Interviewing: explain ways to manage challenging situations

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Interviews offer a perfect opportunity to showcase your expertise to employers and persuade them to hire you. You can use them to highlight your academic qualifications, discuss your work experience and elaborate on your potential contributions to the company. Researching common interview questions can help you approach the meeting confidently and leave a good impression. In this article, we explain why employers may ask, 'Explain ways to manage challenging situations' during an interview, discuss how to answer it, give tips and offer sample answers.

Why employers may ask, 'Explain ways to manage challenging situations'

Interviewers may ask you to explain ways to manage challenging situations to gauge your expertise in assessing and handling workplace complications and conflicts. Your response can reveal your problem-solving, communication and empathy skills, helping the hiring manager determine whether you can contribute positively to the organisation. It can also show your leadership skills and adaptability to unpredictable situations. Candidates often respond by highlighting past workplace challenges and how they overcame them.

Related: Q&A: describe a challenge you faced and how you overcame it

How to answer it effectively

You can answer the interviewer using an example of a past challenging situation at work or explain how to handle a hypothetical scenario. Here are steps to follow:

1. Think about previous work experiences or create a hypothetical scenario

Start by listing previous projects or work experiences that involved challenging situations. For example, consider when you helped a frustrated client, struggled to complete assignments on time because of understaffing, worked on an unfamiliar task or differed with your boss. Before choosing a scenario to discuss, ensure it applies to the job opening and allows you to highlight your strengths. For instance, during a telesales interview, elaborate on working with reluctant prospects to show your persuasion skills.

If you don't have previous experiences that can help you highlight your strengths, use a hypothetical scenario. Ensure that the situation relates to the position. Review the job description for roles and expectations and create a relevant theoretical challenge. For example, when applying for a stakeholder management position, you can discuss how to handle stakeholders with conflicting visions. This approach shows the hiring manager you researched the job and understand its challenges. You may also ask the interviewer to rephrase the question and give you a sample scenario.

Related: Work experience: definition, importance and tips

2. Use the STAR method to create an answer

The next step can explain the example you've chosen for the interviewer. You may use the STAR (situation, task, action and result) technique to organise the events into a logical and easy-to-follow format. Here's how the method works for an interview response:

Situation

Establish the story by introducing the situation or conflict you experienced. It may be helpful to use relevant work situations. If you don't have one, discuss assignments such as volunteer work or an academic project where you gained transferable skills. Talk about specific scenarios instead of general responsibilities. Interviewers often have more interest in your actions and how you solved the problem, so explain the challenge as briefly as possible and move on to the solution. Identify two or three crucial aspects of the situation and discuss them in two sentences.

Task

Explain your task or responsibility in the challenge or situation. You can also use this section to discuss goals and the role you played to help achieve them. Be precise and identify a few points and highlight them in a few sentences.

Action

Discuss the specific actions you took to resolve the situation. Interviewers may have more interest in this part of your answer, so make it detailed. Identify and explain the key steps that helped you overcome the challenge. While most workplace situations may require teamwork, it may help to focus on your specific contribution to the team. Hiring managers often want to see what you did or can do. Unless you're interviewing for the job as a team, use I to highlight your contributions.

Result

The last part of the STAR method is highlighting the results of your actions. It may also be an essential part of the answer, so spend slightly more time on it. Identify two or three impressive results and explain them comprehensively. Quantify your results to illustrate your action's effects. Highlight what you learned from the experience and how the situation prepared you for the job opening. If you're discussing a hypothetical scenario, estimate the potential impact of your actions and support it with previous experiences or research statistics.

Related: How to use the STAR interview technique in competency-based interviews

3. Emphasise your strengths

Provide an example that involves using your strengths to overcome a challenge. This approach can direct the hiring manager to these strengths and enhance your chances of getting the job. Some skills to highlight when explaining how to manage challenging situations include:

  • Critical thinking: Explain how you analysed the situation and used critical thinking skills to create solutions. You may also discuss how you applied this expertise to distinguish between effective and ineffective solutions.

  • Empathy: Workplace conflicts often have an underlying cause, such as miscommunication or understaffing. Explain how you empathised with colleagues and focused on addressing the issue instead of reprimanding others.

  • Effective communication: When identifying potential solutions, you may require communication skills to explain the problem to others. You can also highlight how you followed the correct channels when seeking help.

  • Research: Handling challenging situations may require research skills to identify the cause of the problem and find potential solutions. Discuss research techniques that may apply to the opening.

  • Decision-making: The interviewer may also have an interest in how you decide on practical solutions to challenging situations. If you have a specific decision-making process, discuss it and relate it to the position.

Related: Understanding strengths in the workplace (with examples)

4. Discuss specific outcomes

Give a detailed response that clearly outlines the result of your actions and relates the outcome to your abilities. When discussing a prior experience, discuss what you learned from the experience, how it prepared you for this role and its impact on how you approach tasks. When discussing a hypothetical scenario, highlight potential results and support them with facts. For example, explain how a specific company used the method you've outlined and achieved the same results. If possible, include easy-to-understand statistics, such as percentage increments in sales.

Related: Objectives and key results: OKR definitions and examples

Tips for explaining ways to manage challenging situations

Researching how to answer this interview question can help you respond more effectively and leave a good impression. Below are a few tips:

  • Focus on your strengths. Hiring managers may ask you to explain how to manage challenging situations to assess your people skills. Use your answer to highlight these skills and explain how they make you a suitable candidate.

  • Answer the question directly. Understand the question and give a precise response. For example, instead of saying you always avoid workplace conflicts and politics, elaborate on how you can handle a situation with these challenges.

  • Tell the truth. If you decide to discuss a previous workplace challenge, do so honestly. Recount the scenario truthfully, even if you were at fault, and underscore the lessons you learned from the experience.

  • Be respectful. Speak positively about all the parties involved in the challenging situation. Doing so can show empathy and respect for customers, employers and executives.

  • Speak humbly. While your answer can focus on your contributions to resolving the issue, it may also help to acknowledge colleagues' contributions. Sometimes employers may prefer humble candidates with teamwork skills.

Sample answers

To help you structure your answer correctly, here are a few examples:

Example 1

Below is a sample response for handling an unhappy customer in the workplace:

'I previously worked as a team leader at a hypermarket. My team ran weekly free sampling advertisements to attract customers. By the middle of the sales week, we had depleted the stock of a popular sports drink. One client approached me to express their disappointment over the lack of free samples. I acknowledged their dissatisfaction, apologised, explained the reason for not giving free samples and told them we had placed orders for more inventory. My problem-solving and communication skills helped me solve the issue effectively'.

Example 2

Here's an example of a hypothetical scenario if you don't have relevant previous experience:

'A common workplace challenge is accepting too many assignments. If I realise that I've accepted too many tasks to handle or submit on time, I explain the situation to my supervisor and ask for reassignment. Alternatively, I can ask for an extension. I understand that dependability and honesty are a crucial aspect of teamwork. By being transparent with my supervisor, I can help the organisation avoid losses from late submissions'.

Related:

  • How to answer the question ‘what can I bring to the company?'


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