Making decisions can be incredibly difficult even when we have all information. But what if we lack a key piece of information, what is quite often the case in the world of business?
Just think about it for a moment. Countless variables come into play in the corporate world, and we cannot predict the outcome with 100% accuracy. What’s more, we often have to act quickly, because if we do not take action, one of our competitors will. And we will lose the battle for the customer, or even our place in the market.
Question about making decisions without having all information makes sense in the majority of job interviews, as well as do the alternative questions to this one, such as “Describe a time when you had to make an immediate decision on a critical issue“, or “Tell me about a time when you didn’t have enough data to make the right decision“–Hiring managers at Amazon love to surprise the job candidates with this one… Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to the original question though. No doubt they will help you also with your answer to the alternative questions, since at the end of the day the hiring managers are always looking for the same attitude. Do not forget to read also the notes below the answers, in order to learn how to adjust the answer to your interview & the exact question, or how to create a perfect answer for yourself.
7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision without all the information you needed” interview question
- I faced this situation every day in my job of a call center operator. We were making cold calls, and I had very little information about the prospects. I had five different versions of a short sales pitch ready, one minute long each, each fitting a different group of people. This depended a lot on their life situation but also emotions and priorities. Logically I did not have the information about the customer, and had to decide which pitch to use on a call. My strategy was to try to deduce as much as possible from the few initial words of the prospect–whether they were in work, at home, how they felt on a given day. I choose one of the pitches, and when I wasn’t sure, I went with the most successful one statistically. At the end of the day you can’t hesitate on such a call. Saying something is better than not saying anything at all.
- I remember leading interviews in my last job of an HR manager. We were looking for a new office assistant, but due to the situation with the pandemic we had to conduct them online. And you can’t really test the administrative skills of someone when talking to them online, and basically it’s not the same. I had to decide between three candidates, but I still felt that I was missing something. We could not wait though, we needed the assistant urgently. I followed my intuition and chose the candidate I personally liked the most. At the end of the day we can also train the employees, and having an average office assistant is better than having nobody in the place.
- I remember a conflict I had to solve between a teacher and a student. It was a specific situation, because there were no witnesses, and each of the conflict parties had their own version of the story. I didn’t want to simply say that the teacher was right, because in such a case I might lose the trust of the student community. But I had to follow the procedures, and take a disciplinary action against someone. What’s more, it was a topic of the day and I had to be relatively quick in making the decision, with input from many different sources. Hence I promptly consulted school psychologist, counselor, parent of the child, and also their classmates, as well as other teachers. Eventually I came to the conclusion that the student was telling the truth, and I took the disciplinary action against a teacher. I did not have the information initially, but find my way to make a decision.
* Do not forget to check: Top 7 Interview questions about dealing with ambiguity.
- One time I had to decide about a budget for a project that had a lot of unknown variables, and I wasn’t exactly sure how we’d proceed while reaching the milestones. It was a unique project, and I could not use historical data to forecast the expenses. But we needed a budget to be able to start the project. Eventually I tried my best, estimated what I could estimate, and came up with the rough number. It was approved by the management and we started the work. We eventually didn’t have enough funds and had to extend the budget, so I perhaps did not make the right choice. Needless to say, my superiors weren’t happy about it, but what could we do? I learned my lesson, and from then on I made more accurate budget estimations.
- I remember that once I had a chance to get a great product for an excellent price, but I had to decide immediately, because there were other buyers waiting. I wasn’t 100% sure whether we would need the product in the company, but eventually I took my chance and bought it. I did so because I realized that for such a great price we would be able to sell it in the future anyway.
- Leading a small store with fruits and vegetables I had to make such decisions on a daily basis. Customer behavior is unpredictable, and whether they come to shop to the marketplace depends on many things, including weather. In bad weather they prefer supermarkets and places where they can hide from rain or wind. Hence I had to decide about the quantity of various items to order, following the prices, the stock, the weather, and many other things. Sometimes I made a good decision and sometimes we wasted some food, because I ordered too much. But I always made a decision, trying my best with the information available at the moment.
- I can’t recall such a situation from either my work or my personal life. I have been always good in setting criteria for my decisions, and in finding relevant and important information. Surely, it happened that I did not find all the information I needed, for example when I had to make an immediate decision on some critical issue and didn’t have time to find the information. In such a case though I simply decided according to the limited information I managed to find within the time allotted, or decided based on my experience with similar decisions from the past. In my opinion this is the only reasonable way of making decisions.
Bad decision is sometimes better than no decision
If you make a decision and it proves to be a wrong one, it’s still better than not making any decision, and letting the opportunity slip between your fingers. In this case you can at least say to yourself that you tried your best. You took some action and did not wait for someone else to make the move. It didn’t work, that’s fine, time to move on…
Try to talk about a situation when you eventually made a decision. Good one or bad one isn’t the most important thing at this point. Your attitude matters to the interviewers, and you should have an ability to decide.
* 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, using logic, 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, use numbers, describe your reasons for deciding in this way or another
You should show them the entire picture. What information you lacked, how important the decision was, how many days, hours, or minutes you had to decide, why you were in rush, whether it went about a critical issue or something trivial, and what the final outcome was. You can also analyze the outcome, and say what you’d do differently if you had another chance to decide.
Numbers lend your story more credibility. Of course you can still make something up–interviewers can hardly verify the authenticity of your story. But even if you make something up, you should include some dates, numbers, percentages, or any numerical data in your answer. It will be easier for the interviewers to believe your fabricated story in this case 🙂
Many other tough behavioral questions await you in an interview
Behavioral questions have become extremely popular in the recent years, especially in the US and Europe. Interviewers inquire about certain situations from your past, trying to understand your attitude to work, and predict how you’d act in certain situations in the future–situations you will likely experience in your new job.
On InterviewPenguin.com we analyze some of these questions, and help you find the best possible answer. Check some great sample answers to the interview questions shown below this sentence, or check out our Interview Success Package for up to 10 premium answers to all 104 interview questions, and get an edge over your competitors in the interviews (knowing something they won’t know while competing for the job with you).
Other questions analyzed directly on the website:
- Have you ever worked on a project that was a failure?
- What are your weaknesses?
- Tell me about a time you went above and beyond for the customer.