Our expert advice on answering difficult interview questions about how you handle situations

In part three of our difficult interview questions series, we are looking at questions about how you’ve handled tricky situations at work.

We have all been there where we’ve made a mistake, disagreed with a colleague or had to work in a high-pressure environment but hiring managers want to know how you’ve dealt with these situations. 

“Tell me about a time you made a mistake.”

The interviewer is looking at how you’ve handled the situation when you’ve made a mistake and if you are comfortable making yourself accountable.

Briefly talk about the mistake that has been made, then explain in detail how you solved the problem. And be honest about it, no matter how bad you think your explanation may make you look, the interviewer won’t necessarily see it that way.

Admit your mistake and take full responsibility for it. Don’t try to blame someone else or spread the blame around. Interviewers don’t want to hear how your teammate gave you the wrong information which resulted in a mistake.

Then tell the interviewer what you’ve learnt from that situation. Director Sarah-Lee says, “Don’t give personal situation answers, stick to business examples.

Maybe discuss a hiring mistake you made when you first became a manager and how you rectified this, or a mistake in a task you were completing. Make sure you show that you admitted the mistake and put a plan in place to find a solution to that mistake.” 

“How do you handle pressure?”

The best way to answer this question is to give an example of how you have dealt with stress in a previous job. That way, the interviewer can get a clear picture of how well you work in stressful situations.

Avoid mentioning a time when you put yourself in a stressful situation. For example, do not share a story about a time when you were stressed because you procrastinated and had to finish a project quickly. Instead, describe a time when you were given a difficult task or multiple assignments, and you rose to the occasion.

You also should not focus too much on how stressed out you felt. While you should certainly admit that stress happens, emphasize how you dealt with the stress.

Senior Consultant, Helenna Hobson suggests using the STAR acronym to help:

 S = Situation       Why were you under pressure?

‘Year End was looming and the team member that was responsible for delivering a crucial part of the reporting was off sick, and another member of the team was due to go on holiday days before the deadline.’

T = Task                What was your responsibility in the scenario?

 ‘As Financial Controller, my key responsibility was to ensure the YE accounts were delivered on time to good quality and I managed my team effectively.’

A = Action            What action did you take?

I started by assessing the team’s workload. Then I decided to allocate part of the work by providing a progression opportunity to another employee that had been involved in YE in a previous role. I then allocated some further responsibility to myself and backfilled some of the business as usual responsibilities to an interim employee.’

R = Result            What was the outcome?

‘The accounts were submitted on time and were of great quality, Fred went on holiday and everyone was happy.’

“Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.”

Always a tough question to answer, but this question is more about your communication skills and your professional manner. Disagreements happen whether it’s big or small but how do you handle yourself when you do disagree with a manager.

Start with the situation, keep it short and respectful of your previous employer. Talk about how you handled the disagreement and the importance of good communication between co-workers and line managers. This will show the employer that you’re a team player and you have respect for other people’s opinions.

Then talk about why it’s important to keep a professional manner. This will show the hiring manager that even when in a heated debate you can still represent the business.

It’s important to remember that being negative about your employer or a co-worker will not look great, keep it positive and non-bias.

 

 

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