Interview Question: "How Do You Handle Criticism?"

Updated February 3, 2023

In an interview, employers often ask candidates how they handle criticism in the workplace. Being able to accept and make changes based on constructive criticism can help employees improve their overall performance and potentially even advance. Reviewing advice for how to respond to this question can help you demonstrate to potential employers that you're receptive to constructive feedback and believe in using it to improve.

In this article, we discuss how to respond to this common interview question and provide example answers.

Related: Steps To Handle Criticism at Work

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Why employers ask how you handle criticism

"How do you handle criticism?" is a behavioral interview question that interviewers ask to assess how well you handle challenging situations and determine whether you can accept and apply constructive criticism. By evaluating your ability to accept criticism in a previous role, they can learn more about you as an employee and how you would perform in a new workplace. The interviewer is usually less interested in the type of criticism you received and more interested in how you handled it.

Criticism, when given constructively, is extremely beneficial for helping employees improve their performance. During an interview, the hiring manager is seeking to identify the candidates who are most adept at using criticism as a tool to perform better in their roles.

Interviewers also use this question to determine how well a candidate can accept different management styles and in which type of work environments you are most successful. They also want to know how self-aware a candidate is and whether they are actively working to improve themselves.

Related: How To Answer Behavioral Interview Questions

How to answer when an interviewer asks how you handle criticism

Here are some steps you can take to successfully answer questions about how you handle criticism:

1. Brainstorm your answer

Because this is a challenging question, it's important to think through your response before the interview. Start by brainstorming possible answers:

  • Think of times that you've made a mistake at work or not performed as well as you could have.

  • Consider how your manager, teammates or clients responded when this happened. Think about the feedback they gave you and any suggestions they offered on how to improve in the future.

  • Think about your response to their feedback, whether you accepted and applied it constructively and what you would do differently.

2. Use the STAR method

As with any behavioral interview question, structure your answer using the STAR method with the following steps:

  • Situation: Begin by describing a specific situation in which you received criticism. Make sure to select a situation where the criticism was constructive. Tell the interviewer when and why the situation occurred and who was involved.

  • Task: Next, tell the interviewer what the criticism was. This is the improvement that the person who gave the feedback tasked you with making.

  • Action: Now, explain what steps you took to improve based on the criticism you received. Be as specific as possible without being too wordy.

  • Results: Close your answer by describing the results of your efforts. This is where you show that you've received constructive criticism well and used it to strive toward self-improvement.

Keep your answers simple and to the point. Each letter of the STAR acronym should only require one to two sentences to explain.

3. Explain how the criticism helped you improve professionally

The best responses to this interview question explain how the feedback you received helped you grow professionally. For example, if your manager approached you because your performance was decreasing because of feeling overworked, you could tell the interviewer that you're now more proactive in asking for help when your workload becomes challenging. You could even discuss additional steps you have taken to avoid future related problems. For example, you may have developed new processes to eliminate redundancies in the workplace or created new systems to minimize the likelihood of mistakes.

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Example responses by role

Here are some examples by role to help you craft your own responses to this question:

Responding as a store manager

Situation: "While I was assistant manager at the outdoor gear store, I was responsible for making sure the store had adequate camping inventory before the start of the summer season. I ordered the same number of tents that I had ordered the previous year, but unfortunately, we ran out of tents by the first day of spring."

Task: "My manager let me know he was disappointed that we had run out of inventory and that they had expected me to anticipate the demand and be prepared with a sufficient supply of tents."

Action: "After my manager spoke with me, I went back and looked at our historic tent sales. I learned that demand for tents had been increasing by about 10% per season for the last five years."

Results: "The following year, I was again in charge of ordering all of the camping inventory before summer. As a result of reviewing the sale history, I stocked enough tents to sell 15% more than the previous year's tent sale, so we had an adequate supply of tents for the entire season."

Responding as an engineer

Situation: "At my previous engineering firm, a member of the Young Professionals group started a voluntary project in which she polled the other Young Professionals to get their feedback on the company culture and training programs. When she spoke with me about it, I got very excited and the next time I spoke with my manager I mentioned it to him."

Task: "When my colleague found out that I had told management, she let me know that she was not pleased. She had not wanted management to know about her project until she was ready to present the results, and she felt I was wrong to tell my manager."

Action: "I apologized to my colleague and let her know that I had had no ill intentions. The next time she mentioned a Young Professionals project to me, I made sure to ask her permission before telling anyone else."

Results: "My colleague was pleased when I asked her permission and even invited me to join her in helping achieve the new project's objectives."

Responding as a marketing associate

Situation: "Last year my marketing team put together an ad campaign for a new client in the food and beverage industry. When we submitted the new slogan to the client, they were not happy with our idea."

Task: "The client made us aware that the new slogan did not align well with their mission statement and that they were disappointed that we hadn't researched to find out what the mission statement was before our work on the campaign."

Action: "We apologized to the client for the oversight and worked overtime to come up with a new slogan, which we submitted to the client less than one week after their complaint at no additional cost."

Result: "Our client was very pleased with the new slogan and appreciated our willingness to get it to them quickly and for no added fee. They continue to do business with the firm today."

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