Responding to the "difficult decision" interview question can be a nightmare if you’re not prepared. We look at how to give a confident, compelling answer that will impress interviewers.
Ever found yourself sailing smoothly through an interview, only to get hit with the dreaded question, "Can you tell me about a time when you made a difficult decision?" The awkward silence that follows is loud as you scramble for a captivating response. Don’t worry, with some preparation, you’ll be ready next time you’re faced with the “difficult decision” interview question. This guide will help you to answer confidently and leave a lasting impression on your interviewer.
In this article, we explore:
Why interviewers ask this question
How to pick the right difficult decision story
How to answer the difficult decision interview question
Difficult decision interview question examples
Understanding the motives behind this interview question will enable you to prepare meaningful and relevant responses. The "difficult decision interview question" is a common behavioral interview question designed to assess a candidate's problem-solving abilities and aptitude for handling stressful situations. The goal is to understand the candidate's decision-making process, the factors they consider, and the outcomes of their choices to predict job performance.
Interviewers can learn a lot about a candidate by asking about a difficult decision from their past. If answered well, it not only provides insights into future behaviors in similar situations but reveals how they approach challenges, analyze situations, and arrive at decisions. Employers know that difficult decisions often come with a high level of stress and they are looking to gauge how well candidates will perform under pressure.
Not all challenging situations are created equal; it’s important to select the most appropriate story to showcase your abilities. Tailor your response to align with the job requirements and underscore your qualifications for the position.
Pick a scenario that had a meaningful impact on the project, team, or organization. Avoid stories that involve conflicts of interest or compromise your integrity. A more recent example may be preferable, but if the most relevant decision occurred in the past, make sure you can articulate its lasting impact.
Candidates are expected to provide a detailed yet brief account of the situation, explaining the options they considered, the rationale behind their decision, and the ultimate impact of their choice.
Start with a brief explanation of the situation you were facing: give context about the role, the team, and the components that made it challenging. This is where you would emphasize the complexity of the potential consequences and risks involved.
Share the various options you considered: highlight the factors you weighed and the deciding factors that led you to your choice. Explain the results of your decision and conclude by explaining how that specific experience makes you a strong candidate for the role.
You can pull from a myriad of past experiences to demonstrate your decision-making skills. Here are a few examples of situations that would work well.
Determining where to cut costs
Identifying employees for potential layoffs
Making a career pivot
Formulating a strategy for your team's response to the COVID-19 pandemic
Addressing and resolving workplace conflicts
Expressing disagreement with a company or team policy or decision
Prioritizing tasks when faced with competing deadlines or projects
Don’t get caught off guard and miss out on your next career opportunity. Be fully prepared for your next interview with our Interview Prep service.
Employers pose the “difficult decision” interview question to gain insight into your problem-solving abilities, thought processes, and how you handle high-stress situations.
Choose a challenging scenario that aligns with job requirements, emphasizes qualifications, and showcases meaningful impact.
Begin your responses with situational context, then outline the options you considered, and explain its impact, and lessons learned.
Melanie L. Denny
Melanie L. Denny is an award-winning resume expert, personal branding consultant, and certified LinkedIn strategist who loves content writing. Her insights have been quoted and featured in Forbes, Huffpost, Yahoo News, Fast Company, NBC News and countless podcasts sharing self-marketing strategies, tips, and tricks. She loves traveling with her family and is passionate about helping others see themselves as more.