Give Me An Example Of…

You know those interview questions that start off with “give me an example of…?” Give me an example of a problem you faced and how the situation was resolved. Give me an example of a situation where you didn’t get along with someone and how you handled it.

When I conduct practice interviews questions like the above tend to get people into trouble. The questions are used to measure three things. Being aware of what those three things are will help you tackle them effectively.

One, can the candidate identify a meaningful example on the spot. It’s easy to draw a blank on these types of questions. Not being prepared is a sure fire way to struggle here. Another reason is often that the person I’m interviewing is trying to come up with an example in the extreme. There is a need to share a huge problem or big personality clash. The truth is, not everyone has something extreme to share. In addition, sharing something controversial and dramatic could also add negative vibes to the interview. Examples don’t need to be outrageous. Picking something that is relevant, yet simple, works. If your a sales pro, speak of a time when what was promised to a customer couldn’t be delivered and how you made things better. If your an IT pro, share a situation when the network crashed during a key time and how you saved the day. For the examples of personality clashes, share an incident, not an ongoing saga, where there was a clash that you were able to work around. There is no need to invite the backstabbing jerk who is sleeping with the boss into your interview. Got it!

Two, can the candidate speak of less than ideal situations in a succinct way, without getting weighed down in the minutia of the negative, and move to solution mode quickly. Though these types of questions have two parts, it’s been my experience candidates tend to dedicate most of their time to discussing the problem, the person they didn’t get along with, etc., and then spend a fraction of a time on sharing the solution, if they even remember the question had two parts. Individuals who show an affinity to focus on the negative and who are more detailed when sharing obstacles than solutions don’t have “hire me” stamped on their foreheads.

Three, can the candidate demonstrate an aptitude to work through obstacles. At the end of the day, employers want to know the candidate can recognize things that aren’t working and figure out how to get a better outcome. That doesn’t mean you have to show you can go it alone. There is a time to handle things yourself and times to invite the appropriate level of management into the equation. Do you know when those times are? Are you one to act or to sit by and wait for someone else to solve something? Can you even tell when something is amiss?

In a nutshell, these questions don’t have to stress you out and don’t require you to weigh your interview down with stories of toxic situations.



  • Blake says:

    Very nice! Quick question: is there a Top 5 “Give me an example of…” questions that typically get asked during an interview?

    Great blog – keep writing!!


  • Tiffenator says:

    Excellent advice :) These are behavioral based interview questions and one of the best ways to remember how to answer them is by using the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action and Result. Best advice is to practice, out loud in front of a mirror or even on a webcam, until you become comfortable with being able to answer these types of questions. Questions like, “give me a time when you had to work with a disagreeable co-worker and how you handled it,” “tell me about a time when you didn’t agree with an assigned task and what did you do,” etc.

  • Tracey Maroney says:

    Nice article Lisa! Very interesting and a good read as usual!

  • Emily says:

    You break it down SO WELL. Perfect. I always had an example from each of my past jobs, in case they focused on one in particular. I completely agree with you on the extreme-ness of the example. It is also a good idea to find examples applicable to the job you’re discussing.

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