If there were a category of interview questions, then, “Describe a challenge you faced and how you overcame it examples” would fall into the most loved category of the interviewers.
There are some pet questions like these that are always put in front of the candidate to check their presence of mind. Mostly there is no right or wrong answer to such questions. However, these questions are a great way to divert your next few questions in the direction that you want to.
They allow you to give your interviewer a window on your thought process, and from there on, through such questions, you get the power to lead the rest of the interview.
While preparing for an interview, candidates tend to focus too much on learning the minute details about their area of interest. They tend to forget that it is important to have conceptual knowledge about your subject more than the details.
The interviewer does not expect you to know the accurate answers to all the factual questions. Mostly, interviews are conducted to judge the personality of the candidate and their way of thinking. The candidate’s attitude too plays a huge role. Their attitude on handling the questions they do not know the answers to is of utmost importance.
That is why prior preparation is very important for technical questions related to your field and others. A candidate should also focus on preparing for non-technical questions as well. Here are some of the non-technical questions which could be asked in an interview:
- Tell me something about yourself?
- Why do you want to work here?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Why did you leave your previous job?
- What are your salary expectations?
- Do you have any questions for me?
To prepare for the present question, “Describe a challenge you faced and how you overcame it,” you need to prepare a generic answer for questions like “What are your strengths and weaknesses.”
How to Answer “Describe a Challenge You Faced and How You Overcame it”?
As discussed earlier, the interview will mix technical and non-technical questions. You can decide the flow of such questions that fall under the category of non-technical questions. Let us look at how one can ideally answer this non-technical question without falling into any trap.
1. Stay Confident and Positive
First and foremost is to stay positive and deliver the answer with confidence. It would help if you ensured that the answer comes to you effortlessly. For this, you need to make some last notes. Not detailed notes but some notes. For example, you can mention something work-related or a personal challenge that you went through in your life.
2. Be Realistic
Don’t overpromise, don’t go over the top to make yourself look like a larger-than-life kind of a personality. Interviewers can see through the fakeness of the candidates to create tall stories to either impress the panel or keep them entertained. Honestly, they will never show you that they have caught you and will continue to nod but would secretly want to eliminate you from the final selection. So, always be realistic while sharing your story. What to do when you do not have any story to tell? This brings us to the next point.
3. Cook Up a Story
Told you before that this is a test of your presence of mind. To pass this test with flying colors, you sometimes need to cook up some stories instantly. Evaluate your prior experiences, anything that seemed difficult to you at the time, or a scenario that you didn’t believe you’d be able to overcome.
You will most probably be able to develop a story by yourself. You don’t have to think of something big or elaborate. It could be something about your team completing a given task within a short time span. But remember to provide factually correct details even while narrating a made-up story. For this reason, you can bank on the character names from your previous workspace or your friends, for that matter.
4. Be Concise
Providing details doesn’t mean that you will go on and on about one story. It would help if you kept your answer short, crisp, and concise. They would not have the time to listen to your long story. Treat this question as a breather and wrap it up as early as possible. Sometimes giving too many details is an invitation to a string of other questions that you might find difficult to answer.
5. Stay Balanced
By staying balanced, you can find a midway through the question. Ideally, it is suggested that you put forth your ideas and opinions on things. But, it is fine to be diplomatic about your answers once in a while.
Let us take the earlier example of the question, “What are your strengths and weaknesses.” In this question, you get to take all the brownie points by listing your strengths, but should you also list your weaknesses? What are some of the possible weaknesses of a person? You could say – being moody, impatient, and impulsive.
Sure, these are some of a person’s accepted and obvious weaknesses. However, such truthful answers are not befitting an interview. You want to present your candidature in the best light and not show your weaknesses.
So, it is better to be diplomatic about your answer and list a weakness that is not really a weakness. For example, saying something along the lines that “I am a perfectionist” or “I tend to work too hard.” This appears to be a weakness but is a strength in disguise as the company will benefit from someone who works to perception or is hardworking.
Here is a sample answer that can be seen to figure out a rough structure. Later, an analysis of this sample answer has been provided to help you decipher the structure better and formulate your answer in a different context.
“I usually see challenges as an opportunity to grow and make a point. I was responsible for managing five team members in my previous job profile. The client was based out of Canada, and we were supposed to submit our deliverables within a week. There was a lot of pressure from the company to meet the deadline when three out of five of my team members went down with Covid. It was difficult for everyone, yet the deadline had to be met because the client brought immense future tie-up possibilities. While I understood the hardship of going through physical and emotional trauma, at the same time, I also understood the client’s point of view. I stepped up to ensure that there was enough coordination between the teammates. I tried to take all the necessary information from the sick employees within a matter of a few hours. Then I quickly got myself involved in discussing the entire project with the remaining two employees. As a result, we could finish the project before the deadline with real hard work and dedication. This way, we fulfilled our responsibility towards our company and the client. Also, the employees who were unwell got ample time to take rest and recover quickly without any guilt or worry. My other two employees were given the due credit for being extra supportive in their time of need. And I ensured that their hard work was paid off in terms of some extra days off and some other benefits. Since then, all of us have been there for each other in times of need. We have also realized that no amount of work is too much if it is done in partnership.”
Using this example, we can run through all the pointers mentioned above. We will look at how these have been incorporated within the larger framework of the answer.
When the candidate says, “I usually see challenges as an opportunity to grow and make a point“, it establishes him/her as an optimistic person with a sense of self-confidence. This is the best way to start any answer that might have serious undertones. Of course, challenges are part and parcel of life, and everyone can get intimidated by the challenges in a workspace. But it would help if you showed the interviewer your ideology or outlook towards challenges.
The one detail that makes this story highly relevant and convincing is the mention of Covid-19. It was a global phenomenon, and everyone was affected by the pandemic on some level or the other. There is no reason why the interviewer would not believe the candidate. Having witnessed the havoc around them, they might also empathize with the candidate’s situation. The mention of the number of employees again makes the story seem realistic.
The plot of this story has a beginning, middle, and end with many details. These details enrich the narrative and make it interesting. It keeps the listeners entertained and wanting more. They would want to know what happens next and how you overcame the challenge you just introduced them to. It seems like a complete package that they get to have after being bored of tirelessly conducting numerous interviews.
Know Where to End
There is no point in extending the story to eternity. Also, you do not want them to interrupt you or stop you midway, even before concluding. Your motto should show them how you reached the resolution and your take on the situation. You can take some time to elaborate on your point of view, but it is best to avoid stretching the story and its details.
Maintain the Balance
Don’t give too much information, or you will get inclined towards one side of the spectrum. You want to ensure that you do not end up praising yourself too much. That is where you can play with the words. If you look at the sample, you will notice the usage of the word “team,” “teammates,” and “partnership.”
These words show how your focus is not on praising yourself but on praising the efforts of your teammates. It instills a feeling of understanding and maturity in the candidate. It doesn’t make you stand out. It just shows how driven and focused you were on achieving your goals and result.
Pro-Tip: You can completely transform the question by presenting technical facts about your field. This way, the question won’t remain as non-technical as it may sound. If you have confidence in your expertise, you can describe a technical difficulty. This can help you gain extra points by showing off your knowledge about the technicalities involved in resolving the issue. This way, you get to answer the question asked by them, and you also get to impress them with your skill-sets.
On being asked a non-technical question like this, you can take charge of your interview. It would help if you were smart enough to utilize this opportunity to show your interviewer all the skills that you possess. Sometimes, you might will java to cook up a story or two, but it won’t be that difficult if you practice answering questions like these prior to your interview. Remember, preparation for interviews doesn’t include learning the technical answers but also requires you to be prepared to answer such non-technical questions.
You find it difficult to deal with questions like “Describe a Challenge You Faced and How You Overcame it.” Fear not! We will help you find a strategy to answer all such non-technical questions.