Do you know your strengths? Did I hear a vehement yes, perhaps? If not, do ask your close circle of friends and colleagues, they will enlighten you. These strengths are the ones you call upon when faced with challenges.
It is hence obvious that when the question, “what challenges are you looking for in a position?” does pop up in an interview, you cite those very challenges that you have confidently overcome with your strengths. If you have had the ‘aha!’ moment just now, then perhaps you might be considering not reading any further (though I would highly recommend you do)
If you chose to read on then, what you will be able to gain from this read is:
- why is the interviewer asking the question about what challenges you would face in the role?
- why it is important to link your response to your natural strengths & how can you use your response to leave a positive impression?
- how to correlate this interview question to the job context you are applying for in a way that is advantageous to you.
We have also put in some handy examples for responses, gained from our own experience as interviewers.
Why do Interviewers ask this question?
On most occasions, the interviewer will have a detailed understanding of the role you are being assessed for. Hence, (s)he will be aware of the skills needed & challenges to be overcome, for succeeding in such a role. Given this, the interviewer will want to understand your orientation towards similar challenges or similar contexts. An understanding of your motivations, way of thinking, aptitude will provide them further insights about what you can bring to the firm.
Since this part of the assessment is so important in the interview process, it becomes crucial to create the right impact with a well thought through response.
Another important takeaway for the interviewer will be an assessment of how well you will be able to cope with the position and how successful you will be. This type of question will also help the interviewer to evaluate if you will need a coach when you join the organisation or whether you can be given something that can be done independently. Please note that in case the interviewer concludes that you need a coach, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Seasoned interviewers assess the strengths of candidates and usually assign a coach/ mentor to new joiners so that that skills can be nurtured in the right direction.
All these aspects make the interview process very complex and nuanced. It is no wonder that there are learning courses for interviewers that teach how to assess and make a selection decision. In my own previous firm, I wasn’t allowed to conduct an interview without going through an internal certification course.
The onus is hence on you, the interviewee, to make the task easier (and in your favour).
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How to answer this question?
Correlate with your natural strengths
In the short duration of the interview, you have got to put your best foot forward by being honest, humble and confident. Too much talking may lead the interviewer to conclude that you are arrogant and/or a show-off. Too little talking and the interviewer may conclude that you lack expertise and/or confidence. So, the key here is balance.
You may be wondering how to achieve this balance in your response. In order to ease the construction of your response, let us look at 3 key dimensions. At least one of these should come out very clearly in your response: your method, your mindset, your mastery.
Your way of doing things should come out as part of the response. For example: how you collaborated with the stakeholders to resolve a deadlock. Let us look at a sample response, where your approach can be articulated.
“In my own assessment, I seem to be able to influence people in reaching a consensus. So, challenging situations wherein there is a deadlock or a decision to be arrived at amongst a myriad of options, will be the kind of challenge, I look forward to. It will help me put some of my collaboration skills to good use. I spend a lot of my time bringing out the facts, pros, cons, and the impact of each option. This helps me build cohesion within the group.”
Another example to bring out your approach:
“On occasions, the person who speaks the loudest gets his/her voice heard. However, the decisions taken are not necessarily the optimal ones. These challenges are prevalent in our work context and hence I strive to create greater collaboration in the teams. My approach is to understand the detail and abstract it to a level that all stakeholders are able to comprehend it. People say that I have a good listening attitude and that helps me remove the clutter. This will avoid situations wherein decisions are being made without the required information available or without giving each option a proper representation.”
The second dimension to be brought out while responding to what challenges you are looking for in a position are your motivational factors i.e., what drives you. Be it the adrenalin rush of going after near impossible deadlines, resolving a crisis situation, root cause investigations, innovative resolutions, etc. We can leverage these to formulate your answers too.
Some of the ways this can be put to use while giving your response is:
“My approach towards tough times or crisis situations is that it gives one the license to take tactical decisions at a fast pace and then see it through. Furthermore, maintaining objectivity in these situations will remove the barriers to progress and get everyone moving in the right direction. Adopting this mindset to overcome the challenge of a crisis situation motivates me in a big way. The sense of accomplishment I get when the crisis has been overcome is really motivating. I would look forward to helping your teams through this type of challenging situations.”
“Challenges at work usually have a lot to do with meeting deadlines. This challenge becomes particularly acute if we are unable to prioritise. I would like to think of myself as a person who is able to prioritise and do a lot in a shrunk schedule. I approach stiff deadlines with a positive attitude and calm mind which helps me prioritise effectively without getting overwhelmed.”
If your role/ job has technical skills associated with it, then you can bring out your technical expertise in the manner your answer is constructed. In almost every role, there are technical nuances and skillsets that firms are looking for. Try to bring these out in your response.
“I look forward to formulating creative solutions for resolving technical issues. My extensive experience in designing helps me to deal with technical challenges effectively. I continue to nurture my technical orientation in line with industry trends, allowing me to be comfortable in technical discussions. I am fully able to comfortably pull up my sleeves and help the team address any technical challenges.”
“In several circumstances, I have seen challenges in bringing out the key messages in a post, report or article. Reading swathes of raw data and then formulating write-ups in short bite-size chunks is always a challenge that I love to face up to. Another challenge is also to write the same content, but to different audiences. This particularly tests my writing skills & understanding of varied customers. Meeting these type of challenges gives me a sense of fulfilment every time I take it on.”
The three dimensions collectively will help bring out your strengths when asked about ‘what challenges are you looking for in the position’ or ‘what challenges have you faced in your work experiences and how have you dealt with them’.
Correlate to the job context
The context in each of your responses must resonate with the job you are applying for.
For example, if you are moving from a typical corporate job to a not-for-profit organisation, you should try and bring out examples on how your skills can help with the typical challenges faced by not-for-profit organisation. How will you know that? Well, your prior research on the firm you are applying to, will have provided you some insights on their current state of affairs and their areas of focus. Using those preliminary research findings, try and present your perspectives of how you want to put your skills to use to help the organisation tackle those challenges. These kind of nuanced responses bring out several facets to your candidature – a motivated candidate with technical skills, a person who has attempted to apply the skills to the context and an eagerness to help.
The job context becomes increasingly relevant if you are shifting industries i.e. moving from manufacturing sector to the retail sector or moving from healthcare to insurance etc. It is important for the interviewer to appreciate that you are aware of how your method, mindset and mastery can be applied to the firm, even though your previous job was in a different sector.
Exclusions to the approach discussed
In some situations, and job contexts, it is absolutely okay to say that given your current work experience and family context, you are not necessarily looking for any major surprises or challenges in the position. It is possible that you already have extensive experience and, in your job there aren’t many more surprises to deal with. It is also possible that in some jobs, the routine is fairly well established and predictable e.g. retail, shop floors, etc. Please do not feel compelled to say that you are looking for challenges in a position, when you honestly do not want to.
Hopefully, you are now well equipped to deal with the question quite effectively. Please use the opportunity to link the challenges with your strengths, the ones you want the interviewer to remember. Importantly, set your responses to the context of the job you are applying for. Be genuine and be confident.
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