Interviewer: Describe a challenge you've overcome

I’m getting ready for a job interview, and have been told I need to prepare to discuss “three challenges I have faced and overcome”. The organization I’m applying to has a very strong social bent, making me suspect they’d like to hear about some big life challenges (like working one’s way up from poverty), as opposed to more mundane things, like accomplishing a task at work with limited time and resources. The thing is, on the macro level, I’m fortunate to have lead a happy, stable life in most respects: loving family, middle-middle class upbringing, decent health, etc. Very lucky, really.

So I guess I’m just curious: anyone else been in this situation? What was your approach? And am I just totally wrong in thinking they want to hear about personal challenges in the first place?

They’re most likely looking for insight into your initiative, work ethic and methodology - so it doesn’t matter whether they’re personal or business examples (although a balanced mix is probably wise).

If you can, pick examples where you took the initiative to do something that needed doing, but perhaps was initially unpopular, or was not immediately obvious (and needed you to argue the case), or that required you to juggle, resolve and mediate a collection of potentially conflicting interests or viewpoints.

I concur with Mangetout here. That is exactly what they’re looking for.

This is not why I’m writing, though. It seems like you’re having a little difficulty bringing up examples from your rather nice life. I’m sure you can think of some good examples, though.

Try thinking of really mundane stuff that you nevertheless handled rather creatively…

Couldn’t get the top off a bottle of soda pop in your hotel room because you had no opener? Tell 'em how you used the slot for the door latch in the bathroom which just happened to fit the cap. (I know, it was a bottle of beer, but let’s not go there; it’s an interview)

Changing a flat tire and kicked the lug nuts into the storm drain? Tell 'em how you took one from each of the other three wheels and this let you drive slowly to the nearest garage to get more.

Server at work went down? Describe how yuo rewired the office copier and made it into a file server. (Okay, that may be a bit much…)

But you get the idea. Try thinking along those lines and I’ll bet you come up with some good examples.

And best of luck on your interview!

Is the organisation actually in the business of helping needy people? - if so, it might be a bit cheesy, but for one of your challenges, you could actually talk about the challenge of having to meet this task (of describing three difficult challenges) - if you think it will be well received, you could actually be frank about having a fairly ordinary life and having been privileged to be in a position where you don’t have to face any life-threatening dangers or challenges, and (if you can say it honestly) how this makes you want to even things out.

You’ve got to decide if that could work though - because it might just backfire if it’s not appropriate.

If possible, you should try to come out with examples that fit the skills/attitudes/abilities they’re looking for. So if it’s a role that’s mainly about your relationships with people, (e.g. customers, suppliers, clients) you should pick an example of a time you used “people skills”. It doesn’t have to be work related - maybe you had some kind of conflict with your kid’s teacher - but it should demonstrate that you can work with people. Similarly, if there are any technical aspects to the role, pick an example of a time you applied your technical skills to a challenge.

They should have given you a job description or similar before the interview. In other words, they’ve told what kind of answers will get you the job. So give them those answers.

Thanks all, this is really helpful, and has given me some good ideas of directions I can go in.

Yes, it is basically in the business of helping needy people, and this could be a good tack to take…thanks!!

Potential misstep - don’t regale them with the tale of how you overcame the problem of getting out of bed and facing the day despite your crippling depression and 4-alarm hangover. That was a bad choice.