How to Respond to “Difficult Situation” Questions in Your Interview

Adversity appears in some form in all jobs. A person’s ability to handle difficult or confrontational situations is important to success in any position. During your interviews, it is likely you will receive some type of question about how you deal with challenges. Preparing an effective response in advance could have a significant impact in landing the job you want.

Question Examples

An interviewer may simply ask, “How do you handle adversity?” Or they may be less direct and ask an alternative behavioral question, “Can you describe a time when you handled a difficult situation at work?” A few other possibilities:

  • “Describe a time when you had to deal with a difficult situation. How did you handle it and what was the outcome?”
  • “Can you describe a challenge you have faced? What did you do to overcome it?”
  • “Can you give an example of a time you successfully dealt with a difficult person?”

What is the Interviewer Actually Looking For?

First, hiring managers like to see that a candidate is genuine and humble. From a skills perspective, a manager wants to hear proof that you can face adversity and still achieve goals. Constructive problem solving is important in keeping a positive company culture, and employers want to make sure each candidate is a fit.

Quality Responses

The worst response to this type of question is, “I have never really faced adversity.” In this case a hiring manager is likely to perceive that you don’t set ambitious goals, avoid challenges, or lack self-awareness. The reality is we all face difficult situations that need to be resolved in some shape or form. Instead, offer a specific, concrete example of a difficult situation that you successfully navigated to achieve a target outcome.

You might say, “In my last job, we were all set to begin a project when everything that could go wrong, did. While some team members panicked and suggested a delay was inevitable, I suggested we all collect ourselves and lay out alternatives for each challenge. We spent the morning taking action on alternatives and were able to start on schedule. It turned into a very successful project.” This example reveals that you have poise under pressure, and a problem solving attitude in the face of challenges.

As a manager or seasoned professional, adversity is unavoidable. In responding to an interview question about handing difficult situations, a well-crafted answer helps you shine. Showcase your ability to achieve goals even when faced with obstacles.

What are some of the adversity questions you’ve had to face?

About Charlotte Weeks - Executive Career Coach / Executive Resume Writer / Outplacement Consultant

Prior to founding Weeks Career Services, Inc. Charlotte Weeks worked in human resources at a national association, where she experienced the hiring process from the other side. She's also the past president of The National Resume Writers' Association (The NRWA). Charlotte specializes in providing C-level executives (CEO, CFO, CMO, etc.), association executives, executive directors and senior-level professionals (director, VP, SVP, etc.) with comprehensive career coaching services and high-ROI resumes. She is author of "I Want a Job in an Association -- Now What?? A Guide to Getting a Job in a Professional Association, Membership Organization, or Society" and featured author of "101 Great Ways to Enhance Your Career." Additional book contributions include "The Twitter Job Search Guide," "Resumes That Pop!," and "Step-by-Step Cover Letters." As an internationally-recognized expert, Charlotte provides programs and documents tailored to each individual’s needs. To ensure that each person is given the highest quality of attention and service, Charlotte works with a limited number of new clients each month.
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