How To Answer: Describe a Challenge You Faced and How You Overcame It

By Siew Ching

You know this question is going to come up at your next job interview…

“Describe a challenge or a conflict you overcame.” Interviewers just loveeeee this question during a job interview. After all, it gives them a sense of how you resolve conflicts to see if you’re a good fit for the role or the company. It prompts the interviewer in sussing out how you’re a problem solver, team player or creative thinker. Your answer will give them a huge insight on the kind of personality you have, and the type of team player you might be.

So how do you answer it effectively? For starters, don’t give it just a one liner answer – like “My colleague wasn’t pulling his weight, so I reported to HR.” What you should do is think about it beforehand so you can craft an answer the interviewer wants to hear.

Here are some tips:

#1 Think of the challenges you’ve faced
Remember, it doesn’t have to be about work (unless your interviewer specifically asked about an office challenge). It can be anything from home, school, or in whatever role you might have. Come up with a list of ideas for various scenarios which you think will give you the opportunity to craft a clear, defined answer that will showcase your personality at its best.

#2 Pick one or two examples
Got that list now? OK – pick one or two challenging situations. It’s helpful to have specific examples where you can then share specific actions that you took. You can also consider examples that showcase how you needed to think out of the box to highlight this important skill.

#3 Layout your response
Think STAR when crafting your response: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Breaking down your answer using this guide will ensure you’re clear in your reply and that you’ve covered all bases to share what the interviewer wants to hear: Your coping skills when faced with a difficult situation. Doing this also gives you an answer that is easy to follow and understand.

OK so now you have your answer. How do you use it during the interview? Try these techniques and examples.

#1 Describe the situation concisely
Nobody wants to hear a long-winded story on how aggressive your client was. Keep the description of your challenge short and to the point to set the picture.
Example: “I was working on a project where midway through, the client decided to change course and blamed it on me for not doing it that way in the first place.”

#2 Tell them about your task
Here, describe what the issue was and how you needed to fix the problem.
Example: “The client then went to complain to my boss, saying that I was incompetent and did not follow the project guideline despite him changing his idea halfway through. I wanted to make sure that my boss was clear on my deliverables and that I had been following them throughout up until the point the client decided to change his mind. It was important for me to give proof of the work I’ve been doing which coincided with the project guideline.”

#3 Explain the action you took
This is where you explain how you solved the challenge, showcasing your professionalism and thought process as well as your initiative to make things right.
Example: “I initiated a meeting with my boss first to discuss what went wrong with the project. I backed that up with emails that highlighted my work so far and the client’s input at every step. I clarified that the project changed course midway and how it was nearly impossible to fix everything else as it was too close to the deadline. I then sought my boss’s advice on how to best handle this situation and what we can do to move forward.

#4 Tell them the result
Finally, explain how your action was beneficial to the outcome. Remember to talk about your specific role in resolving this issue to really highlight your strength in resolving conflicts.
Example: “My boss agreed that I was on track with the project but that as a provider we still needed to give the client a solution. We brainstormed ideas on how to move forward and when we were ready to present these ideas, we arranged for a meeting with the client. Because I was the one leading the project, I asked for the chance to lead the meeting so that the client would still have confidence in me. I was very clear in my tasks moving forward and we were fortunately able to resolve the issue.”

Were you asked this question during an interview? Share your answer with @Graduan!

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash.

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