As a rule of a thumb, we should think about the problems we face at work, before we make our move. Looking at the situation from different angles, considering various options we have, and pondering consequences they will have for us, for our colleagues, and for the entire company, we will eventually decide about the best course of action. But we do not always have a luxury of time. And it doesn’t matter whether you apply for a managerial role, or for a job in a retail store. You will have to decide quickly at times, and the hiring managers wonder how you approach such situations.
Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to the question first. I include both examples from work and from personal life in my selection. Pick one that resonates with you, and adjust it slightly to convey the message you want to convey in the interviews. And do not forget to read also my notes below the answers, where I explain what exactly you should focus on, and some common mistakes to avoid when facing this question in your interview.
7 sample answers to “Give me an example of a time when you had to make a split second decision” interview question
- In my last job in a clothing store I experienced this situation on a daily basis. We were understaffed, and I often found myself alone in the store with three different customers looking for something, or even demanding my attention. I had to decide who I will attend first. In such situations, I typically went to talk to the customer who looked most impatient or most puzzled, and I always tried to help them quickly, and move on to another customer. Sure enough, I didn’t always pick the right one, and a few times I had to bear with complaints from a customer I left waiting. But I still think I did the best thing for my employer, deciding quickly, giving my attention to someone. Because if I waited and hesitated, the customers would wait only longer in average.
- I’ve worked as a bus driver for over five years. My daily job was one split-second decision after another one: you stop, or you go; is there a car coming from the left; who has the right of way, should I take left or right line; should I adjust my speed to meet the schedule, and so on. And though you make most of these decisions subconsciously, sometimes you have to use your brain. In such a case, I always did the safe thing for the passengers and for other people in the traffic. I’ve never risked an accident or a damage to a bus just to not be two minutes late at the next stop. Safety was my first priority, and it guided my split-second decisions. I’d like to stick to the same rule in the job with you.
- I recall a conflict of two team members, from my last managerial job. It was one of those destructive conflicts when people spit at each other and basically threaten to kill each other, to exaggerate a little. At the same time we were trying to meet a tight deadline, and could not afford wasting time with similar conflicts. Hence I did not have time to investigate at length what exactly happened, and which conflict party was in the right. I simply jumped in between the two, and ordered them to apologize to each other immediately, and return to work. But they kept shouting so I sent one home, telling them to take an unpaid leave for the rest of the day. Maybe I picked a wrong one, one who was in the right, but I did not have time to investigate the conflict and make a proper decision. Hence I did what I did. Needless to say, later I tried to learn more about the problem, and took proper measures against both employees.
- One such split second decision had a profound impact on my life. You know, there are situations when you want to say something but do not find courage to do so. It happened to me several times, especially with women, and I often regretted my hesitation later. But with Molly, I managed to get over my anxiety, and decided, in a split of a second, to propose to her. We had known each other for six months only, so it was a brave decision. But she said yes, and now we’ve been happily married for over three years. I am glad that I found the courage when it mattered the most.
- I recall many such situations from my work in a call center. We were calling people, trying to sell them products, services, and sometimes just dreams and illusions. We had limited knowledge of our leads, so we could not plan our sales pitch in advance. Once you got their attention and they did not hung up immediately–which was often the case, you had to react quickly to their questions, objections, or to their silence. I tried to use my sales instinct in every moment, saying something, or asking the right question, eventually trying to close the deal. I could not afford to remain silent, that’s the most important thing. At the end of the day, I was one of the more successful operatives in the call center, so it seems my instinct works well, and I plan to follow it in the sales job I am trying to get with you.
- In my last job of a buyer I got a chance to purchase materials for an extremely good price. But I had to act quickly, because the seller needed to sell them immediately, and if I refused they’d call another company and offer them the materials. I was not sure whether we’d need the materials, and in which quantity. But I still decided to take the offer, simply because I considered the price too good to miss. I realized that even if we did not use them, we could sell them with a decent margin later on. I understood it was a win-win situation for my employer, and made the purchase.
- Working on an online advertising campaign for one of our clients, I quickly realized how volatile the results were during the hours of the day. I had to make split-second decisions whether to run the campaign or not, and on which channels, and what the price for a click should be to make it profitable. Spending hours in real time analytics, I was constantly adjusting and tweaking the campaign, until I came to a model for a week that yielded the best results. At the end of the day, the client earned twice as much in profits as they spent on the campaign, including our cut, so it was definitely a huge success.
Split second decisions should not be your first choice, but you should be able to make them
In ninety nine out of one hundred cases, hiring managers do not want you to prefer split-second decisions. And it doesn’t matter what job you try to get. The room for error is always bigger when we do not consider all options we have, pluses and minuses of each one, and decide accordingly.
Split-second decisions should not be your first choice, but once you have to make such a decision, forced by circumstances or time pressure, you have the capability and courage to do so. This sums up the message you should try to convey with your answer, at least if you want to improve your chances of walking away with a job contract.
* Special Tip: Question about split second decisions isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You may face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, handling failures, 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!
Examples from personal life may help you stand out
At the end of the day, hiring managers are just men and women, like you or me. They have their lives outside of work, and sure enough their romances, successes, and setbacks.
Talking about a situation from your personal life, when you had to make a split second decision and perhaps your relationship depended on it, or even your marriage, can help you connect with them on a rather personal level, especially if they’ve experienced a similar situation in their life.
What is more, most job candidates will talk about example from work. Or they will remain silent, not knowing what to say. Talking about a situation from your personal life, you will immediately stand out with your answer, and make it easier for the interviewers to remember you, once they are wrapping up the interviews and considering who they will invite for the final round, or eventually hire for the job…
Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:
- Tell me about a time you wish you’d handled a situation differently with a colleague.
- What makes you uncomfortable?
- What other companies are you interviewing with?