Q: In the interview, they asked me to outline a scenario where I had a problem in my workplace. I tried to fudge it but they were very keen to get a hard-and-fast example. I told them about an error which halted production for a few hours. But I didn't really elaborate, and I don't think the answer cut it. I didn't get the job. Any thoughts?
A: There is something counter-intuitive about being asked to talk about a bad moment in your career. But you need to learn how to do it.
Being asked to relay a bad day is a relatively modern phenomenon in interviews. If you haven’t done an interview in a while, it could easily throw you. The focus should be as much on what you learned from the difficulty as the difficulty itself. The person who never made a mistake never made anything.
There are a few key points to note. In many ways, interviews are all a game. Play in a way that advances your cause:
1. Like the defendant in the stand, avoid incriminating yourself. The bad day shouldn’t have threatened the security of the nation. Keep it proportionate. The problem you caused should be big enough to fill the required slot in the interview – but not so big they get a sudden urge to escort you from the building lest you cause irreparable damage.
2. When telling the story, be clear about what exactly went wrong. What were you trying to achieve? At what point did it go south? Why? What was your immediate reaction? How did you communicate the problem to others? How did you set about resolving it? Did you accept responsibility for your error?
3. Show that you learned from the bad day. I care not how often you fall; I only care how often you get up again.
4. To develop the previous point, be specific. What you learned should be concrete not abstract. Examples might include: I learned to communicate the grand plan to the team much earlier; I learned to do one final check on the process before kicking off; I learned to have a good contingency plan in place.
5. Relay how things went the next time you took on that task. How well did you implement what you had learned? How did people react? How did you feel when it was successfully accomplished? How did the boss react? Did you initiate any further tweaks in the process (good to show that you learn from good days too )?
6. Remember, the other candidates will be asked the same question. Therefore, your goal in the answer is to reveal the value of a difficult experience better than the other candidates do.
7. The people asking the question to have made mistakes too. They’ve tried things out, got them wrong, dusted themselves down and got on with things. They are likely to appreciate your honesty and humility.
8. I reiterate Point 1. Pick your example carefully. “The day I punched the boss’ lights out – and it felt great entirely” is a grand yarn for a slow night in your local but it doesn’t cut muster in a job interview, believe it or not.
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