Job Interview Question: How Did You Handle a Challenge?

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The question, "How did you handle a challenge?” can be a tricky one. On one hand, it’s an opportunity for you to communicate your problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities, along with your aptitude for succeeding under stress.

On the other hand, there are multiple ways to handle a challenge. One company might prefer an employee who takes a measured, methodological, and planned approach, whereas another organization might prefer individuals who dive in and do all they can to meet the challenge, without necessarily thinking of the bigger picture.

Depending on the industry, different techniques for managing problems may be a priority. 

How to Answer Job Interview Questions About Challenges

Before we get to some sample answers, let’s review the process of how you should arrive at an answer for yourself. 

  1. Recall a challenge that was significant, but one that you consider a success. Most importantly, you want to be able to discuss a real professional challenge or problem, not an arbitrary or annoying occurrence. You also want to be able to define how you met the challenge successfully. If possible, mention a challenge most relevant to the role you’re applying to. In your answer, you'll want to set up the challenge clearly and succinctly. 
  2. Don’t just say what you did — explain how you did it. The employer is interested in learning your approach to a challenge, including the actions you took and your thought process. Don’t skip ahead to the end result. Use specifics to describe what you did to contribute to the solution.
  1. Emphasize the outcome and what you learned from it. Employers want to hire individuals who can turn challenges into opportunities. When brainstorming an answer, think about ways to emphasize how you made the most of a difficult time. Of course, in the real world, it’s not possible to wave a magic wand and transform every difficulty into a grand success. It is possible to learn from your hardships, and then apply what you learned to future challenges. Make sure you express your takeaways and how you’ve grown from your challenges. 

    Watch Now: 3 Tips for Answering "How Did You Handle a Challenge?"

    Sample Answers to “How Did You Handle a Challenge?”

    • During a difficult financial period, I was able to satisfactorily negotiate repayment schedules with multiple vendors. I developed a mutually beneficial payment plan and barter program that worked with both my company’s revenue flow and project schedule, and the vendor needs at the time. In addition, the agreement was easier for me to obtain because I worked very hard at developing a positive relationship with the vendor in the months that we’ve been working together. From this experience, I learned the importance of thinking outside the box while solving a problem. I also learned the importance of developing and maintaining good relationships with vendors.
    • When the software development of our new product stalled, I coordinated the team that managed to get the schedule back on track. We were able to successfully troubleshoot the issues and solve the problems, within a very short period of time, and without completely burning out our team. I was able to do this by motivating the senior engineering team to brainstorm a technologically innovative solution that would solve the customer’s issues with fewer development hours on our end.
    • A long-term client was about to take their business to a competitor. I met with the customer and was able to change how we handled the account on a day-to-day basis, in order to keep the business. From this situation, I learned the importance of being mindful of client relations and operations, not just after issues arise, but for the duration of the relationship. As a result, other account managers have adopted my check-in and management processes and have also seen improved results with their accounts.
    • Our company newsletter was frequently sent late — and worse, sometimes had errors or typos. It was a bad look for the marketing department. I reviewed this newsletter workflow with the team, which revealed several issues: There was no deadline for newsletter submissions and no one person had ownership of the project. Our marketing coordinator had recently requested more responsibility, so I asked her to oversee the process. Together, we created a schedule, a form for submissions, and a review process. Since instituting these changes, the newsletter has gone out precisely on time and error-free — plus, clicks and opens have increased.