ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Critical Interview Question

Updated on June 10, 2012

Whether you are the applicant or the interviewer the job interview is your opportunity to ensure this is the right fit. As an interviewee you dress up, study the latest buzz words and prepare for the "what are your strengths and weaknesses" question. I've heard a lot of people that think that is the critical question, but over the years I have found that regardless of the profession, there is a more "magical question" that gets me the information I am seeking about an applicant.

As the interviewer, you set the tone and it is you that really controls the opportunity to measure up this person as a potential good fit in that first 20 minutes. So this hub is mostly written with a suggestion to the interviewer, it's the critical question that I have found gets the best results, I've used this question over the last 20 years in various industries and positions, it works across the board, from hiring part time sales staff in a retail store, hiring a new welder for friend's company, or hiring technical staff for an IT shop. I will confess I haven't used it in Real Estate but I don't do any hiring there, I simply sell houses.

So what is the question and when do you ask it? I usually start out the interview getting them warmed up and relaxed, asking one or two easy questions so that they are not taken off guard. Then, at question #3 or 4, it comes...."So, Tell me about a time that you felt like you were in over your head" and if they look confused and need more time to start answering, I follow with, "It can be anything, maybe you were tasked with something you didn't know how to do, or you had too much to do and not enough time to get it done, it could be from school or work or some other social activity, really just anything where what was needed was more than you were prepared to handle, and what did you do, how did you handle it, etc"

Yes that really is one question, it is "how do you rise to a challenge" but if you ask it that way you will get a BS answer that they have practiced with a friend, when you ask it they way I have they have to tell a real story and if you keep track of the details you'll spot a liar real quick. It may be that the person is lazy and has never been challenged because no one will ask them to do anything, it may be that the person has a habit of blaming others for all of their own problems. It may be that the person reacted with anger to a stressful situation and refused to make things happen, it may be that the person asked for help, did their best and still failed, but they have a great attitude and if you continue to dig when they provide an answer you'll see that they learned something from this situation and have applied it again since then. Sometimes the person did what they had to do to get through it, they didn't "fail" and they too learned something.

It's not really that complicated. The key to making this question so great is to dig, listen in their answer for the situation they describe, did it happen to them or did they create it? listen to the issues they described as a problem, did they run away from them, blame someone else or muddle through, listen to the result they offer, do they know how they would do it differently, are they just glad it's over, or are they too busy blaming management and others for the bad outcome to have any reflection at all. All of this will tell you if the person is most likely a team player, if they step up when needed and if they take ownership in the goals and mission, or if they are the type that expects to sit back and be served by you, the employer. It should also tell you if they are a leader or a follower, either one can be good, in some positions you might not want a strong "leader" because they are too busy making a better "widget or service" to bother to just produce the one you requested. This question helps you find if they have balance between thinking outside the box and sucking it up and just doing what has to be done. If they were too much of a perfectionist to complete a task or too scattered to care about details it will likely show in the answer. Whether or not any of this is a good fit is of course based on your organizations needs. They key is to know what you need and to use this question to see if the person is a good fit.

Of course if you are the applicant reading this, my best suggestion is be prepared for this question, think about how you would answer it and if you find that you are busy blaming others, then you need to work on that more than you work on your planned answers. Changing your attitude about who is responsible and what you can do or not do in any given situation will have a far greater impact. Broadening your perspective and attitude is the key, the answers will fall in line once you have done this.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)