want the bone of your story to be true – but in this case, honesty is not the key to success. Don’t go into detail about your failures. Rather, talk about the lessons you learned, how much you grew from the experience and how the actions you took were nothing short of ‘heroic’. To tie it all up at the end you can even mention how your success has made you want to help others who are currently struggling with the same challenge today.

Common mistakes to avoid

  • Keep away from stories that are only about your personal struggles, such as anecdotes about your family and peer relationships. (If you don’t have enough work experience, describe an achievement you had from your school days which took resilience and skill.)
  • Don’t dwell on the challenge you faced too much. Instead, talk about what you accomplished and learned as a result.
  • Don’t bore your interviewer by letting your story drag out. Try to keep it brief by elaborating on one explicit example.

A sample answer of what NOT to say:

My sister and I used to always fight when we were growing up. One day she got so mad at me that she tripped me down the stairs…mind you, the stairs in our house were exceptionally steep and I went tumbling down and broke my arm. The following month was torture for me since I couldn’t play video games and I didn’t know what to do with me time… (the blabbering continues)…

The best method to use

If you have the story in mind and know which points you would like to emphasise but don’t know where to start, the STAR method can help. The acronym STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result. This technique is often used for answering behavioural questions such as this one; making sure your story follows a specific and professional order. If you would like to find an example of how to apply this method, click here.

Start Method Interview Preparation

Practise your answers

As the saying goes – practise makes perfect. Set aside an hour or so before you interview to prepare by yourself, with a friend, or with our online interview practice materials. Moreover, it’s always a smart idea to have a few possible answers in your head as a backup plan.

You never know if you’re going to have to switch gears during your interview; perhaps if you get a sense that your original story isn’t what the interviewer is looking for or the interview goes in an unexpected direction.

We at JobTestPrep are here to help you succeed throughout the hiring process. Prepare with our pre-employment tests and interview practice to improve your performance today.