Tricky Interview Questions: Describe A Challenge or Conflict You Overcame

Interview Tips

November 29, 2021

Problem-solving and conflict management are some of the most sought-after skills for employers today. Therefore, job interviews test these abilities in candidates in creative ways. One of the most commonly asked questions? “Describe a challenge or conflict you overcame at work.” And the way you handle this question can be a game-changer for your career.

In answering this question, you don’t want to give the impression that you don’t enjoy challenges. At the same time, you need to show your resourcefulness in the face of adversities.  


Thus, your focus should be on explaining how you engineered an effective solution for the issue at hand. With this, let’s get into the do’s and don’ts of this tricky interview question.


Match your response to organisational values

"How do you handle a setback or disagreement?" is employers' way of gathering more information about you. They want to know how you tackle stress, adapt, communicate, and collaborate. Knowing the hiring manager's perspective will help you approach the question with clarity and structure. So, do your homework and try to identify the organisation’s culture and values. Do they prefer frugality? Or do they like people who go big? Speak to their vision statement with your answer.


Highlight your strengths

Pick your words appropriately to showcase your strong points. You could say: “In case of a conflict situation, I actively attempt to readjust my attitude. I also listen to the other person’s viewpoint without getting defensive. I have learned that moving a confrontation to a private space helps avoid complications.” These statements demonstrate your emotional intelligence, a necessary skill required for almost every job out there.


Focus on workplace scenarios

Give an example of a workplace challenge instead of discussing a personal obstacle. While describing the problem, touch on your previous experience. It works best to recount your contributions as a story instead of detailing out the contents of your resume. If you don’t have formal work experience, you could also talk about a project or internship. 

International students can browse opportunities listed by Student Circus, apply for relevant openings, and practice with the placement interviews. You could recall occurrences like meeting the application deadline for the position while studying, and how multitasking improved your time management and communication skills. 


Don’t underestimate the university experience

Graduate students and freshers can also draw from educational challenges to answer this question. Case in point: “In my first year at the university, I was working on a lengthy paper when my laptop crashed. I lost 90% of my work, and naturally, I was devastated. The paper was due the next day. I looked online for some potential solutions but to no avail. I emailed my professor and then went to the IT office in the morning. Luckily, the staff was able to recover the document, allowing me to meet the deadline. My professor was impressed that I notified him about the issue nevertheless.”


Explain the context

Take the interviewer behind the scenes. Elucidate how you recognised the problem. Was the hindrance or dispute obvious? What steps did you take to identify the exact nature of the issue? Which skills or techniques came in handy during this time? This way, your answer would display your attention to detail and willingness to learn. For example: “After looking at the data, I deduced that a majority of the abandoned purchases were due to lack of adequate customer support. My background in data science and e-commerce helped me detect this faster than I would have otherwise.”


Unfold the process 

This is where you can illustrate your proactiveness and creative thinking. Present a case for your solution and what it achieved. 

Consider this: “After investigating further, I found that integrating a live chat widget on the website was the best option to reduce abandoned carts. 45% of the customers benefited from having someone guide and assist them through the online buying process. This not only improved sales but also enhanced the overall customer experience.”


Don't play the blame game

Keep clear of saying anything disrespectful about a former colleague or manager. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes. Would you want to hire someone who made excuses or someone who worked to get to the bottom of the problem? Blaming someone else indicates a lack of team orientation. 


Apply the STAR approach

You can use the Situation-Task-Action-Result (STAR) framework to craft a compelling narrative. Begin with relaying the circumstances you encountered. Then, state the tasks involved in that situation. Finally, present the action you took and the impact it made. 

For instance: “When I was working as a management trainee, I noticed that one of the technicians on my project was constantly late in finishing his assigned work. I approached him and got an unfavourable reaction. I acknowledged that his deadlines were tight and asked him how I could help him. He immediately calmed down and shared that another project required him to do tasks outside his job description. I met with the other project manager and decided on reducing the technician’s workload. As a result, his performance improved for the remainder of the project.”


Include lessons from mistakes

Failure is an inherent part of any success story. Your solution may not work at all, or worse, aggravate the problem. Such examples are excellent to quote when coupled with reflection and insight. 

Suppose you introduced a new measure to streamline business operations. But it did not pan out the way you imagined. Don’t shy away from expressing what you learned from this glitch. Include a little something on how it improved your strategy in the future. These precedents reveal your open-mindedness and adaptability.

Written by Arushi Sharma

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

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