Job Interview Question & Answer: Tell Me About a Challenging Problem at Work That You Faced and Overcame
Reasons Employers Ask This Question
During an interview, employers might ask you to talk about how you handled a past workplace issue. The point of this common interview question is to assess an applicant’s problem-solving abilities. It also gives managers an idea of how you deal with high-pressure situations and working with others.
What You Should Talk About
This inquiry calls for job applicants to tell a story, so prepare an answer ahead of time. Your response should be effective and communicate what the challenge was and how you tackled it. The best answers draw attention to particular skills or traits that matter to the type of work you want to do.
For those who have little to no work experience, talk about challenges you faced in school, extracurricular activities, or sports where you demonstrated skills you can relate to the workplace. Try to stick with examples that involve professional situations rather than personal ones.
What Not to Mention
Avoid long-winded, overly-descriptive anecdotes in favor of a specific and concise example. Though it might be tempting, it’s best not to vent or emphasize negative experiences. Instead, focus on putting a positive spin on the situation and present it as a learning opportunity. Finally, don’t make excuses for failures, but rather show interviewers how you overcame them.
Tips for Responding to “Describe a Challenge You Had to Face at Work”
When trying to determine a workplace challenge that you overcame, these tips can help you identify an example and figure out how to present it. As you prepare for your job interview, consider these points to guide you:
- Begin by describing the challenge in detail. Think about previous work experiences, school, sports, or groups.
- Think about why it mattered to you, the company, and any person involved to show how well you understood the problem.
- Demonstrate your critical thinking skills and explain the steps you took to solve the problem using measurable, detailed evidence.
- Emphasize the positive outcome of the situation without giving yourself too much credit.
- Mention how overcoming the problem was a great learning experience and talk about how you grew as a professional in the process.
Sample Responses to “What Is a Challenge You Faced at Work and Overcame?”
When looking for a way to describe your own workplace encounters, it helps to read what other people said. Here are a couple of sample responses:
Sample Answer 1 – Server at a Restaurant
“When I worked at the drive-thru at my previous job, a customer did not receive everything they ordered. They were not aware of the missing items until after they got home but returned to report the issue. I spoke to them, apologized for the mistake, and offered to replace their meal for free.”
“The customer was pleased with the outcome. Although I took their order, I did not handle their food directly. Regardless, I wanted to make it right because good customer service goes a long way in the food industry.”
Sample Answer 2 – Cashier at a Grocery Store
“In my senior year of high school, one of my biggest challenges was keeping up with how much work I had piling up compared to previous years. When I felt overwhelmed, I had to learn new tactics to stay on track and keep my grades up. I worked to become more organized and managed my time better between hanging out with friends, studying for tests, and filling out college applications.”
“By learning these new skills, I adapted to the heavier workload. In fact, it feels natural now. I hope to bring my ability to adapt well and learn quickly to this job, too.”
Embracing the Challenge
The key takeaway for a question like, “Tell me about a difficult challenge you overcame at work,” is to use it as an opportunity to show employers you are a capable, hardworking candidate. By emphasizing your skills and ability to deal with a difficult workplace challenge, employers can see how you stand out among other applicants.
I really like this answer. It’s genuine and he really picked a tough situation. His choice pays off because the response reflects a number of positive traits. First, it shows that he cares about improving how his company runs and is proactive in doing so. His answer also shows that he was brave enough to offer constructive criticism to a supervisor, which isn’t a pleasant thing to do. Finally, the fact that the boss listened to his advice and amended his managing style shows how respected and trusted our participant was as an employee.
When you answer this question, pick a compelling story that will engage the interviewer. Remember that any question phrased like “tell me about a time when” or “describe a situation where you” is a behavioral question, which requires you to pick a real-life example. Try to think over your past accomplishments before the interview so you will have quality stories to share. The worst answer would be “I can’t think of anything.” Something irrelevant to the job, like a struggle in your personally life wouldn’t be much better either.
With your story, you want to pick a situation where you used a key skill to turn a bad situation around. Make sure to choose a situation that will reflect relevant skills to the job. Also, try to highlight something that happened in your recent career history. Relevant work is always the best, but an example from school or athletics may suffice.
The best way to tell your story is though the C.A.R. method.
Make sure to keep your story succinct and to the point. You’ll lose the interviewer if your response is more than a minute or two. If you look back at our participant’s response, you’ll see he kept it brief and on target. If you want to watch an example of an answer that goes on a little too long click on the video here.
One final note for answering this question, avoid painting former coworkers or managers in a negative light. It only reflects poorly on you. Our participant successfully illustrated a difficult situation without disparaging anyone, and you can do it too. Thanks for watching.