What Was Your Biggest Challenge as a Student?

Student studying in library
Getty Images/Marc Romanelli

When you are applying for an entry-level position, a typical job interview question is, "What was your biggest challenge as a student, and how did you handle it?" This question is a way for interviewers to get a sense of how you tackle problems and adversity.

More important than the challenge is how you handled it: use this as an opportunity to highlight strengths that would be helpful on the job, such as persistence, communication skills, time management abilities, etc.

Tips for Answering This Question

  • Be honest. It’s tempting to toss back a humble-brag as a response, e.g. “My biggest challenge was that I’m such a perfectionist!” Don’t do this. Everyone has flaws and areas for improvement. By pretending you don’t, you’d force the hiring manager to assume that you’re either lying or not self-aware. Neither makes a good impression.
  • Focus on challenges you’ve conquered. By the same token, now is not the time to present yourself in an unflattering light. There’s no need to share challenges you’re still actively trying to resolve. For instance, if you currently have trouble keeping your cool in stressful situations, don’t tell the hiring manager that you tend to freak out when the pressure is high. Instead, look for examples that show how you faced a challenge and overcame it. (So, if you used to feel stressed out before presentations, talk about how you solved the problem by taking a public speaking course and creating a schedule that allowed you to prepare ahead of time.)
  • Look for opportunities to show that you’re the best person for the job. When answering this or any job interview questions, your goal is to show the hiring manager that you’re the best candidate for the position. That means matching your qualifications to the job, and using your answers to show that you’d be a good fit. For example, if the job listing specifies someone with good time management skills, you might talk about how you developed a system to help you juggle a challenging course load and a part-time job.
  • Practice your answers. It’s a good idea to have a couple of answers in mind, in case the interviewer nixes your first reply, or the interview goes in a direction you don’t anticipate. Regardless, you should devote some time to practice interviews before you meet with the hiring manager. Ask a supportive friend to conduct mock interviews with you, to get a feel for how to answer questions effectively and organically … and change tracks when necessary.

Examples of the Best Answers

Here are sample interview answers that you can edit to fit your personal experiences and background:

  • My biggest challenge as a student was being the student! Sitting through the conventional lectures was sometimes difficult. My mind and body were always going and I couldn't wait to get out of my seat, move around, share my thoughts, and interact with my peers. I handled it by focusing all my energy into my listening and note taking. It helped keep my mind busy and my body moving, and I also left with some great notes.
  • During my freshman year is when I faced my biggest challenge as a student. I had never lived away from home before, and I experienced severe homesickness. I was almost defeated by it, and had the opportunity to go home and attend a local college. I decided to try to overcome my homesickness, which I did.
  • Acquiring successful time management skills was the biggest challenge I faced as a student. It was an aspect to college life that I underestimated the significance of. Now that I am in the workforce, I continue to use the skills I gained, and I am always trying to improve on them as well.
  • One of my biggest challenges my first year in college was the volume of work. It was a big change from high school, and standards were also much higher! I tackled this in a few different ways: I looked for opportunities to start or join study groups, met with my professors for advice on where to focus my attention, and set up a structured schedule to make sure I was putting in the required time studying.

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