At the end of the day, every job, and every activity we do, is a series of processes. Some of them are simple and we do not have to think about them twice, and some more complex, and they often decide about the eventual success or failure of our endeavors. What I try to convey here is that you do not need to work as a process engineer to have a chance to improve some process in your work, or in your daily life. And that’s exactly the reason why the hiring managers may ask you this question in virtually any job interview.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers, for different jobs, levels of experience, and interview scenarios. You may find some questions in my selection quite unconventional, but I included them on purpose, for people who want to stand out with their interview answers. Do not forget to read also my notes at the end of the article. There I explain what you should principally focus on when facing this one in your interview. I also want to emphasize that some sample answers on the list will work well also for a common alternative to this question, “Tell us about an instance when your recommendation proved to improve performance in the team.”

 

7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time you improved a process” interview question

  1. I recall such a situation from my last job of a logistics coordinator. I came to the company as a replacement for a woman who left after three months, struggling with the workload. After first few days I realized that the invoicing processes were overly complicated. The invoices were processed in both SAP and Excel, and an awful load of tasks was carried out manually, though it could be automated. I raised the issue with my superior, and got a green light. Digging into SAP and consulting a couple of colleagues, I managed to automate several processes. It saved me at least an hour a day, and it also saved time of my colleagues. I am proud that I made this contribution to the business, and sure enough they still benefit from it.
  2. The only job I had so far was a part time job of a cashier in a supermarket, while I focused primarily on my college studies. However, I wasn’t complacent with the training, or with my speed at work. I didn’t want to let the customers waiting longer than necessary. Hence I experimented with subtle changes. For example, the way I took the groceries from the belt, or how I scanned the bar code. Whether it was more effective to help the customer place the goods in the bags, or let them do that while I focused on other tasks, and so on. Eventually I managed to improve the efficiency of each step at the checkout, which helped me to become the fastest cashier in the store. I want to stress that I enjoyed trying to improve the processes, and definitely want to try something similar in my new job.
  3. This is my first job application, so I cannot really talk about an example from work. Having said that, I was a quite busy at the college, trying to learn two languages, and having many after school activities. Hence it was crucial for me to not waste time, to manage my day effectively. It forced me to improve the very basic processes of my everyday life, such as cooking a dinner for example. I started to listen to French podcasts while preparing the food, and while waiting for water to boil or something else to happen I also did some other basic chores around the house, such as tiding the bathroom. It helped me to get more things done on any given day, and it is definitely an attitude I want to stick to in my new job.
  4. Well, I’ve worked as a process manager for five years already. I can tell you about dozens of examples when I improved the effectiveness of some process by 1, 5, 10, or sometimes even 100%, in the production plant. It was always the same story. I broke down the process to smallest parts, individual steps. Then I looked at each step, considering the materials, the human factor, and other things, looking for areas for improvement. Typically I found just something minor, because you cannot expect a big factory having poor processes in place. However, if you improve this detail by one percent and that detail by two percent, the snowball effect takes place. As a result the effectiveness of the entire process improves by, let’s say, 5%, and that is huge when we talk about mass production. Such an improvement can sometimes save a business thousands of dollars each month, or more…
  5. Working as a correctional officer, I didn’t have many options to improve processes in work. Rules are set in stone in every detention facility. You have to follow the exact procedures during every shift. Of course it makes sense, because if we tried to improve this or that thing, we might easily find two or three prisoners missing at the end of the day. And that would be a disaster. Having said that, I focused on other form of improvement. I simply tried to improve the way I handle the processes, making sure that I do not neglect anything, and do what I have to do in the shortest possible time. Perhaps I can benefit from this experience in the job I try to get with you now.
  6. I recall such a situation from my last job in sales. Big corporation, excellent training program, processes in place for everything, as you can surely imagine. And I followed them at the beginning, saying exactly the same thing on the phone to each and every customer, having an answer ready for every objection. Soon enough I realized that some of those answers didn’t work, however. At least not as well as I hoped they would. And so I came with my own responses to certain objections, my own sales pitch. Needless to say, my manager did not like it. Because it was a big corporation, and they had processes in place for everything, and as a new employee I was supposed to stick to them invariably. But I achieved better results than my colleagues, converted more leads, and my sales process worked. Still they did not like it, we had a lot of arguments about it, and I eventually left the company. And it is the reason why I am sitting here with you today, applying for a job in your company, a much smaller one. I believe I will get more room for my creativity with you.
  7. There is one good example from my last job of a market research analyst. I’ve been working with lot of data, doing plenty of manual calculations. That’s how they told me to do it. Being an expert user of MS Excel, however, I quickly realized that many tasks could be automated, that the program could do many calculations for me. And hence I improved the process of data analysis, which allowed me to get more work done on each shift.

 

Show them that you enjoy improving processes

Any example you talk about, try to speak with enthusiasm. The hiring managers should get an impression that it is natural for you to try to improve the effectiveness of your work, by improving individual processes you take care of in the job.

After narrating your story (how you improved this and that process, and how both you and your employer benefited from it), you can always elaborate on it. For example, you can say that you hope to achieve similar things for their organization, or that you hope to benefit from this experience in your new job. That’s exactly the attitude they are looking for in an excellent job candidate.

* 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!

No previous working experience, no problem

As I’ve already mentioned, our entire day–and not only our work, can be broken down to small processes and steps. Your morning routine for example–how long it takes you to get ready for work, or for school. Getting up from bed, making breakfast, dressing up, shower, and so on… Certainly each of us can improve the effectiveness of our morning routine.

Or the way you approach your studies, or learning a skill, or getting better in some sport. If this is your first job application, or the job you had before isn’t the best of examples for process improvement, you can always talk about a way how you improved something in your personal life, at school, or simply in your daily routine.

 

Numbers give your story more credibility

Sure enough, in nine out of ten cases the hiring managers have no way of verifying the authenticity of your story. But it doesn’t mean that they are going to trust everything you say in the interviews.

Try to add some numbers and details to your explanation. Maybe you improved this process by 3% and that one by 5%, saving your employer XYZ dollars each month. Or you changed this or that way of doing this or that activity, which saved you thirty minutes of time each day, half an hour you could devote to your studies, to relax, or to a quality time with your partner.

The more details and numbers you add, the easier it will be for the hiring managers to visualize your story, and the easier they will find it to actually trust you…

 

Alternative question: How will you suggest improvements if you disagree with an existing process?

Another tricky question about process improvement, typical for interviews in one of the biggest corporations in the world (which I prefer not naming this time). Anyway, now the focus is on communication. Big corporations have processes in place for everything, and in some they form almost a “Biblical” text, something that should be sacred for the employees. Nevertheless, the world evolves quickly and so do technologies. A process that worked great a year ago can be slowing the company down today. What’s more, it can even be completely obsolete…

Ensure the hiring managers that you want to share your feedback with your superiors. If you disagree with an existing process, you will prepare a short presentation, or a short speech, clearly identifying why you disagree with the process, what can be improved, and how it should be done. You will deliver this message factually, without emotions, simply trying to improve things for your team, for the company. And that’s it. After that it is somebody else’s decision whether the company will proceed with the change you proposed. You respect it and won’t be down if it doesn’t proceed with the change. You did your part of the work, clearly suggested what can be done better, and respect that someone else will make the final call.

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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