Interview Question: "What Is the Biggest Challenge You've Faced In Work?"

By Indeed Editorial Team

February 22, 2021

During an interview, a hiring manager may ask you about previous challenges you've faced in the workplace. While you may not know how to answer this question initially, there are many effective ways to answer it that highlight your problem-solving skills and professionalism. Preparing for this question ahead of time provides you with greater confidence and gives you a better chance of impressing the hiring manager. In this article, we answer why employers ask this question, explain how to answer it and provide you with a list of example answers.

Related: 100 Common Job Interview Questions

Why employers ask "What is the biggest challenge you've faced in work?"

When employers ask you this interview question, they want to know what struggles you've faced in your previous jobs and how you overcame them. They also want to assess your problem-solving skills, which gives them an idea of how you'd face similar challenges in the role you're interviewing for. To identify challenges you've faced in your previous positions, consider any instances that presented a struggle you were able to solve or overcome.

Related: 125 Common Interview Questions and Answers (With Tips)

How to answer "What is the biggest challenge you've faced in work?"

When a hiring manager asks you about the biggest challenge you've faced in work, provide them with an honest response that shows your strength as an employee. Use these steps for answering this interview question:

1. Consider previous challenges you've faced

To answer this question effectively, consider any work-related situations that presented challenges in your previous roles. This can include any time you faced a struggle or found a solution for a particular problem. While it's important for the anecdote you provide to highlight your problem-solving skills, you can also show your analytical skills if there was ever a time you found a problem that no one else did.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

2. Tailor your answer to the job description

Make sure the answer you provide aligns with the duties of the job you're interviewing for. For example, if you're applying for a customer-facing job, consider previous instances where you handled a difficult customer with ease.

To tailor your answer to the job description, take the time to review the job posting or job description prior to the interview. Then, determine similar issues you've overcome in your current or previous positions that relate to the job you're interviewing for.

3. Be specific about why they were challenges

When you start your answer, identify what made it such a big challenge for you. Make sure the answer you provide shows your problem-solving process. Give them as much context as you can so they get a clear idea of how you handle these types of situations. It's also important to let the interviewer know what you learned from the experience and how you can apply it to the role at their company.

4. Be honest

Instead of making it look like you've had an easy career, be honest with the interviewer regarding your previous challenges. Doing this shows you're taking the question seriously and that you have nothing to hide when it comes to your previous struggles.

5. Make sure your answers present you in a positive light

Be careful about the examples and anecdotes you provide in your answer. For example, if you faced a challenge that you caused, avoid mentioning it during your interview. Instead, consider highlighting situations that showed you in a heroic light or that showed you effectively working as part of a team. After all, it's important for your anecdotes to show your strengths rather than your weaknesses as an employee.

6. Use nonprofessional examples if necessary

If you don't have much work experience and therefore no work-related challenges to speak about, use an example from your education, volunteer work or any sports activities you were a part of. If you do this, make sure to tie your previous actions to your professional life and the job description of the job you're applying for. No matter your work experience, make sure to avoid personal anecdotes as they relate to your health or other aspects of your personal life.

Related: 21 Job Interview Tips: How To Make a Great Impression

Example answers

In the event that a hiring manager asks this interview question, it helps to consider example answers. Seeing how you can answer this question effectively can help you determine how you want to answer the question yourself. Consider the following examples for this interview question:

Example: "In my most recent role, a former coworker left her job unexpectedly. During this time, she was the team leader on an important new project. When she left, my manager asked me to take it over. While I had never performed her job duties in the past, I had previous leadership experience. Using my leadership and problem-solving skills, I pushed the project forward, encouraged the rest of the team and completed her responsibilities as well as mine. We were able to complete this project successfully and on deadline."

Example 2: "In one of my recent roles, we had a disgruntled customer who was unhappy with her purchase. I offered to speak with her and took the time to listen to her concerns. Once she was calm, I offered her various options to help resolve the issue. When she decided on the solution that best suited her, she thanked me for my time and ended up making another purchase with us in the future. While I helped rectify this situation, I also ensured we kept her as a customer."

Example 3: "As a college freshman, one of my biggest challenges was keeping up with the volume of work compared to what I was used to in college. When I noticed myself feeling overwhelmed, I worked on my organization and time management skills. I also reached out for help from my professors, joined study groups and worked on creating a structured schedule which helped me focus on the tasks at hand. Everything I learned from this is what I hope to carry into this role with your company."

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