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Answering interview questions about handling a major crisis

'Give an example of a time when you handled a major crisis.' Tricky graduate interview question

This type of question can throw you if you haven't thought about it in advance, especially as you may struggle to think of an example. However, you can turn it to your advantage.

If you haven’t thought carefully about your graduate job interview in advance, and lined up potential answers to some of the tricky questions you could get asked, you might find yourself struggling to come up with a response on the spur of the moment. This classic interview question about how you perform in a crisis could catch you out for two reasons: it could be genuinely difficult for you to come up with something that qualifies as a major crisis, and the example you give needs to reflect well on you – you don’t want to start talking about a crisis that you caused and were unable to sort out.

How not to reply to the interview question ‘Give an example of a time when you handled a major crisis’

‘During my gap year I totally ran out of money while I was abroad. Nightmare! I had to get my parents to wire me some to bail me out.’

Why is this answer unlikely to get you the graduate job you want?

You need to explain the context of the crisis without implicating yourself in its creation, and you should focus on what you did to sort the problem out rather than implying that somebody else had to come to your rescue.

Feel free to reframe the question if you need to. It’s a similar question to ‘Can you give an example of a time when you had to deal with a difficult situation?’ or ‘Give an example of a time when you had to cope under pressure.’ However, ‘crisis’ is a much stronger, more emotive word.

What is the graduate recruiter really asking?

‘Are you the sort of person we really want to have on board when the going gets tough, or do you go to pieces as soon as you experience stress? How resilient are you? What kind of rational initiative would you take when faced with an unexpected problem?’

So how should you tackle the question ‘Give me an example of a time when you handled a major crisis’?

Show that your common sense, forward planning, use of initiative, interpersonal skills and problem solving abilities help you to manage tricky situations. Employers are looking for evidence of a calm, practical approach under pressure.

You might say something like, ‘While I was travelling abroad during my gap year I found myself stranded because of disruption to flights after a natural disaster in the region. Luckily I’d looked up advice on how to cope with unexpected travel problems before I set off and had made sure that I had all the contact details and documents I needed on me. I had already worked out how to stay in touch with friends and family in case of a crisis. I followed the news carefully and used my initiative and understanding of social media to band together with some other stranded travellers and share alternative transport home.’

You could also say, ‘I haven’t faced a situation that could really be described as a major crisis, but this is an example of how I coped with a challenging situation.’ You could take examples from experiences such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s award, university, industrial training or summer vacation work – anything that shows your ability to react constructively when you’re in a tight corner.

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