How to answer "How do you handle ambiguity or uncertainty in your work?" (with sample answers)

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

Why Employers Ask This

Employers want to know if an employee can handle unexpected situations and uncertain circumstances without becoming stressed or overwhelmed. They also want to see if the individual can be proactive and take charge in ambiguous situations to find solutions. Being able to manage ambiguity demonstrates that the candidate is adaptable, can think creatively, and is not afraid to tackle challenges. Moreover, it can be an indicator of leadership potential.

As organizations face more complex problems, they need individuals who can approach these problems with a flexible and positive mindset. Thus, the answer to this question is critical in determining the candidate's suitability for a role.

How to Answer the Question

While answering this question, it is imperative to showcase your ability to work in uncertain circumstances while prioritizing the impact on the outcome of the task or project. Here are a few tips on how to answer this question:

  1. Provide a concrete example: The interviewer is likely to be more impressed with an answer that provides real-life scenarios instead of a generic response. Hence, it is vital to share specific instances where you encountered uncertainty and how you addressed them.
  2. Explain your thought process: Walking through the process of how you processed ambiguous or uncertain information is essential. This insight will demonstrate your decision-making ability and the logic behind your choices.
  3. Highlight the outcome: Employers want to see the results of your action in uncertain circumstances. Thus, it is imperative to illustrate the positive outcomes of your approach.
  4. Emphasize your communication skills: Good communication skills are essential in managing ambiguous situations. Show that you can express your thoughts and ideas transparently with others to drive for clarity and direction in your work.

Sample answers

Good answer:

When I am faced with ambiguity or uncertainty in my work, I try to break down the situation into smaller parts and evaluate each individually. Then, I evaluate how they relate to each other, and try to create a clear plan of action. I am comfortable admitting when I need clarification and asking questions to gain a better understanding of the matter at hand.

Good answer:

I am adaptable and able to work well under pressure. When faced with ambiguous situations or uncertainty in my work, I take a step back and evaluate all the factors involved. I then prioritize the tasks that need immediate attention and work to gather more information and resources. I am comfortable collaborating with colleagues to discern potential solutions, and I understand that sometimes creativity is required to find the best outcome.

Bad answer:

I just try to power through the situation and hope for the best. I don't really like asking questions because I don't want to seem like I don't know what I'm doing.

This answer is bad because it shows a lack of communication and a lack of interest in finding the best solution. It could reflect poorly on the candidate and their ability to handle complex situations.

Bad answer:

Ambiguity and uncertainty make me really anxious and it can be hard for me to stay focused. I usually just keep asking questions until I get a clear answer.

This answer is bad because it shows the candidate may not be able to handle ambiguity or uncertainty without experiencing high stress levels. This may impact their ability to work efficiently and collaboratively in the workplace.

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