Most challenging interview question (Shocking: don’t respond using boyfriend examples)


I have helped hundreds of students prepare for accounting interviews with firms since 2009. There is one question that seems to provide the most stress and fear.

In fact, I received an email yesterday from someone on this very topic:

Over the last few months I’ve been trying to find a job with the Big 4 and now I finally have an interview! The problem is I am still confused on how to reply to this question efficiently: “Tell me a time where you were faced with a challenge and we’re able to overcome it”

I’ve been advised to reply with an example from work experience rather than university experience by fellow students and a professor. But I don’t have any experience, I don’t see how I can appropriately reply.  I am struggling to come up with a response as I’ve been a full-time student. How should I respond?

Sally Student

Challenging dilemma. You want to show you’ll be great at working for the company but you have no previous work experience to try and convince them.

Luckily, there’s a work-around.

The company is looking to see if you will be a great employee, but they are really looking for something deeper, how you handle pressure and face obstacles. Good news for you is that work is hardly the only area of our life where we face challenges.

Here is an excerpt from my 42-page eBook, The Interview which details

  • How to prepare for accounting interviews
  • What to wear
  • The differences in an on-campus interview & office visit.
  • Over 15 questions they will ask you and exactly how to respond
  • 15 questions you need to ask company representatives
  • Exactly how to follow-up after the interview
  • And more.

Excerpt here:

5) Describe a situation in which you felt challenged. How did you handle it?

The key to answering this question is twofold. First, you must identify an actual situation in which you were challenged.  Do not be tempted to pretend that you have never been challenged or discuss a situation where others around you were challenged and you were not. Everyone is challenged at times, so think of a time you were.

The second key to this question is presenting your solution to the challenge. You should identify how you rose to the challenge in a responsible manner and handled the problem.  A good example is a challenging class assignment that you had to do some extra research to complete.  Another example is a team project in which there was a conflict between members of the team.

Make sure that whichever example you use, you were the one who came up with the solution. It shouldn’t be a situation where you simply alerted someone of the problem and he or she fixed it or called someone else. It must display that you are the problem-solver.

Simple. I didn’t even mention a work example. It can be school, project based, a community organization such as Beta Alpha Psi, or a community service group.

Note worth mentioning: I’ve heard people use personal life examples with family or boyfriends/girlfriends at times. Try and stay away from that, it can get a little awkward…

But my favorite part of the excerpt above (and what most people forget) is the it’s important to display that you were the problem solver. If you explain this big problem in a group assignment and say that the whole team did something, that’s not as powerful as if you were the white knight.

The whole point of the question is for you to display through a past action, how you overcome strife. Don’t waste this opportunity by sharing the credit for your triumphs with someone else.

The question I get the second most inquiries about is:

“Do you have any offers from other firms.”

That’s tough to answer, either way:

If you have another offer shows your in demand (but they may be wasting their time) or if you don’t (maybe you aren’t very good).

For the detail response to each scenario and more, the 42-page eBook the Interview is right up your alley.