How to answer "Tell me about a time when you had to learn a new skill quickly. How did you go about it?" (with sample answers)

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

Why employers ask this

The job market is constantly evolving with new technologies, processes, and systems that require employees to possess new and updated skills to remain productive and effective in their jobs. Therefore, employers want to know how quickly and efficiently a job candidate can adapt to changes and learn new skills when they become necessary.

This question is also used to assess a candidate's problem-solving and critical thinking abilities. Employers want to know how you tackle new skills and how you go about learning them. Your response will help them evaluate the level of initiative and commitment you possess when it comes to acquiring new knowledge.

How to answer the question

When answering this question, use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to communicate a clear and concise story about your experience. Your response should highlight your problem-solving skills, diligence, and adaptability. Here are some tips to help you craft an effective answer:

  • Choose a relevant story: Select a story that demonstrates your ability to learn a new skill quickly, ideally, one that relates to the skills required for the job you are interviewing for.
  • Provide context: Clearly describe the situation, task, and challenge you faced that required you to learn a new skill. Be specific, and provide details about the problem you encountered.
  • Outline your actions: Briefly describe the steps you took to acquire the skill. Be sure to highlight the resources you used to learn the new skill.
  • Talk about the result: Share the outcomes that resulted from your adaptation to the new skill. Employers want to know that their investment in you will lead to positive results.
  • Focus on your skills: Use the story to demonstrate the skills you possess, such as problem-solving, adaptability, and diligence. These are desirable qualities that employers seek in candidates.

Remember, the key to answering this question successfully is to show that you are a quick learner, able to think critically and solve problems. By presenting a well-crafted story that demonstrates these qualities, you'll indicate to potential employers that you're the type of adaptable and committed employee they're looking for.

Sample answers

Bad answer

There hasn't really been a time where I had to learn a new skill quickly on the job. I usually take my time and learn at a steady pace.

Why it's bad: This answer is essentially saying that the candidate has never had to adapt or learn something quickly in their job. This lack of flexibility and willingness to learn quickly could be seen as a disadvantage to the employer.

Good answer

When I was transitioning to a new department, I was asked to use a new software program that I was not familiar with. I researched and read the program's guidebook, but I still found it challenging to navigate. I asked a colleague who was experienced with the software to offer tips and guidance. I also made it a priority to practice using the program in a sandbox environment, and eventually, I became more comfortable with its features. It took some extra effort, but I was eventually able to use it proficiently.

Why it's good: This answer demonstrates a willingness to learn quickly and a resilience to overcome obstacles. The candidate took proactive steps to learn, which shows a strong work ethic and a desire to succeed in their work.

Bad answer

Whenever I need to learn a new skill quickly, I usually just ask someone else to do it for me or try to avoid the task altogether.

Why it's bad: This answer shows a lack of initiative and self-reliance, which could be seen as a negative trait to a potential employer. Candidates who are unwilling to take on challenges and unprepared to learn new skills could hinder a company's success.

Good answer

During a work project, I unexpectedly had to learn how to operate a specialized camera equipment. Since it had its own technical procedures and terminology, I quickly realized I needed a hands-on approach to learn it. I reached out to the technician who had installed it, and I asked if he could teach me how to use it. I followed along as he explained each step, and I took notes to help me remember. I practiced filming until I was comfortable with the equipment and was able to successfully produce the client's content.

Why it's good: This answer showcases problem-solving skills by identifying and resolving a challenge. The candidate was proactive in seeking out resources to learn, and they demonstrated a can-do attitude. Additionally, taking notes and practicing highlights the importance of attention to detail and careful approach in learning new skills.

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