When interviewers ask about personal methods to handle hardships, some potential candidates may squirm in their seats. Rest assured, this doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out response about your life story. Interviewers aren’t begging to hear a gripping dramatic monologue, complete with a plot twist and glorious resolution. Though it may feel like this is what they are looking for when the question is first posed, there is a professional and controlled way to answer. Read on to find out how to navigate this question!
When an interviewer asks, “What was the most difficult period in your life, and how did you handle it?” they are asking a two-part question that implies a lot more than it seems. They really want to know if you have undergone a professional or personal adversity and if you are equipped to handle it well, should difficulty arise in the workplace. Any time a hiring manager asks a negative question, this provides them an opportunity to get a good read on you. The way you reply will satisfy more than just the initial question, though. It also shows:
Don’t fall into the trap of droning on about a personal trial that has nothing to do with the job. Talking about how you dealt with a family member’s shenanigans or friend’s drama may not be the route to take here. Instead, prepare ahead of time. Think of a moment in the workplace or school environment where you were challenged or met with difficulty. This could include a disagreement with a coworker or boss, a moral dilemma in a professional setting, adjusting to a new lifestyle, or a brief personal struggle (as long as it is kept appropriate). If you are new to the workforce, a personal story is acceptable, but try to connect it back to the job you are applying for or a related industry.
Also, be sure to keep the experience relevant regarding timeframe, too. The employer wants to hear about something recent, not a struggle that happened years ago back in your high school days (unless, of course, high school was recent for you!). Generally speaking, try to share about a difficulty that would still be relevant to you present-day. Though there may be many applicable experiences to share from your past, keep it current and fresh!
The idea of speaking on a past difficulty presents the challenge of keeping it short and factual. This is not a therapy session; keep the experience limited to an anecdote and lesson learned. It may be tempting to justify the reason you struggled or to overexplain the situation. This can easily turn an interview question into a life story. However, be careful not to swing to the opposite side of the pendulum – speaking so briefly that the interviewer can’t get a gauge of your experience. To find a good balance between the two, be authentic and truthful, but remember this is a potential future boss, not your friend.
Make sure to avoid talking about your feelings. Though this was a difficult time in your life, which naturally evokes negative reactions, discussing your emotional response is too personal and off-topic. The main objective is to be marketable and professionally present yourself. Your answer should include the facts of what happened and how you dealt with it accordingly. Delving too far into the experience may make your answer seem too pessimistic or overly personal, which may reflect poorly on you in a way that you never intended.
Leading with a negative experience has the potential to be a real downer. However, speaking on how it shaped you for the better offers a positive spin that will show your ability to handle difficult situations. After discussing your tough trial, be sure to explain and highlight how you grew from the experience. This is the part of the question that offers you the opportunity to showcase your problem-solving skills, coping mechanisms, and good character. It is the most important part of the response!
Consider speaking about tools or people that helped you overcome the difficult experience and why they were key contributors to your solution. You can then expand to how this affected you positively, what you learned, and even how it will be applied in the workplace in the future. Be sure to speak specifically and practically rather than metaphorically and vaguely. This will show the interviewer that you understand how the learned lesson will translate to the real world.
“One of the most difficult times that I experienced was when I received reader complaints regarding the quality of the content I was creating/writing. They left negative reviews on our website and company-affiliated websites. Honestly, I didn’t see how we could come back from it. I went home and brainstormed solutions to the problems they mentioned in their complaints. This included cutting down the number of articles required by employees and the implementation of peer-reviewing. Next, I presented this to the manager and then adjusted to the new quota accordingly. I learned that customers really do prefer quality over quantity”.
“Last year, my company laid me off due to insufficient funds to compensate their workers. This turn of events caused me to go back to school and earn my Master’s degree. My hope was that I would be more marketable in the future. Being let go of was hard, and finding funds to go back to school was even harder. However, it helped me see the need for further education in the field that I studied. It also equipped me with better knowledge in my career field, which I wouldn’t have gotten had I stayed at my last job. I’m actually really grateful for the opportunity that is presented”.
How do you handle hardships in your own life? What methods do you use to frame these challenges in a positive way? Let us know on social media!
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