Interview Question: Difficult feedback

» Posted by on Apr 25, 2017 in coaching, interviews, job search | Comments Off on Interview Question: Difficult feedback

Interview Question: Difficult feedback

My interview coaching clients are often asked behavioral interview questions. The theory behind behavioral interviewing is

“Past performance is the best predictor of future behavior.”

Employers conduct this type of interview to gauge your past and future work performance. They may ask you to give an example of a time you demonstrated a specific skill required in the position, or how you handled or faced a particular situation or project.

Can you handle difficult feedback?

A trend I’ve been noticing lately is employers need employees that can handle difficult feedback without falling apart. To gauge this ability, they are asking interview questions like:

“Tell me about a time when you received difficult feedback from a supervisor. What was the feedback, and what actions did you take as a result?”

Your first instinct may be to cover up and hide. You might mumble something like “I’ve not really gotten a lot of feedback,” or “Really, all of my feedback has been so positive.”


Remember to place yourself in the interviewer’s shoes. First, it’s not realistic to believe that someone has never received constructive feedback. Second, if you haven’t received constructive feedback, that may indicate that you haven’t solicited feedback, which is a red flag. Employers want employees who are actively engaged in bettering themselves by soliciting and acting upon feedback from their superiors, peers, and direct reports.

My story of receiving candid feedback

My feedback moment happened shortly after I switched from working in law firms to accounting firms. I had developed my communication style for lawyers, who liked long documents, lots of research, and fully fleshed out arguments. Using that style, I was successful in getting most of my projects and proposals approved.

Then I transitioned from law firms to accounting firms. I naively assumed that since they were professional services firms, I could use the same communication style. Wrong. I was spinning my wheels trying to get things off the ground and not having any success with the accountants, until a trusted co-worker pulled me aside to give me some candid and direct feedback. “Andrea, you’re talking way too much and not getting to the point. Accountants like numbers and bullet points. Keep it short and focused.” Ouch. Painful to hear, but upon reflection, very true. So, I adjusted my presentation style, email messages, and conversations.  As a result, I was able to communicate in a way that the accountants understood – and receive approval and support for some significant projects and proposals.

Interview preparation: Got a blind spot?

We all have them – particular habits or non-verbal behaviors we’re unaware of until someone points them out to us.  Twisting my hair,  saying “like” too frequently when speaking, and tilting my head to one side and nodding (even when I didn’t agree with what I was hearing) are some behaviors that have been pointed out to me throughout my career. If you’ve ever had someone point out a blind spot to you, that’s a great opportunity to develop a story to answer the question about receiving difficult feedback.

Still think you can’t share how you’ve received difficult feedback? Read this story about how Kim Scott from Candor Inc., author of Radical Candor, had Sheryl Sandberg tell her “Saying ‘um’ so much makes you sound stupid.”


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