March 13, 2015
Interviews can be daunting. It’s like an interrogation that you volunteer for. Every question requires some preparation and strategy. One of the most common and also difficult questions is: What major challenges and problems did you face, and how did you handle them?
What Interviewers Want to Know
This question is about your performance and problem-solving abilities. Your interviewer wants to understand how you behave under pressure and how you handle tough situations. Do you keep your cool? Can you think when put on the spot? Every job has its share of challenges, and your answer will reveal to your interviewer how you might fare in the new role.
How to Prepare an Answer
When I was asked this question in a previous interview, I panicked and whipped up an anecdote about how I dealt with a particularly difficult customer request. Despite my initial anxiety, it turned out to be a good answer because I told it like a story, using very specific and concrete examples of the problem at hand and how I solved it. Answering this type of question is easier and more effective with a bit of storytelling. As you brainstorm on your past experiences it helps to remember moments that stick out in your mind.
A few scenarios you can use are times when you:
- Faced a last-minute or tight deadline
- Managed interpersonal relations
- Tackled something new or different
- Handled a seemingly impossible request
You’ll want to share a win and demonstrate your leadership or critical thinking skills. Use stories that will showcase how you are resourceful, composed under pressure or quick to think on your feet.
The best way to structure your answer is by using the STAR method. Once you’ve decided on the right story to use, break your narrative down into the Situation you faced (S), the Task you had (T), the Action you took (A) and the Result you achieved (R). You can also think of STAR as the story’s introduction, conflict, climax and conclusion.
Your answer should cover the following points:
- What kind of role were you in? What were your responsibilities at the time?
- What was the challenge that you had before you?
- What was your thought process and your line of reasoning to approach this problem?
- What was the impact you had?
A good answer doesn’t need to be dramatic or grand. It can be anything from saving your company money to resolving a dispute among team members.
Here’s an example:
I used to be an event coordinator for my previous employer. I had to set up a speaker to present at a big annual event. Normally I would contact viable presenters weeks in advance. Although we already had everything in place, right before the big day our speaker notified me that he would no longer be able to attend. It was too short notice for me to go through the same process to find a new speaker, so I thought it might be easier to leverage our original speaker’s network. I asked him to refer a few contacts who might be willing, able and fit to speak at the event, and he did. I spent the entire day reaching out to the referrals on his list and was able to convince a local person to present for us. Because he hadn’t worked with us before, I prepared a number of speaking points for him, shared the program outline and suggested a quick practice run prior to the presentation. Everything went smoothly and the event was a success.