Job Interview Tips

How To Answer “What Is The Biggest Challenge You’ve Faced At Work?”

tell me about a time you overcame a challenge
Written by Kate Lopaze

When you’re job searching, you’re bound to come across interview questions that are a little tricky. One of the questions you may be asked is “What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced at work?” Sometimes phrased as “What’s the most difficult part of being a [current job title]?” or “What was the toughest part of your last job,” this difficult question has stumped many job seekers.

It is an important yet challenging part of the job searching process to take an honest look at obstacles you’ve faced in your previous jobs. However, with some preparation you can craft a response that will impress your interviewer. Here are some tips on how to answer “What Is The Biggest Challenge You’ve Faced At Work?” effectively.

DO prepare your answer.

When interviewers ask job seekers about the biggest challenge they’ve faced at work, they’re usually looking for two things: first, they want to know how you have handled difficult situations in the past. Second, they want to get a sense of what kind of challenges the applicant is likely to face in the future. With that in mind, it’s important to think carefully about how to answer this question.

As one of the most common interview questions, most interviewers expect you to come to the interview with a prepared response. Whether you decide to share a unique anecdote or a common workplace experience, it is important that you sound confident and articulate.

DON’T pretend your career has been a breeze up to this point.

It can seem tempting to make it look like you handled every issue with the ease of Roger Federer returning a serve–but making it seem like you never had any challenges or struggles won’t make you look like some kind of suave champ. It’ll make the interviewer think you’re:

  • Not taking the question seriously
  • Can’t think on your feet
  • Being dishonest.

It is okay to discuss a real challenge that you faced and overcame at your current or previous job. This can show the interviewer that you’re capable of handling difficult situations and that you’re resilient in the face of adversity.

DO tailor your answer to fit the job description of the position for which you’re interviewing.

Unless you’re making a big career change or applying for a big stretch position, chances are your previous experiences will work nicely with the needs of the new position. Before the interview, review the tasks and responsibilities associated with this job, and dig back in your mental archive for similar issues you’ve tackled in your current or previous jobs.

Try to avoid purely personal anecdotes (about family or friend conflicts). The interviewer isn’t interviewing for a friend, they are looking for a strong employee.

DON’T complain about your previous position.

The interviewer is trying to figure out how you would approach problem solving in your new role, and see if there are any red flags. Hint: “Dealing with the stupid people around me” is never gonna be your ideal answer when asked about previous challenges in your professional life.

Complaining about your previous job will make you look unprofessional, and it will make the interviewer question whether or not you will be a good fit for the company. Instead of complaining, focus on striking a balance between being honest and maintaining a positive attitude. You don’t want to come across as bitter or resentful, but you also don’t want to lie about your experience. Instead, focus on explaining how you handled a difficult workplace in a way that demonstrated your strength and resilience.

DO be specific about why your challenges were challenges.

You want to show off your problem-solving process, so offer as much context as possible so that the interviewer can see how you’re connecting your past with your present (and ideally your future) professional self.

Also, summarize your anecdotes with what you’ve learned from the experience. For example, you might say “After we got through the event totally shorthanded, I developed a coverage system that meant we always had backup in case we found ourselves in another time crunch.” By doing so, you’ll show that you’re the kind of person who can overcome challenges and grows from adversity.

DO make sure your anecdotes show you in a positive light.

You don’t get bonus points for brutal honesty here. Focus on situations where your actions made you a hero (small h, no kitten rescuing necessary), not situations that featured you digging out of a hole you made yourself.

Though even heroics aren’t necessary—if you were part of a team that had to solve an issue, and you took charge of any part of the process, that’s fine too. You want to demonstrate strong leadership and problem solving, whatever you choose to highlight.

DON’T panic if you don’t have a very long work history.

If you’re a new grad or are otherwise just starting out, questions about your previous work history can be daunting. After all, how would you have had work challenges if you haven’t really worked yet?

In this case, it’s totally fine to use an example from your education, or your volunteer work, or other activities (sports, extracurriculars, etc.). Again, though, make sure you tie it to your professional life, and especially the job description. Make sure that the answer you share demonstrates your leadership skills, not your failures.

Prepare For Your Interviews

The interview process can be daunting, but preparing for tough questions like “What Is The Biggest Challenge You’ve Faced At Work?” can give you a significant advantage. By taking the time to anticipate difficult questions and develop thoughtful responses, you’ll be more likely to impress potential employers and increase your chances of landing the position.

Looking for a job can be a daunting task, but with the right resources, it doesn’t have to be. TheJobNetwork offers a variety of tools to help you find the right job, including a job finder and interview advice. We also have a variety of resources to help you prepare for your interviews and land the job you want. With TheJobNetwork, you can be confident that you’re getting the best possible advice and guidance to help you succeed in your career.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.