This is a tough question because you're forced to talk about a difficult time with a complete stranger.
Fortunately, it's also a great opportunity to turn a big challenge into a great accomplishment. In fact, we like to think of it as a related question to "Tell me about an accomplishment you're proud of."
Why do employers ask this question? It's because they want to know that they're hiring someone who has the ability to think on their feet and who is resilient when facing challenges.
When answering this question, start by giving context for the situation and then showing how you worked out a solution to the problem. Try to keep your answer short and focused. After all, the interviewer is really looking for what you took away from the situation and doesn't need to know the full backstory of what happened.
If you need help structuring your answer, remember this acronym: S.T.A.R. It stands for situation, task, action, and result.
Here's what they each mean and how you can use them effectively.
First, articulate to your interviewer the situation you were in so that they have context. What was the problem and how did it come up?
In one or two sentences, create a clear picture so that hiring manager is able to visualize the challenge. If possible, keep things professional by focusing only on problems that have come up at a previous job.
Say something like: "At my previous job, a client suddenly wanted to change an entire campaign strategy two days before launch. The client was unhappy with my team's first draft, so we were tasked with redoing the entire plan."
Talk about the task at hand and tell your interviewer what each person was responsible for doing, so that they get a sense of how you fit into the team. You don't have to go into a lot of detail but do set the scene with one or two sentences about the roles everyone played in the project.
Say something like: "We organized a late-night brainstorm that evening. After hours of work, I was asked to take the lead on putting together a new deck and presenting the new strategy to the client. This was challenging because project was complex, time was short and our team had to make the client happy again."
Once you're done setting the scene, explain the actions involved in overcoming the challenge. Talk about your thought process and the steps you took to solve the problem. Again, one or two sentences is all you need to convey this.
While you should be honest and speak about a true challenge you've faced, be sure to end on a positive note so that your interviewer sees you as a proactive problem solver and a team player. Quantify your results if possible. It's a great way to demonstrate the impact you've had on a project or company, and it lets the interviewer know that you are focused on results.
Say something like: "The client was ultimately thrilled with the fresh plan, and all of the new ideas we included!"
Tie together all the above and answer the interviewer's question confidently.
Answering "Tell me about a challenge you've overcome" is a great way to show potential employers that you're able to think on your feet and to solve a problem effectively. This is a skill that interviewers are looking for in all of the candidates they hire and answering this common interview question effectively will serve you well to land a job.