As part of Interview Intervention: Communication That Gets You Hired, I included what I consider the 14 most effective job interview questions an employer can ask a job candidate. While there are loads of great interviewing techniques and questions, I feel it’s important to balance time and effectiveness when determining whether a candidate and employer relationship will be strong long-term.

To aid in that effort, I identified the 14 I consider the most comprehensive—to gain the best understanding of the candidate’s overall fit in the least amount of time. I am gradually releasing these through the blog and today’s is Number Nine. You can see a complete list immediately by grabbing my free download, Ace Your Job interview!

Effective Job Interview Question #9: “Describe a situation when something went wrong.”

This question is effective because it helps the employer determine a number of things such as whether the candidate responds well to adversity or is composed in stressful situations?

The employer can also disguise the question using other variations such as “Describe a situation where you faced a conflict” and “Describe a situation where you failed.”

This question is designed to determine whether you can rise above conflict and how you address adversity. A key ingredient to your response is to describe how you remained calm when you initially discovered the unfortunate turn of events. Reinforce how you recognize that mistakes, failures, and other unfortunate situations are part of growing as a company and an employee.

Once you lay the foundation with those thoughts, you can articulate the entire situation. The ultimate responses will also include how you prepared for these types of situations in advance by identifying potential risks, mitigating plans, and contingency plans in the event something goes wrong.

Below is a rather simple example for a candidate who was providing a sales presentation to a prospect:

Candidate: “I went to a prospect to deliver our final sales presentation for a sizable deal we were pursuing. The prospect indicated they would provide the necessary audio and visual equipment for the presentation, including a video machine to project the presentation onto their boardroom screen. I arrived a bit early to set up. When I got to the boardroom, the receptionist shared with me that the video projector bulbs had burned out that morning and they didn’t have an alternate machine. I wasn’t overly concerned because the previous day I spent a few minutes considering and planning for all the meeting requirements that were out of my control. The equipment was just one of them, so I anticipated something like this could occur. Before I left the office, I made hardcopies of the presentation just in case. The prospect was very appreciative and one of the individuals indicated it was a plus that I had a contingency plan. Interestingly, that unfortunate situation presented an opportunity for me to score additional points that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to if something didn’t go wrong.”


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Andrew LaCivita is an internationally recognized executive recruiter, award-winning author, trainer, and founder and chief executive officer of milewalk and the milewalk Academy. He’s dedicated his career to helping people and companies realize their potential, consulting to more than two hundred organizations and counseling more than eleven thousand individuals. He often serves as a trusted media resource and is the award-winning author of Interview Intervention, Out of Reach but in Sight, and The Hiring Prophecies.