People would praise you more often then they criticize you in a truly great company. But most companies are not great. What’s more, getting critical feedback from people around us is important for our professional progress. It still matters what words someone chooses while sharing their feedback with us. The same message can be delivered in a variety of ways. One can hurt us emotionally and we may struggle to get over it, to forget their words. On the other hand, when someone criticizes us sensitively, choosing their words cautiously, we find it much easier to accept their criticism, learn our lesson, and move on. One way of another, criticism belongs to the corporate world, and you will often face a question about it in your job interview.
Hiring manager may ask you about a situation when you had to share a difficult feedback with someone, or about the situation when someone else criticized you. Alternative questions include “Tell us about a time when you responded to constructive criticism” and “Describe the most valuable criticism you have received and how it affected you.” Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to the second one. I tried to include a variety of answers on my list, including examples from personal life, and answers for people without any previous working experience. Try to pick one that resonates with the message you try to convey in your interviews, and do not forget to read also my notes below the list of answers, for additional explanations and hints.
7 sample answers to “Describe a situation when your work was criticized and how you responded” interview question
- I recall such a situation from my last corporate job. Working on an important analysis, I spent days collecting data and conducting market research, trying to come up with some suggestions for the management. But they did not like my analysis, criticized my methodology of work, and also the suggestions I made. And while they had a point, I also knew why I used the methodology I did use, and explained it to them. But I stayed calm, and talked without emotions, simply explaining why I did things differently than they expected. A creative discussion followed, a good one indeed. They eventually appreciated my creative approach, and I think that all parties left the meeting satisfied, having learned something new.
- I remember such a situation from my last job in a fashion store. It was a busy day, one colleague did not come to work, and only two sales associates remained on the floor. I did what I could, trying to attend to each customer, but I completely forgot to bring a pair of shoes of a certain size to a customer who asked for the shoes. I simply forgot, distracted by the requests of other customers. So they waited for about five minutes and then they came to me and started shouting, criticizing me of poor customer service. I immediately realized my mistake and apologized. But I didn’t defend myself, explaining how busy the store was, or saying something similar. Because such things aren’t important for the customers… I simply ran to get them the shoes and apologized once again. They calmed down, bought the shoes, and I think the situation had eventually a good outcome for everyone.
- This is my first job application, so I cannot refer to a situation from work. However, I’ve heard fair share of criticism at school. I didn’t do well in Math–it was my weakness, and the teacher did not like me. They told me several times that I was good for nothing, and with my Math skills I could forget about getting to college, or getting any decent job in the future. But I did not let her to discourage me. Math is neither the only subject at school, nor the most important thing in life. I continued to study hard, focusing on my strengths instead of dwelling on my weaknesses. I got to the college, earned my degree, and today I am here with you applying for this great job.
- It was criticized every day in the restaurant where I worked before. The owner was an Italian. He was a great cook and a smart guy, but also extremely stressed and with some emotional issues. He treated the employees like garbage. It doesn’t really matter what you did, and how hard you tried. He always found some mistake on you, something to criticize. And while I do not mind constructive criticism, and try to improve on my skills and productivity at work, it was too much for me to bear. I left the restaurant, and now I am seeking a job with a better manager.
- I remember when my superior criticized me for not meeting the sales quota for the quarter. They claimed I missed 40% of sales volume, which was completely unacceptable, and they’d cut all my bonuses. I tried to defend myself. I explained that we were going through the pandemic. Customers faced a lot of uncertainty, some went out of business, and it was logical that the sales had dropped in a big way. I also told them that I would try my best to make up for it in the next quarter. Telling them this, I tried to stay calm and did not raise my voice once. I simply explained my viewpoint. But they continued to shout–it was their way of demonstrating authority, and they left the office smashing the door behind them. Sure enough I was a bit shaken. But I also tried to see the situation from their perspective. They had orders from the management, and perhaps their own job was at risk. So I simply got over it, and focused on my work, not dwelling on the unpleasant conversation. But the pandemic continued, sales did not pick up, and soon enough both my superior and me lost our jobs. And that also explains why I am here today, interviewing for a job with you.
- I have been working on leadership positions for the past ten years. But I always encouraged my subordinates to share their feedback with me, to tell me if they thought I could do something better. And they did. They criticized me, mostly in a constructive way. For example, they said that I did not explain my expectations clearly in the team meetings, or that I left a team understaffed. I always tried to respond positively to their criticism, taking into account what they said, and do things better. In my opinion, leaders and managers see things from a different perspective than the employees do see them. And we may often miss something. That’s why it is important to stay humble, and listen carefully to any criticism from our subordinates. We should even encourage them to share their feedback with us. I’ve been following this philosophy of work for years, and plan to continue to do so in your company.
- The colleague from the same working group criticized me for my speed of work. But honestly, it was more their ego speaking, they wanted to show off. Because I was a new force in the company, I did not understand yet the processes they had in place, and logically it took me longer to get some things done. Instead of starting an argument with them, however, I decided to turn the situation up side down. I said them that they were right, and that I’d love to work as quickly as they did, and asked whether they’d teach me a lesson or two. This helped to ease the tension, they could actually show off–teaching me their way of going around work, and as a result my effectiveness at work has also improved.
Show them that you avoid pointless conflicts when peers or colleagues criticize you
Situation can easily escalate when one colleague criticizes another one. They fire back, people start arguing, and the conflict can easily have an extremely negative impact on the atmosphere in the workplace, which without a doubt has an impact on the productivity of the entire team.
For this reason, it is important to ensure the hiring managers that you stayed calm when someone criticized you. And it doesn’t matter if they were right or wrong. You simply listened to their message, tried to understand their perspective and why they criticize you, and calmly explained your point of view. Or you simply thanked them for telling you, and improved on your weakness… This is the attitude hiring managers seek in great job candidates.
* Special Tip: This isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!
Unjustified or perpetual criticism can be a good reason for changing a job
Another common (and not always easy) interview question is “Why did you leave your last job?”, or “Why do you consider leaving your present job?”. You can avoid this question, explaining how repeated unfair criticism convinced you to leave your job.
Now it doesn’t mean that you should throw dirt on your former managers. Even here you should stay calm, and simply explain that they were never satisfied, and often criticized you simply because they enjoyed criticizing people, or perhaps it was their way of dealing with inferiority complex.
One way or another, such a repeated criticism is definitely a good enough reason to look for a new job, and you can say so in your interviews…
Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:
- Describe a situation in which you were hearing, but not necessarily listening.
- What’s the most difficult feedback you have received?
- What kind of people do you enjoy working with?