Without wanting to sound bitter, I have to say that people aren’t getting more intelligent. With the rise of social networks, smart phones, AI, and “click the button” answers to almost anything, an ability of an average Joe to understand complex subjects, or to deduce, or to come up with solutions to unknown problems, has dropped sharply. Hiring managers in the corporate world are aware of the problem. They know that it is more crucial than ever for a good manager to have an ability of explaining complex issues in a simple way to their colleagues and subordinates. And that’s exactly the reason why they use this question in the interviews. But what do they want to hear from you?

Well, in an ideal case you should narrate a situation when someone you talked to didn’t get the point, but you managed, with a help of demonstration, practical examples, or anything else, and with your endless patience, to eventually get your message over to your audience. If you do not have such experience from a job, you can talk about a situation from school or even from home. You can even make something up, as long as your example sounds realistic. And one more important thing: your effort is more important than the eventual result. Maybe your audience didn’t get the point, and that’s fine. It happens and it will happen ever more often in the workplace… As long as you gave it your best shot and tried all you could to explain the issue, you can be happy about your attitude, and the hiring managers will be satisfied with your answer.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this question right now. I tried to come up with some variety, including answers for people with no previous working experience, out-of-the-box thinking answers, and even one or two funny (yet sad) answers. I hope the list will help you to find your own, perfect answers to this tricky question. Enjoy!


7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time you had to explain something complex (to your colleague or customer)” interview question

  1. I recall many such situations from my last job in technical support. Obviously at one hand, you try not to overwhelm the customer with technical details. On the other hand, you want to limit the visits of technicians at customers’ homes to minimum. So you try to find a good balance, and what works for me is explaining anything complex really slowly, step by step, ensuring after every step that the person on the other end of the phone got the message. One needs a lot of patience, and right attitude to their job to succeed in such an endeavor, but I honestly believe to have both, and that’s why it isn’t particularly hard for me to explain complex issues to the customers.
  2. Well, there’s nothing complex to explain working at KFC, and that’s the only job I’ve had so far, while still studying at a college. But I believe to have an ability to talk clearly, and to adjust my communication style to the person I talk to. And while I may still fail in explaining complex things to other people, to my further colleagues and subordinates, you can be sure about one thing: I will give it my best shot, always, using demonstration and practical examples to improve the chances of them understanding my message.
  3. The most complex thing I had to explain so far was explaining my family why I didn’t want to study law, continuing the family tradition. Because a simple answer that law wasn’t my passion and I saw my career elsewhere would not be enough. Hence I had to explain them my decision step by step, all my thought process, the different career paths I envisioned for myself, and especially how I could still make my family proud, even with a title of a lawyer. It was a long talk to say the least, and a difficult one emotionally. But I eventually managed to deliver it, and my parents understood, and here I am with you now, applying for my first job.
  4. I had to explain a complex coding issue to my pupils. The best way to do it? Going step by step, letting them to replicate my thought process on their computers. That was my way to make sure they will truly understand, instead of just thinking that they understood. And it worked pretty well, and I definitely want to follow the same process of explaining something complex in my teaching career.
  5. Cooking a great Italian meal is actually something very complex. I was just trying to explain it to my friends, and they hoped just for a normal recipe. But that’s not how things work here. In a truly great cuisine, every detail matters. Staring with the right ingredients and proper kitchen utensils, with the right species and temperature of the pan during each step, cutting the vegetables in right direction and for optimal thickness, and so on, and so forth. When explaining such a thing you simply have to have patience, and double-check that your listeners write down each detail of the process.
  6. I have never had such an experience, and to speak quite frankly, I am not sure I ever will. Nowadays people do not look for explanations. They look for click of a button solutions, for AI and other tools to do their job for them, and they do not want to think. Trying to explaining them anything complex you will also lose their attention and focus–the little focus that they still have. Considering everything, I believe the right approach nowadays is actually avoiding complex subjects altogether. And I will approach my new job in that way.
  7. Well, as a Math teacher I tried it so many times. But I find it harder and harder each year. The attention span of the students is getting shorter, half of the class has ADHD, and 90% of students have no interest in Math whatsoever. Perhaps it is the case with other subjects too… In my opinion, it makes no sense trying to explain something complex to the young people nowadays, and that’s why I am quitting Math teaching and applying for an entry level corporate role with you.

So that’s it! I hope my answers weren’t too negative (yeah, some of them definitely were), and helped you to find out the right words for your own interview answer. To continue your interview preparation, I suggest you to check sample answers to the following questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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