Critical feedback is necessary for our professional growth. And while you can sometimes be your harshest critic–perhaps being too critical of yourself, it is always good to see things from someone else’s perspective, through someone else’s eyes… And that’s exactly what the hiring managers try to understand while asking you this question: How you react when you receive a difficult feedback from someone. Is counter attack your reaction, criticizing the person who dared to share a negative feedback with you? Or do you actually embrace constructive criticism, and look at it as at an eye opener, the first step towards doing things better in your job?
Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to the question. I tried to include answers for variety of interview scenarios and professions, but, except of two unconventional answers, they always demonstrate the right attitude to critical feedback. Once you get through the answers (and hopefully pick one for your interview), do not forget to read also the notes below, for some additional explanations and hints. The answers should work well also for various alternatives of this question, such as:
- What constructive criticism have you received before?
- Describe the most valuable criticism you have received, and how it affected you.
7 sample answers to “What is the most difficult feedback you have received?”
- The most difficult one was from a customer I really cared about. I understood the value they had for the business, the amount of money they spent each month on our services. And I honestly thought I was doing my best for them. But apparently I wasn’t the only one trying. Several competitors were trying to get in with lower price and longer warranties. On one rainy day, the customer called me and simply said that they were ending our business relationship, and were changing suppliers, because I wasn’t giving them a fair price and a good offer. It was a tough pill to swallow, especially because they did not tell me anything before, they kept ordering from us and then just one day the phone call came. Having said that, I tried to remedy the situation, offering comparable conditions of the deal. But it was too late, they’ve already made their mind. I had to accept it, and learned my lesson–I need to be more proactive in the communication with the customers, and not get complacent with receiving payments and sending goods over every week or month…
- I got a difficult one from my manager in my last job. You know, I was a new force in the company. The training wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. They expected me to work with SAP and prepare an awful lot of documents each day. And I tried my best, stayed an hour overtime almost daily, sacrificed something for the company. But I did not manage the workload, and quickly fell behind with my schedule. One day the manager called me in her office. Without asking for any explanations, she scolded me. She said I was working too slow, wasting time on my laptop, and not really doing the work. I must admit it was extremely difficult to hear that, simply because it wasn’t true. My first instinct told me to shout on her, or punch her face with my fist, but I held it back. I explained her, in a calm voice, that the training wasn’t sufficient and I needed more time to get my head around SAP and manage the heavy workload. Seeing my calm reaction, she also calmed down, and we turned the meeting into a constructive discussion. I am proud that I managed to control my emotions, and the entire situation ended well.
* Other tricky question you may face: Tell us about a time when you had to give someone a difficult feedback.
- This is my first job application, but I can talk about an example from school. My English teacher gave me a pretty rough feedback on my essay. She pointed our several mistakes I made, and she said I was no good and had no chance getting to law school. I must admit it was hard to hear such words. But I also realized it was the style of communication of the teacher–it wasn’t anything personal. So instead of dwelling on her emotions, I tried to take the good out of the situation. She was right with my essay, and with the mistakes I made. In fact it was the most valuable criticism I have ever received. When applying with law schools, I tried to apply what I learned from her feedback on my new essay. I received two interview invitations, eventually got in, and here I am today, few years later, applying for this amazing job with you with a degree from law.
- The most difficult one wasn’t at work. It was a feedback I got from my former girlfriend. You know, I’ve worked two jobs to make good money, so we could have a decent lifestyle. I did it for her, working my ass off, trying to save money to buy nice things for us. But one evening she was simply standing in the door with her suitcases packed. She told me I did not care for her, spent too little time with her, and hence she found another boyfriend. I felt as if someone just punched me in the face. I tried to explain, that I did it for her, for our future, but she had already made up her mind. It was a difficult feedback, and it took me weeks to process it. But eventually I did, and in my present relationship I prefer to earn less money, but spend more quality time together with my partner.
- The most difficult one was actually in my last job interview. As you can imagine–since I am here today, I did not get the job. But trying to learn and get better in interviewing, I wrote an email to the recruiter asking them what I did wrong, why they did not choose me for the job. She replied that I was not talking to the point at all, often answering something else than the question they actually asked me. She said I had no chance getting any decent job with such answers. Being unemployed for six months already, it was really the last nail to the coffin. I was in a midst of writing a superbly harsh reply, calling her incompetent, and her interviewing skills poor. That was my ego speaking. A hurt ego… Luckily I came to my sense and eventually did not send the email. And, reflecting on my past interviews, I realized she had a point in what she was saying. Preparing for the interview with you, I practiced my answers to various questions. I recorded them, and then listened to them, making sure that I am talking to the point. At the end of the day, the negative feedback I received from that recruiter may help me finally get a job, a great offer with you…
- I am actually fortunate, or maybe unfortunate, but I have never really received a negative feedback. I’ve been always a hard-worker, and perhaps gifted with a bit of talent as well. In my last job I always did more than my colleagues, took care of my duties in the shortest possible time, and typically exceeded the expectations of my managers. Thinking about it now, perhaps it would be better if they criticized me for something, be it just a detail. Because I do not want to be complacent with the quality of my work. I want to keep improving, and I am definitely ready to accept any criticism or negative feedback in my new job.
- Speaking honestly, I am my own harshest critic. Working as a freelance designer, I was never quite satisfied with my work. Even when clients liked it, I still felt that I could improve on this or that detail, play on this or that emotion of the customer, to improve conversions. And it is perhaps one of the reasons why I could not make it as a self-employed designer out there. It simply took me too much time to complete the work, and I could not accept enough gigs to cover my living expenses each month. I decided to change my career, and I am now looking for a corporate job.
* Do not forget to check also: Answers to 15 most common interview questions.
Embrace the feedback and learn your lesson
The most important thing is to demonstrate that you can accept constructive criticism, but do not take it personally, or do not start hating the person who gave you negative feedback, even if it was undeserved.
You’ve heard them out, you thought about their words, tried to understand why they gave you such a difficult feedback (you neglected something in your work, or it was just a communication problem, or they were simply in a bad mood and would criticize everything and everyone), and learned your lesson. As long as you demonstrate this attitude with the situation you narrate, hiring managers will be satisfied with your answer.
* 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!
Do not be afraid to narrate situations from your personal life
Negative feedback, conflict, stressful situation, struggling to meet a deadline–we do not face such situations only at work. Maybe you are just starting your professional career, or you find a more fitting example in your personal life--a difficult feedback you got from your partner, your child, or your parent. Do not hesitate to bring it up in the interviews.
Most other job candidates will talk about work, so you can easily stand out with your answer, talking about some criticism you received in personal life. Needless to say, the principles of a great answer remain the same–you heard them out, didn’t get emotional, tried to understand, learned your lesson, did it better the next time…
Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:
- What kind of people do you enjoy working with?
- Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult customer.
- Why should we hire you?