How to Answer “Tell Me About a Project or Task That was Ambiguous or Underspecified” in an Interview

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Why do employers ask about ambiguous or underspecified projects?

Employers often ask about ambiguous or underspecified projects in job interviews to get a sense of how well candidates can handle ambiguity and uncertainty in their work. These types of projects can be challenging because they may not have clear goals or guidelines, and it can be difficult to know how to proceed or what the final outcome should look like.

However, the ability to effectively navigate ambiguity and uncertainty is an important skill in many jobs, especially those that involve problem-solving or decision-making. By asking about ambiguous or underspecified projects, employers can learn more about how candidates approach these types of challenges and how they handle situations where there is not a clear path forward.

How to answer the question

When answering the question "Tell me about a project or task that was ambiguous or underspecified," it's important to focus on your problem-solving and communication skills. Here are some tips for how to approach your answer:
  1. Describe the project or task in detail. Start by giving some context about the project or task, including what it involved and what your role was. Be specific and provide enough detail to give the employer a good understanding of the situation.
  2. Explain how you approached the ambiguity or lack of specification. What steps did you take to figure out how to proceed? Did you seek out additional information or clarification from your supervisor or team members? Did you come up with a plan or strategy to move forward?
  3. Highlight any successes or achievements. What was the outcome of the project or task? Did you meet the goals or objectives that were set out? Did you learn anything valuable or make any contributions that you're proud of? Be sure to highlight any successes or achievements that you can attribute to your own efforts.
  4. Reflect on any lessons learned. Even if the project or task didn't go exactly as planned, there is likely something you can take away from the experience. What did you learn about handling ambiguity or working on underspecified projects? How might you approach similar situations differently in the future?

How to prepare for the question

To prepare for this question, it can be helpful to think about any past projects or tasks that involved ambiguity or lack of specification. You may want to consider the following:
  • Any projects or tasks where you had to figure out how to proceed without clear goals or guidelines
  • Any projects or tasks where you had to seek out additional information or clarification to move forward
  • Any projects or tasks where you had to adapt to changing circumstances or pivot your approach

Common Mistakes

Not providing enough context or detail It's important to give the employer a clear understanding of the project or task that you are discussing. Be specific about what the project or task involved and what your role was, and provide enough detail to give the employer a good sense of the situation. Without sufficient context, it may be difficult for the employer to understand what you did and how you approached the ambiguity or lack of specification. Focusing too much on the challenges While it's important to acknowledge any challenges that you faced, you don't want to spend too much time dwelling on them. Instead, focus on how you approached the ambiguity or lack of specification and what you learned from the experience. Emphasize any successes or achievements, and highlight any skills or qualities that you demonstrated during the project or task. Not reflecting on lessons learned It's always a good idea to reflect on what you learned from a project or task, even if it didn't go exactly as planned. By sharing any lessons learned, you can show the employer that you are able to learn and grow from your experiences.

Overall, it's important to approach this question with a positive attitude and a focus on your problem-solving and communication skills. By highlighting your successes and the lessons you learned, you can demonstrate to the employer that you are a strong candidate who can effectively handle ambiguity and uncertainty in your work.

Sample Answers

  1. "One project that was particularly ambiguous was when I was working on a team to redesign the company's website. We had a general idea of what we wanted the new site to look like, but there were a lot of details that were left up to us to figure out. To approach this ambiguity, I started by gathering feedback from the team about what features and functionality we wanted to prioritize. I then created a rough wireframe of the site and presented it to the team for review and feedback. From there, we were able to refine the design and come up with a more detailed plan for how to proceed. Ultimately, the website redesign was a success and we received positive feedback from both internal and external stakeholders."

  2. "I once worked on a task that was underspecified in terms of its goals and objectives. My supervisor gave me a general idea of what they wanted, but left it up to me to figure out the specifics. To tackle this task, I started by brainstorming different ideas and approaches. I then did some research to see what similar projects had been done in the past and how they had approached the problem. From there, I was able to come up with a plan and proposal that I presented to my supervisor for approval. My supervisor was impressed with my initiative and the task was completed successfully."

  3. "I recently worked on a project that was ambiguous in terms of its scope and timeline. We had a general idea of what the project entailed, but there were a lot of unknowns and variables that made it difficult to know how long it would take and what resources we would need. To handle this ambiguity, I worked closely with my team to identify any potential roadblocks or challenges that we might encounter. We also established regular check-ins with the client to make sure that we were on track and that their needs were being met. Through effective communication and problem-solving, we were able to complete the project on time and within budget."
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