4 Example Answers To "Describe A Challenge You Overcame"

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When an interviewer asks you to describe be a challenge you overcame or describe a challenge you faced and how you overcame it — you want to be sure that you have a well-prepared, heartfelt, and meaningful story to tell the interviewer. This can be a hard and tough ask for a lot of interviewees.

In this article, we’re going to help you understand how to craft a story that impacts the interviewer. As well as providing a few boilerplate examples that you can use for your upcoming interview.

What Type Of Question Is This

As with any “tell me” or “describe to me” interview questions, we must recognize the interviewer is asking us a behavioral interview question. These questions require us to describe situations either at home or in the workplace and how our actions created results. This is different from regular interview questions that are testing you on various skills and knowledge requirements.

Related: 13 Behavioral Interview Questions & Answers: Guide, How To Answer

What The Interviewer Wants To Know

With this behavioral interview question in general, the interviewer wants to know more about you. You have two choices, tell a personal story, or tell a work story. Both are absolutely okay. But they need to be indicative of both the question that was asked and unique to who you are.

When you’re thinking of what the interviewer wants to know, you can break it down as the following:

  • Something unique about you
  • Something heartfelt and meaningful to your career
  • A true challenge in life that you’ve either not overcome or are about to overcome

What Not To Answer With

With this question, in particular, it is best to stay away from answers that tell stories about your personal past without much meaning behind it for the interviewer. For example, talking about how your swim coach was always asking you and your team to do better. And how that was a challenge.

Something like that won’t exactly be the most meaningful to the interviewer because they really can’t relate to it. It would help if you found a story that’s relatable so that it will have an impact. If it lacks empathy towards the listener, the impact will be diminished by the result.

Example Answer Paths

You have two distinct paths, which we’re going to give examples for when answering this. Either a path of telling a personal story or a path of telling a work story. Both are okay as long as they meet our criteria.

Your communication paths are to:

  • Tell a personal story: One that relates to experience in college or life that shows your leadership or communication abilities. Good for those who may not have a lot of work experience.
  • Tell a work story: One that puts a situation in front of the interviewer and what tactics you used to overcome the challenge you were faced with. Good for those with previous work experience.

Example Personal Answers To “Describe A Challenge You Overcame”

“Early in my life, I felt invincible. Rightfully so, I think we all do when we’re young. But one horrible day, I received a phone call that one of my family members had passed away. This is the type of phone call none of us wish to get. It occurred with a family member who I felt was young. Not much older than me. We dealt with the situation at hand. But afterward, it made me really put into perspective how I was living my life. Today, I choose to live life to the fullest, every day. That means enjoying my work, enjoying the people around me, trying to create the best environment and contribute to society.”

“Early in my career, I was allowed to run a small business. We had outside investors and a great opportunity in front of us. I won’t go into the full story. But what I can tell you is that my communication skills at that time prevented me from ever moving that business and opportunity forward in a meaningful way. Since then, I’ve strived to work with coaches to ensure my communication skills are always in development. Communication is the way we connect with others. I constantly want to be improving it.”

Example Work Answers To “Describe A Challenge You Overcame”

“There was a situation at one of my previous jobs where a few of our managers were let go. And I was quickly given a promotion into one of their positions. Soon after, I was asked to let another colleague of mine go. It was something I’ve never done before. When I sat down with the colleague, I told them that this was the first time I’ve ever had to do this. And that it was quite difficult for me. But I had to let them go. They understood. They appreciated my honesty and recognized that it was simply a layoff and not a termination. It was a wonderful experience for me.”

“A few positions I’ve had previously, I needed to communicate to a colleague that I was having a difficult time learning how to do great work at the company. This was difficult for me to admit. I always felt like I should be the one who knows the most. The more I fought my anger and frustration for not knowing how to accomplish certain tasks, the more difficult the situation as a whole became. I realized one day that if I changed a few of my habits, my work could improve, but my overall happiness in the position could improve. From that day forward, I started making sure I asked my colleagues for assistance when I needed it.”

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author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), NCDA Certified Career Counselor (CCC), and general career expert. Patrick has completed the NACE Coaching Certification Program (CCP). And has been published as a career expert on Forbes, Glassdoor, American Express, Reader's Digest, LiveCareer, Zety, Yahoo, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, SHRM.org, Process.st, FairyGodBoss, HRCI.org, St. Edwards University, NC State University, IBTimes.com, Thrive Global, TMCnet.com, Work It Daily, Workology, Career Guide, MyPerfectResume, College Career Life, The HR Digest, WorkWise, Career Cast, Elite Staffing, Women in HR, All About Careers, Upstart HR, The Street, Monster, The Ladders, Introvert Whisperer, and many more. Find him on LinkedIn.

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