How to answer "Can you give me an example of a time when you had to overcome a significant challenge?" (with sample answers)

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This post is part of our series on behavioral interview questions.

Why Employers Ask This Question

The question "Can you give me an example of a time when you had to overcome a significant challenge?" is a common question asked by interviewers. Here are the primary reasons why employers ask this question:

  • To Evaluate Problem-Solving Skills: Employers want to assess your ability to find solutions to difficult problems. By asking about a specific challenge that you have faced in the past, they can determine how you approached the problem and whether you came up with an effective solution.
  • To Understand Your Resilience: Everyone faces challenges at some point in their career, and employers want to know that you can deal with these situations and bounce back. By sharing a story of how you overcame a significant obstacle, you can demonstrate your resilience and how you handle adversity.
  • To Assess Your Communication Skills: This question also gives employers insight into your communication skills. They want to see how effectively you can explain a complex situation and how you communicate with others when facing a challenge.

How to Answer the Question

When answering the question "Can you give me an example of a time when you had to overcome a significant challenge?" during a job interview, follow these steps:

  1. Choose a Relevant Story: The story you choose to share should be relevant to the job you are applying for. Think about the job requirements and choose a story that showcases your skills and experience.
  2. Provide Context: Set the stage for your story by providing context about the company, team, and project you were working on. Explain what the challenge was and how it impacted the project or company.
  3. Explain Your Role: Clearly explain your role in the situation so that the interviewer understands your level of responsibility.
  4. Outline Your Approach: Explain how you approached the challenge and what steps you took to overcome it. Highlight any creative or innovative solutions you came up with.
  5. Share the Outcomes: Finally, share the outcomes and benefits of your solution. Explain how your approach helped the company and the lessons you learned from the experience.

Remember, practice makes perfect. Practice telling your story to friends or family to get comfortable sharing it in a job interview. Also, be honest about your role in the situation and avoid taking sole credit for a team effort. By following these steps, you can impress your interviewer with your problem-solving skills and resilience.

Sample answers

Answer 1: Bad Answer
"I can't think of an example right now."

Explanation: This answer shows that the interviewee is not prepared for the interview, lacks problem-solving skills or experience, and cannot communicate their experiences effectively. It sends the wrong message that they are not capable of overcoming challenges.

Answer 2: Good Answer
"I faced a challenge when I was leading a team of developers to deliver a project within a tight deadline. The project required integrating new technology, and the team was lacking experience. To overcome this challenge, I organized quick training sessions to address the gaps in their experience, prioritized the work, delegated some tasks, and created a communication plan to ensure we were all on the same page. We managed to deliver the project on time and even earned accolades from the client."

Explanation: This answer shows that the interviewee has acknowledged their challenge, communicated a clear strategy for managing the situation, and leveraged their leadership and problem-solving skills to overcome them. It also shows that the interviewee has excellent time-management and communication skills, which are valuable qualities in the workplace.

Answer 3: Bad Answer
"I quit my last job because it was too challenging for me."

Explanation: This answer indicates that the interviewee has limited experience in facing challenges and lacks resilience. Employers are looking for individuals who can overcome work-related challenges, and this answer may raise doubts about the candidate's ability to thrive in a new role.

Answer 4: Good Answer
"I had to deal with an angry customer who was dissatisfied with our product's quality. I listened to their complaint, empathized with their frustrations, and took prompt action to remedy the situation. I offered a full refund, exchanged the product, and followed up with the customer to ensure their satisfaction. I learned that active listening and a speedy resolution can turn an unhappy customer into a brand advocate."

Explanation: This answer shows that the interviewee is customer-centric, emotionally intelligent, and can manage high-pressure situations effectively. It also illustrates that they have experience in problem-solving, conflict resolution, and customer service.

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