Everyone can remain calm, and handle their duties, when everything goes as planned. Our true strength and character shows in difficult moments only. When we face adversity, when we have to step out of our comfort zone, and in the moments when everything starts to fall apart ,and we have to deal with new, unpleasant reality.
But such is life both outside and in work. The sine wave is ever present, we experience ups and down, and have to deal with them. When interviewers inquire about the most difficult situation you ever experienced, they in fact try to understand the following:
- What sort of situations do you consider difficult? How “wide” is your comfort zone?
- Do you remain calm in trying circumstances, looking for solutions, or do you immediately start to panic when facing the unknown?
- Can you admit your weaknesses, or do you blame others for the difficulties you experience?
- Do you fight until the end, or do you easily give up when things do not go your way?
Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this interesting interview question. I include on my list answers for both people with and without previous working experience. Down below you will also find a few more points you should keep on your mind while answering this one in the interview. The sample answers should work well also for alternative wording of this popular question, most notably:
- What elements of your job do you find most difficult? (common on job application forms)
- Describe a task when you faced difficulty.
7 sample answers to “What is the most difficult situation you’ve ever faced at work?” interview question
- Having to work twenty eight days in a row, for twelve hours a day, or even more, was definitely extremely demanding both physically and mentally. I was working in a small hotel in a remote location, and the other receptionist became seriously sick. It happened during the main season, and we could not find replacement quickly enough. But reception has to operate, always, and I decided to help my employer. I know that my performance wasn’t best at some days, because I was tired and needed a rest. But I pushed on, with smile on my face, and managed to get through the difficult period. Then they found a new receptionist and we returned to typical shift patterns.
- It was very difficult for me to get used to the working environment in my last job, in a technical startup. They used technology for everything, and things evolved so quickly. Our duties changed each week, new people came and went. It was extremely hectic, and since I was used to a more routine working environment, I found it stressful. But I think that we have to accept our limitations. I wasn’t the right person for this type of a company, and that’s actually one of the reasons why I left them, and am here right now, applying for a job with you.
* May also interest you: What’s the biggest mistake of your professional career?
- For me the most difficult thing was to make a good connection with my supervisor. We weren’t the same “blood group”, had different opinions on many important issues, which resulted in daily conflicts in the workplace. Now, I do not want to blame them, or even myself for the situation. We simply had a different perspective on many issues, and it showed up in work. Eventually I managed to suppress my feelings and ideas, and we somehow cooperated together. But it could not work well for long, and I eventually left the company.
- Right now I am applying for my first job, and therefor logically I cannot recall any tough situation from work. But I realize that I will face some challenges, that stress will be present. Certainly we will have to meet deadlines in work. I am aware of this, and judging by my experience from school, I would say that pressure does not have a negative impact on my health, or on my concentration. I feel ready to handle the difficulties, but of course only time will tell how I fare in difficult conditions.
- Half a year ago our company was in the middle of negotiations with a big client. They had an advertising budget of one million per month, and we were competing for their money with several other marketing agencies. I was responsible for calculating budget for various campaign ideas we presented to the client, which was very demanding, since I had to consult many employees and collect a lot of data, and things changed often. It was stressful to meet the deadlines, and I didn’t feel great at work at the time. Definitely my most challenging experience at work so far. But I always eventually managed, somehow, sometimes working overtime, sometimes taking work home. It was difficult, but I managed it, and actually learned to work more effectively during this difficult period.
- Probably the most difficult one was trying to improve a perfect process. My managers thoughts that one process in the production could be improved, that we could shorten the production time for each single unit. But I inspected the process in detail, broke it down to smallest possible parts, and didn’t really find any areas for improvement. It was a difficult situation, because managers expected improvement that was not possible, and would not hear any otherwise. Eventually I lost my job in the company, but I take it as it is, because I know that I tried my best to meet their expectations. The process just couldn’t be improved any further….
- I recall a tricky situation from a night shift. A bunch of drunk guys came to the restaurant. At the beginning they were talking normally, but then they started to be quite nasty, calling me names, mocking me for my religion. I was afraid and the situation was highly unpleasant, but I also knew that if I reacted to their remarks I would make the situation only worse. So I simply did my job, gave them the food, and they eventually left the place, one of them hitting the door with his fist, breaking the glass. Then I called the police and did all standard procedures. So, I handled the situation, but it was also an eye opener for me, and now I am looking for a normal job. No fast food restaurants and night shifts anymore…
* Do not forget to check also: How to dress for an interview – 4 things to consider when choosing your clothes.
Talk about a situation that can happen in your new job
The more relevant your answer, the better chances you have to succeed. This is true for all interview questions. In an ideal case, you should talk about a difficult situation that can happen also in your new job, so hiring managers can envision you dealing with it successfully.
It doesn’t have to be anything groundbreaking though. In each company you will face some pressure (exception only proves the rule), you will have to meet deadlines, experience conflict with colleagues, and so on.
* 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!
Tell them a story, ideally with a happy ending
People love stories. That’s the reason why we read books, or go to cinema to watch some movies. In an ideal case, you should tell your interviewers a short story. Just like each other story, also this one should have the beginning, plot, and an end.
The beginning is a normal situation in your job, the plot is how things got difficult (suddenly you had too much work, or struggled to learn something new, or faced some other challenge), and the end is how you walked out of the situation, either victorious, or smarter. Basically you either solved the difficult situation, or you learned your lesson, which will help you in your new job…
Numbers help you with credibility
Numbers, dates, and facts. They not only make your story easier to imagine for the interviewers, but also lend it some credibility.
Certainly you can always make something up–interviewers can hardly verify whether you really experienced the difficult situation you talk about in an interview, or just prepared an answer upfront. To sound trustworthy, however, you should add some numbers, and facts.
When exactly you experienced the situation, which other employees were involved, numbers that mattered for the situation (some percentages, days it lasted, budgets, deadlines), etc.
What was the most difficult period in your life and how did you deal with it?
In some cases the hiring managers may actually inquire about a difficult situation, or a difficult period, in your personal life, or in life in general. It is a bit questionable in terms of interview etiquette, but you may face this question, and it is better to get ready for it. Remember that you do not have to dive into details of your divorce, or of your existential crisis, should you experience any of those. It is just fine saying you had this difficult period, and explaining how you deal with it. Perhaps a psychologist helped you, or your good friends and family, or you found refugee in work.
At the end of the day, your attitude matters most for the interviewers. As long as they can see that difficulties in life have not broken you, and that you found a way to cope with them, they will be satisfied with your answer, regardless of how many details of your “most difficult period of life” share with them.
Conclusion, other tough interview questions
Behavioral questions form an important part of many job interviews. They help your future employer understand how you behaved in some tricky situations, and from it they can deduce how you’d act in similar situations in the future. What is the most difficult situation you’ve ever faced at work? is one behavioral question.
Try to narrate a situation with a happy ending. Ideally it should be a story they can remember. Add some numbers and facts in order to make it sound credible. And if you are applying for your very first job, you can always tell them what you would do in a difficult situation (one you will likely face in your new job).
Once you have your answer ready, continue preparing for other tough interview questions:
- Why should we hire you?
- How would you describe your communication skills?
- What motivates you in work?