How to tackle Tesco's ‘Describe a time when…’ application questions

Remember that what you learned from the situation is the most important thing.

Tesco asks five ‘Describe a time when…’ questions on its graduate scheme application form regardless of which programme you’re applying for. While they might seem tricky at first glance, our breakdown of each question should give you the best chance at success.

Do you need a helping hand with Tesco’s motivation for applying application question too? Our how-to guide should do the trick.

Answering Tesco's skills-based graduate application questions

Q. Describe a time when you’ve learned from a mistake.

In your answer, please tell us:

  • What mistake did you make?

  • How did you deal with the consequences?

  • What would you do differently next time?

Please cover each of these points and do not use more than 250 words.

Don’t dwell on the mistake you made. Provide sufficient information so that Tesco recruiters understand what the mistake was and, if applicable, any reasons or mitigating circumstances that caused the mistake. But spend most of your word count explaining what you did to rectify it and the steps you’ve taken to avoid it happening again.

It is probably best to choose an example that was due to unfortunate circumstances or naïveté rather than your intrinsic personality traits.

Struggling to think of a mistake? Have you ever:

  • struggled with a piece of coursework and not asked for help from your tutor?

  • realised you’d picked a degree course that you didn’t enjoy and swapped after a term?

  • left an essay until the last minute and been unable to access the resources you needed?

  • not put in enough time to practice lacrosse, so you didn’t make the university team?

  • miscalculated the timings for your commute to your work experience placement, resulting in you being an hour late on your first day?

Q. Please describe a time when you performed particularly well as an individual.

In your answer, please tell us:

  • What was the situation?

  • What did you do?

  • What were the immediate and longer-term benefits of your performance?

Please cover each of the points and do not use more than 250 words.

A key point to remember when answering this question is that your response needs to be about you as an individual. If you’ve decided upon a team-based situation, make sure you focus on your individual performance – don’t slip into saying ‘we’.

It’s best to choose an example that required hard work, dedication or overcoming an obstacle. Perhaps you trained for and ran a marathon raising £500 for charity, or maybe you found a module particularly difficult so you studied hard for a retake and achieved your highest grade so far.

Don’t forget to answer both parts of the last question. You need to outline both the immediate and longer-term benefits of your performance. For example, if you ran marathon, the immediate benefit could be the financial boost you gave the charity and the longer-term one might be that you have continued running and, as a result, have improved your health and fitness levels.

Q. Describe a time when you had to adapt your style within a group to get the best outcome for all.

In your answer, please describe the following:

  • The situation

  • What you did to adapt

  • The result

Please cover each of the points and do not use more than 250 words.

This question is designed to assess your ability to lead, influence others, communicate and work in a team. The situation you use in your answer can be from any area of your life. Good examples you might use include:

  • leading the university football team or similar and altering your tactics on how you motivate the team – switching from focusing on the negatives in their performance to focusing on the positives and what they want to achieve, for example.

  • working as a team member in retail and changing your communication style when you talk to customers and colleagues.

  • working on a group presentation and changing the method and your communication style so that an international exchange student in your group can be involved too.

Choose an example in which your change of style had a positive effect. For example, if you changed how you motivated your football team, did the team win the next game?

Q. Describe a time when you have had to recognise the needs or feelings of another person and respond appropriately (such as a colleague, team member or customer).

In your answer, please tell us:

  • What was the situation?

  • What did you do?

  • What happened as a result?

Please cover each of these points and do not use more than 250 words.

Two of Tesco’s three core values tie in with this question. They are: ‘No one tries harder for our customers’ and ‘We treat everyone how they want to be treated’. It’s important to bear these in mind when constructing your answer – you need to show that you would fit well into the company and that you understand the importance of the customer to Tesco’s success.

Perhaps when a colleague was bereaved you offered to put in extra shifts to cover for them so that they could have some extra time off. Or, maybe you were dealing with a customer complaint and they became very upset so you had to respond sensitively.

If you’re applying for a customer-facing role such as the stores programme, use a situation involving a customer to emphasise your customer service skills.

Q. Describe a time when your approach to a task was questioned by another person.

In your answer, please describe:

  • What were you challenged on?

  • How did you deal with this?

  • What was the outcome?

Please cover each of the points and do not use more than 250 words.

As tricky as this question is, it’s an important one. In large teams and organisations like Tesco there will be some people who disagree with you. You need to show that you can deal with criticism, taking on board valid points but standing your ground where appropriate.

For example, if you were working on a group project at university and a group member disagreed with your suggestion that each member should be allocated section of the project, what did you do? Did you decide that each person should vote for with method they would prefer? Or perhaps you reached a compromise instead?

Keep it concise

Be mindful of the word count and remember to highlight what you learned from the situation. It’s a good idea to ask someone to read through your answer and tell you whether they understand the situation and the point you’re trying to get across.

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