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A Guide to Nailing the Interview Questions

Master the art of answering interview questions with our comprehensive guide.

In a job interview, the interviewer might ask you to talk about a time when you faced a problem and overcame it. Your answer can show them how you handle challenges and stay calm when things get tough. This article explains why employers ask this question, how to give a good answer, what mistakes to avoid, and gives some examples to help you come up with your own answer.

Why do employers enquire about the time you overcame an obstacle?

Employers often inquire about instances where you’ve overcome obstacles for several reasons:

  • To gauge your problem-solving and decision-making prowess
  • To evaluate your communication skills and willingness to seek assistance
  • To assess your resourcefulness and ability to bounce back from challenges
  • To observe your self-assuredness and level of self-awareness

During an interview, demonstrating how you’ve overcome a challenge can be highly impactful. Let us help you how:

1.Think about challenges you may face in this new role

  • Understand the job description and responsibilities
  • Identify potential challenges you may face in the first 90 days and beyond
  • Consider challenges like dealing with upset or dissatisfied callers, language barriers, and disconnections
  • Reflect on past experiences where you have successfully managed similar challenges
  • Use these examples to design your answers during the interview

2. Prioritize workplace obstacles

Give examples of how you did the following-

  • Overcame obstacles in a previous professional role, highlighting skills in communication, problem-solving, customer service, and empathy.
  • Chose examples showcasing collaboration with co-workers, colleagues, and supervisors.
  • Demonstrated instincts to ask for help when needed.
  • Successfully reached a goal or solved a problem in the end.

3.  Consider challenges from your personal life

If you have limited professional experience, consider focusing on an obstacle from your personal life that demonstrates resilience and other positive characteristics. Here are some experiences you can draw from:

  • Completing a personal project.
  • Achieving a fitness goal.
  • Earning recognition.
  • Learning a new or advanced skill.
  • Participating in or placing in a competition.

For example, If you trained for and competed in a distance run, you can emphasize your self-motivation, focus, and discipline.

Ensure that the story is workplace-appropriate and that the experience you gained can be easily applied to a professional role.

4.Emphasize key soft skills

  • Review the job description: Pay close attention to the skills the employer is seeking.
  • Identify relevant skills: Consider highlighting skills like proactive thinking, quick decision-making, troubleshooting, leadership, creativity, integrity, and critical thinking.
  • Select a relevant obstacle: Choose a personal or professional obstacle that best demonstrates these skills.
  • Highlight your experience: Showcase how you used these skills to overcome the obstacle.
  • Design your response: Ensure your example aligns with the soft skills the employer is looking for in the role.

5. Use the STAR method

Behavioral Interview Questions: Questions like “Tell me about a time when you overcame an obstacle” fall into the category of behavioral interview questions. These questions are designed to understand how you apply your skills and traits in real workplace situations.

Using the STAR Method: To answer such questions effectively, it’s helpful to use the STAR method. This involves:

  • Situation: Describe the specific situation or challenge you faced.
  • Task: Explain the task or goal you needed to accomplish.
  • Action: Detail the actions you took to address the challenge.
  • Result: Conclude with the results of your efforts and what you achieved.

Example Selection: Consider various examples from your personal and professional life, ensuring each one aligns with the STAR method. Choose the example that best demonstrates your skills and is most relevant to the role you’re applying for.

When providing an example of overcoming an obstacle, it’s important to avoid the following!

Here are some examples-

  • Be Honest: Clearly explain the obstacle and why it was challenging, using the STAR method to describe the steps you took to overcome it.
  • Don’t Exaggerate: Be specific about your actions and the outcome to keep your story accurate.
  • Be Concise: Keep your answer to about two minutes to allow time for other questions.
  • Don’t Give Too Many Details: Prepare a brief outline and practice your response to streamline it.
  • Remain Positive: Show that you stay content, calm, and optimistic despite challenges.
  • Don’t Blame Others: Be objective about issues, focusing on the problem rather than individuals.
  • Focus on a Clear Obstacle: Have a clearly outlined story to demonstrate problem-solving skills.
  • Don’t Claim You’ve Never Overcome Obstacles: Use a strong example to show self-awareness and confidence in problem-solving abilities.
  • Showcase a Successful Result: Choose an example where you successfully overcame the challenge.
  • Don’t Use a Story Without a Successful Outcome: End your answer by highlighting your success and the results of your efforts.

For Example-

Situation: During a project at work, a team member unexpectedly quit, leaving the project at a critical stage with looming deadlines.

Task: As the project manager, the task was to ensure the project stayed on track despite the setback.

Action: I quickly assessed the remaining workload and reassigned tasks to existing team members to cover the gap. I also reached out to other departments for temporary assistance and negotiated with management for additional resources.

Result: Despite the initial setback, the project was completed on time and met all objectives. The experience highlighted my ability to adapt to unforeseen challenges and effectively manage resources to achieve a successful outcome.


Can I use a personal example in response to this question?

Yes, you can use a personal example if it demonstrates relevant skills and characteristics that are applicable to the job you’re interviewing for. Just ensure that the example is professional and highlights your ability to overcome challenges effectively.

Should I focus on a specific type of obstacle or challenge?

It’s beneficial to choose an obstacle that is relevant to the job or industry you’re interviewing for. However, the most important aspect is to showcase your problem-solving skills, resilience, and ability to learn from challenges, regardless of the specific type of obstacle.

How much detail should I provide in my response?

Your response should be detailed enough to provide context and demonstrate your actions and thought process. However, it’s important to be concise and focus on the key points of the story to keep the interviewer engaged.

What if I haven’t faced significant obstacles in my professional life?

If you haven’t faced major obstacles in your professional life, you can draw upon experiences from your personal life that demonstrate similar skills, such as perseverance, problem-solving, and resilience. Just ensure that the example is relevant and showcases your ability to overcome challenges effectively.

How should I structure my response to this question?

You can use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your response. Start by describing the situation or challenge you faced, then explain the task or goal you needed to accomplish, detail the actions you took to address the challenge, and finally, conclude with the results of your efforts and what you achieved.

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