By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated May 27, 2022 | Published December 14, 2021
Updated May 27, 2022
Published December 14, 2021
Related: Top 10 Tricky Interview Questions & Best Response Strategies
This video outlines the 10 trickiest interview questions you may be asked and provides career coach approved recommendations for successfully answering.
During an interview, a hiring manager may ask how you've handled difficult situations in past jobs. It's important to provide a truthful answer while conveying how you overcame the challenge. Understanding how to respond when a hiring manager inquires about difficult situations you've encountered can help you leave a good impression.
In this article, we discuss how to answer the interview question, "Tell me how you handled a difficult situation," and provide example answers you can use for reference.
Related: How To Deal With Difficult People at Work
Employers ask candidates to describe difficult situations they've handled in the past to assess how they may handle challenges in their future roles. The response a candidate provides can help an employer determine if they could be a positive contribution to the company. A candidate's answer can also provide an employer with an insight into their integrity, communication skills, initiative, leadership skills and ability to react to unpredictable events.
As you're thinking about your answer to this interview question, you can consider how to talk about the situation positively. Instead of speaking negatively about former coworkers, employees or supervisors, focus on what you did to rectify the situation. Another consideration to make when brainstorming your answer is to use a work-related situation. A potential employer may appreciate an answer that centers on your professional life. If you don't have relevant work experience, you can describe a recent event in your personal life.
Related: Top Tips for Using the STAR Method
Taylor explains how to stand out when answering behavioral interview questions using the STAR Method, a strategic storytelling tool.
The STAR method is a way of formulating responses that follows a specific structure. STAR stands for situation, task, action and result, and you implement this method by describing each of these four components in order. When you use this method to structure your answer, an employer may follow what you're saying more easily. Here's how to answer this interview question using the STAR method:
Describe the situation. Explain the "situation" you handled in one or two sentences. This part can provide the hiring manager with context so they can understand the rest of your answer.
Explain the problem. The next component of the STAR method is explaining the "task," which is the role you had in the situation. Detail your job and responsibility to overcome the challenge.
Detail the steps you took to rectify the issue. Talk about the "action" you took to overcome the situation. Explain your thought process for choosing the actions you did, being as specific as possible.
Describe the results you produced. In this portion of your answer, explain the "results" you produced. To conclude your answer, you may present what you learned and how you plan to apply it in future scenarios.
Read more: How To Use the STAR Interview Response Technique
Related: Interview Question: Describe How You’d Approach a Scenario in This Role
Holl, a career coach at Indeed, explains how to best answer the tricky interview question “Describe how you’d approach a scenario in this role?”
Here are four example answers you can refer to when forming your answer to this interview question:
Here's an example answer from a candidate who handled an unhappy customer:
"My previous job was as a team leader at a grocery store. We advertised weekly sales online and in our store's print advertisements. One brand of sports drinks was on sale for a "buy one, get one free" deal, and it sold quickly. By the middle of the sales week, our store was completely out of stock.
One customer approached me and expressed their dissatisfaction with the lack of inventory. I apologized to them, explained that my grocery clerks placed an order for more inventory and told them the drinks would arrive the next day. I handled the situation calmly and used reason to explain the circumstances. I also learned to have more of this brand in stock when it next went on sale."
Related: Giving an Example of When You Used Logic To Solve Problem
Here's an example answer from a candidate who worked with a coworker who wasn't contributing to a project:
"I used to work as a pool technician for a mid-sized company and worked with a partner. We had two different work trucks, so we split up our pool route and assisted each other when necessary. After a while, I noticed they weren't working efficiently, leaving me with the responsibility of servicing some of their pools.
Instead of involving our supervisor, I talked to them directly. I told them I felt they weren't completing work as quickly as they once did and explained that their poor productivity was leaving me with more responsibilities. I also explained that if they continued to not complete their work on time, the company's performance would suffer. After this conversation, my partner apologized and promised to work more efficiently. I learned that working out issues among coworkers instead of involving supervisors can be very effective."
Related: 12 Ways To Deal With a Difficult Coworker
Here's an example answer from a candidate who didn't have access to their manager:
"At my previous job as a secretary at a construction firm, I was working on a Friday afternoon. My manager had to leave the office early for a personal emergency and wouldn't be back until Monday morning. I received a call from a client who wanted to know the status of their project and if they could submit a few last-minute changes. I informed the client that while I wasn't responsible for making large-scale decisions like that, I could update them on their project's status.
I had the construction team postpone any work that they had planned to perform over the weekend, and I informed the client that no work would continue until they could speak with my manager on Monday morning. Before leaving the office for the weekend, I left my manager a detailed note that explained the situation and requested that they call the client back as soon as possible. When my manager returned to the office, they were very grateful for my initiative because the changes were significant enough to require a temporary pause on the construction work."
Related: How To Make Your Boss Like You
Here's an example answer from a candidate who accepted too many assignments:
"While working in my first job as a content writer, I accepted article assignments from an online queue. I was eager to showcase my abilities, so I accepted more than I could handle. While I tried my best to meet all the deadlines, it wasn't possible to submit them all without sacrificing quality. I was very transparent with my supervisor and told them what had happened. They reassigned some of the work to available team members. I learned to not take on more than what I can handle and to prioritize quality when submitting articles."
Related: Interview Question: Tell Me a Time You Made a Mistake at Work
Holl, a career coach at Indeed, explains how to best answer the tricky interview question, “Tell me a time you made a mistake at work?”