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How To Answer: Describe A Difficult Situation & How You Overcame It

 “Describe a difficult situation and how you overcame it”

This is a great opportunity to show your problem-solving skills off so it’s important that you craft an effective answer to respond with. The interviewer isn’t asking you this question to remind you about any stress you have experienced in the past or so that you can complain about your old job. They are asking you this to see how you handled the situation.

Why they are asking you:

The employer is asking you this question for a number of reasons. Firstly, they want to know what you think of as a ‘difficult‘ situation. For instance, if you find it difficult to meet tight deadlines and the role they are advertising seeks someone who works well under pressure –  it’s probably not the right role for you. Secondly, they can make a good judgement about how you would perform within their workplace by assessing the way you approach difficulties.

How to answer:

First up, it’s important to make sure that what you are discussing is somewhat challenging. If you discuss a situation that the employer does not think is a difficult one, you will come across as a risky candidate. Make sure that you discuss a situation that resulted in a happy, positive ending. You should think of a professional challenge that you have faced and what you did to overcome it. Make sure that what you choose to discuss is work-related in terms of projects, clients or timescales rather than a difficult colleague or boss – avoid bad-mouthing!

In order to show how good you are at dealing with challenges discuss 4 main points:
  1.  What was the situation?
  2.  How did you overcome it?
  3.  The outcome
  4. What you learnt from it

Describing the scenario, your input and the outcome will show the interviewer that you used your initiative within this situation. It’s important to recognise the efforts of others within the situation too instead of only recognising your own.

Example 1: “During a joint project, my co-worker resigned 2 weeks before the deadline. In order to finish the project on time, I consulted my manager. Between us, we decided it was best to put a minor project on hold and to prioritise this one. To make sure that the quality of the work was not affected, I worked a lot of overtime and my colleagues kindly took over some of my daily tasks to help me concentrate on getting the project finished. Although I did feel pressured, the end result was very positive. My client was more than happy with what I delivered and from this difficulty, I recognised my own capabilities and my ability to work well independently. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of my colleagues and my manager, I was very grateful for that.” 

Providing an answer like this will show the employer that you identified ways to resolve a potential issue and although it was hard, you overcame the difficulties. By mentioning that you received help, you are showing the employer that you recognised the efforts of others and that you are a good team player. Demonstrating what you learnt from the situation shows the employer that you can turn a negative into a positive with ease.

Read more ‘how to answer’ interview question blogs here.

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