Answering "Describe a Challenge You Faced and How You Overcame It"

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 1, 2022 | Published November 15, 2021

Updated October 1, 2022

Published November 15, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

"Describe a challenge you faced and how you overcame it" is a popular request in an interview for any role. Your response is an excellent opportunity to share your best skills and elaborate on your work history. By preparing for this question and considering possible answers in advance, you can become a memorable and impressive candidate. In this article, we discuss why interviewers ask this question, explain how to answer it, review what to include in your answer, share tips for answering the question, and provide examples of strong answers.

Answering the interview question, "Describe a challenge you faced and how you overcame it"

When a recruiter asks you to describe a challenge you faced and how you overcame it, they typically want to know how you successfully managed the situation, rather than the challenge itself. Interviewers ask you to do this because your answer can provide them with the following information about you:

  • How you control stress. A job in their company may have similar stress levels and this helps them determine if you can work under those conditions.

  • Your problem-solving ability. Along with the challenge you faced, interviewers may also want to know how you approached the situation to help them understand your ability to solve problems efficiently.

  • Personality attributes. The question can also help the interviewers perceive attributes of your personality, such as emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and critical thinking.

  • Future potential. Your answer helps interviewers see if your capabilities suit the current job requirements and your potential to grow in the company in the future.

Related: Problem-Solving Interview Questions and How to Answer Them Effectively

How to prepare your answer

Following the STAR method is an excellent way to answer behavioural interview questions. STAR is an acronym that stands for situation, task, action, and result. You can prepare a sound answer by dividing your answer into these four parts of the STAR method:

1. Describe the challenging situation

A project or a task that candidates at an entry-level may find challenging might not be so for a professional who has been working in the field for years. Consider all the responsibilities and duties you've completed during your career, or as a student, to help you find your most challenging situation. Ensure the challenge relates to the role you're applying for and some challenges you may face there as well. For example, you can explain how you were working on one project and the company also tasked you with updating the website within a short deadline.

Related: How to Use the STAR Interview Response Technique

2. Explain your task

Provide more context about how you decided on the tasks you needed to complete. You may want to mention all the skills and knowledge you used to come to this conclusion. Explain why the tasks were difficult and what your goals were in the situation. Typically, you can summarize the steps you took and the mental process involved. You can mention if you employed the help of your team to solve it or found an answer yourself.

3. Describe your actions

Your answer can be concise, focusing on the actions you took to overcome the challenge. Consider using an example where you can reference some of the requirements included in the job posting. Your answer helps the interviewer understand whether you can handle the responsibilities related to the job according to their needs and expectations.

Related: Ten Types of Interview Questions You Can Expect

4. Share the results

Finally, explain the positive results of your actions and how you overcame the challenge. The outcomes help the interviewer determine your problem-solving skills. This can include how it contributed to your team, helped a customer, impressed a client, or provided another relevant outcome. When preparing your answer to this interview question, consider some examples that include skills and results you can bring to the new role. Consider using numbers, awards, and recognitions to highlight your accomplishments.

What to include in your answer

Consider including the following attributes into your answers to make a good impression:

Clarity

Provide clarity about the challenge you overcame and be sure to include only the most important details to keep the explanation clear and engaging. Mentioning your position in the team, such as team leader, supervisor, or teammate, helps the interviewer understand the pressure you may have faced. Consider using straightforward and positive phrases to describe your actions.

Resolutions

Once you've defined the situation, you can mention all the potential solutions you could have used to overcome the challenge. Then you can talk about the solution you chose and your reasoning behind it. It can be better to focus on your actions, goals, and achievements, even if you worked as part of a team to achieve the results.

Confidence

Approaching this question with positivity and confidence makes it easy for you to prepare an answer. Answering in a pleasant tone makes the interviewer believe in your positive approach to the problem and helps create a rapport with them. Once you provide a context for the challenge, focus on highlighting your positive attitude about solving the challenge promptly. Optimism demonstrates your attitude and highlights your commitment and creative problem-solving skills.

Narrative

Providing a story-like structure to your answer helps the interviewer gain a more coherent understanding of the challenge and makes your answer more engaging. Interviewers can better remember a situation and the results you achieved if it has a clear narrative, which can make you a more memorable candidate. Story-like answers also help the interviewers find context to the situation, which helps them understand your personality and methodology.

Honesty

Be honest about the challenges you faced and how you created solutions without exaggeration. Honesty can promote authenticity, maturity, connection, and confidence. Maintain reality in your answers to express yourself as an honest candidate and leave a memorable impression.

Top tips for success

Here are a few tips to help you answer this question successfully:

  • Prepare several examples. Prepare three to five answers with various challenges and how you overcame them. You can then choose the most suitable situation based on the other topics you've discussed in the interview.

  • Use keywords. Use words and phrases included in the job posting that can make the interviewer pay attention. This can help you express why you're the best candidate for the role.

  • Rehearse. Try to rehearse your answer so you can tell your story clearly and confidently. Focus on the key points you want to make and improvise the rest, so it sounds natural.

  • Show excitement. Show excitement when you answer, as this can tell the interviewer that you enjoy challenges. Choosing something you're proud of is one way to show genuine excitement and pride in your work.

  • Select the more relevant challenge. Think of which tasks you may be responsible for in the new role and choose a relevant challenge you've faced in the past. For example, to show that you can lead and communicate with a team, consider discussing a challenge where you worked with other people successfully to find a solution.

Example answers to "Describe a challenge you faced and how you overcame it"

Here are a few example answers to provide you with some ideas to structure your own:

Example 1

"Two years ago, I worked for a company that recognized my work ethic and slowly began increasing my duties. I've always been strong-willed at work, feeling confident that I can do everything myself. It took some self-reflection, but I realized I had too much work and needed help, which was difficult for me to admit. I voiced my concerns to my boss, and we hired an assistant, which helped to reduce my stress and resulted in my increased productivity. I can now admit when I need help and understand the advantages of having a team."

Example 2

"Last year, I was working in sales for a company. I worked on a budget and needed to bring in a certain amount of business. It was a high-stress job, but I enjoyed it and thrived under the pressure. One month, my sales numbers dipped, and I was behind on my goals. I worked a few extra hours looking for new leads and calling old clients. Through my resilience, I achieved my target. Since then, I've been able to take what I learned through that experience to help me push ahead, even during difficult situations."

Example 3

"I do wedding photography as a part-time passion project and always provide examples of my work upfront to my customers. One client I worked for didn't like the pictures I took of their wedding and complained that they appeared dark and moody, even though they appreciated the sample images. I offered to re-edit and brighten their pictures. It took me three rounds of edits to provide satisfying images. The client appreciated the gesture, my approach to address their concerns, and my commitment to helping them. They left me an excellent review, which has helped me build my business."

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