Over a billion of people suffer from birth to death, living in terrible conditions. They have to go by with less than one dollar per day… And though you most likely do not belong to this group, having won in the ovarian lottery, I am sure your life hasn’t been a stroll in a park on sunny afternoon either. Each of us faces some difficulties. Some people struggle with money, others with relationships, and almost everyone faced some serious health issues at least once in their life. Hiring managers wonder how you respond when facing adversity. They wonder whether you find the courage and strength to overcome it, or you rely on some authorities” to help you, or even resign and give up.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to the question. They should work well also for a simplified version of the question, “How do you handle adversity?”. I tired to include on my list both examples from the workplace and from personal life. Example for people with and without previous working experience. And I also include a couple of rather unconventional answers, that show a large-minded personality, and understanding of what’s going on in the world. Do not forget to read also my notes below the list of answers, for additional hints and explanations.


7 sample answers to “Describe a situation in which you had to overcome adversity” interview question

  1. I’ve suffered from severe allergies from young age. For a time I was extremely upset about it, because I knew I had no guilt–I just was born with these problems, and they made my life difficult at school, and also at home. But eventually I decided to do something about the situation. Instead of relying on doctors, who only kept prescribing medication with adverse side effects, I decided to study the subject and try to overcome my allergies with lifestyle changes. I continually switched to plan based diet, and completely eliminated fizzy drinks, and caffeinated beverages. And I started to run three times a week. In a few months time, I almost stopped experiencing the allergy symptoms, and quit taking the medication, slowly getting rid of side effects it had on my everyday life. Today I can interview with you without having to blow out my nose five times each minute. I am proud that I overcame the adversity, and I have definitely learned a lot from this experience.
  2. I recall such an example from my last job in retail. Due to the pandemic–something I had no impact on, the revenues of the store dropped by 50% from month to month, and the owner considered closing down the entire operation. But I did not give up, because I saw value in the products we were selling, and wanted to help the owner. So I suggested them to open an online store, and also offer a delivery service, and said I’d help with both, since I had experience. You should remember that I was just an employee–so it wasn’t my store, or my profit. But I tried to help regardless. Eventually we did it, started a free delivery in the city, but it didn’t help. The pandemic got even worse, and eventually the store went out of business. That’s one of the reasons why I am interviewing for a job with you today.
  3. I’ve been overcoming it for the past seven years. Living as a single mother of two, I barely have any free days. I work in the job, then back home, helping children prepare for school, taking care of the household, and at the end of the month, I barely pay my bills. But I do not want to cry here. I am aware that many people have it much worse. At least I have a job, and I try to get even a better one with you now, which will certainly help me in my situation, to handle the adversity. I will continue to fight against the adversity, trying to win a better future of both myself and for the children.
  4. I would say that my studies are a good example. You know, I hanged around with wrong guys at high school–it was the foolishness of teenage years. Got into some problems, neglected school, my academic record worsened a lot. But I didn’t realize the implications back then. Later on, when I tried to get to vet school, I did not get any interview invitations, because of my GPA. But I did not give up. I did a gap year, volunteered in animal shelters, zoos, and I even started my own non-profit, promoting better treatment of pigs on local farms. Needless to say, when I submitted my application next year, the GPA suddenly wasn’t the central point. They saw all my activities, realized how active I was, and decided to give me the chance in the interviews. Long story short, here I am today, with my degree from veterinary medicine, applying for a great job with you.
  5. I was living in a terrible relationship for four years. My partner was extremely jealous, and they treated my like garbage. But I wasn’t ready to protect myself, to quit, because I was afraid of their threats. Eventually I decided to seek help of a psychologist and they recommended me an NGO helping women in my situation. Step by step, I managed to escape the relationship, move to a different city, and now I finally feel free and ready to experience something good in life. The job I am trying to get with you right now is the next important step on my journey.
  6. I remember a fitting situation from my last managerial job in a small IT company. We struggled with workforce. As you can imagine, we could not compete with big tech companies in terms of salary offer and employee benefits. We struggled to attract any talent to the company. And I didn’t have a budget to make anything huge happen. But then I came with an idea to recruit foreign programmers. We made a compelling offer, and started looking for people in countries where our salary offer was actually attractive. Eventually I managed to get five new people onboard, working distantly, with excellent skills and attitude. It was a good experience and I definitely learned a lesson. We should never give up. We just have to look for a different way to achieve our goals, if the original way doesn’t work…
  7. Speaking honestly, I do not think that I had to overcome any real adversity in my life. Sure enough, I had my battles. I have some health issues, I struggled in relationships, and had to work extremely hard to get where I am at the moment. But… I realize what’s going on in the world. More then 10,000 children die of hunger in the world every day. Tens of millions of people live in war zones, and terrible conditions, basically fighting for survival. I mean, I really don’t see a point in calling anything I had to overcome adversity. It just isn’t the case. In fact I am extremely lucky, and I am eternally grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given in life.


Try to choose a situation with a good outcome

A good outcome doesn’t necessarily mean that you overcame the adversity, rose like a Phoenix from ashes, and relished in your sweet victory. Maybe things eventually didn’t work out. But you tried your best, learned your lesson, didn’t give up. That’s the attitude hiring managers seek in great job candidates.

It is also important to realize that hiring managers are only people from flesh and bones, just like you or me. They have also had their share of problems (and maybe still face adversity), often in their personal life. That’s why examples from your private life (family, relationships, health issues) work great in this case. People sitting in the interviewing panel can easily connect with your words on a very personal level, because they may have experienced something similar in their life years ago, or are even experiencing it right now.

* Special Tip: What if I told you that you can practice your answers to ALL tricky behavioral interview questions, getting an immediate feedback from a life-like AI interview coach? And that you can start doing it for free, and it is a lot of fun too? 🙂 Check out this page on our partner website, Real Mock Interviews, pick a question, enter your email, and start practicing for free, either on your mobile phone or on your computer.

Do not be afraid to philosophize a bit

Many people are completely lost in the net of their successes, failures, desires and worries. They do not see behind the fence of their own backyard. It isn’t necessarily a showstopper in the interviews–if it was a showstopper, 70% of Americans would never get a job.

However, explaining the hiring managers that you are actually aware of the problems others face, that you do not live in a small bubble of your personal existence, but see what’s going on in the world, and in the light of these things consider yourself extremely fortunate, regardless of problems you had to overcome, is an extremely powerful answer indeed, and can help you stand out from your competitors in the interviews….

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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