First, it’s important to know whether your interview will have the question, “Tell me about a time you had to give someone difficult feedback.”
Not every interview will include this question.
It depends on the kind of job you are applying for.
However, if you are interviewing for a position that will require you to supervise or manage others, you are almost guaranteed to be asked about a time when you had to give someone difficult feedback.
Here is one great way to answer the interview question, “Describe a time you gave someone difficult feedback.”
Tell me about a time you gave difficult feedback.
In my previous job, I was responsible for managing a team of five employees. One of my team members, let’s call her Sarah, was consistently falling behind on her tasks and missing deadlines.
As her manager, it was my responsibility to give her feedback on her performance and find a way to help her improve.
I scheduled a one-on-one meeting with Sarah and started by asking her how she felt about her work and if there were any challenges she was facing. After listening to her concerns, I explained to her that her work was not meeting the expectations of the team and that it was important for her to improve her performance. I provided specific examples of where she was falling short and offered suggestions on how she could improve.
Sarah initially seemed defensive and upset, but after a few days she came back to me and thanked me for being honest with her. She took my feedback seriously and made a concerted effort to improve her performance. Over time, she became one of the strongest members of the team and was able to take on additional responsibilities.
Now we’ll break down the process of creating your own answer and provide another example.
The Reason Behind the Question
First of all, why are you being asked how you handle this situation?
Offering effective feedback or critiquing someone is not an exact science.
It requires tact, empathy, and most importantly, experience.
Your interviewer wants to determine your skills in such circumstances.
- Do you come across as awkward, or worse, tactless?
- Or do you have the ability to address issues and motivate others during difficult times?
If you’ve been in managerial situations before, you know that supervising others often necessitates difficult conversations.
If you are uncomfortable with approaching others in these situations, you probably wouldn’t make a great manager.
But if you know how to give someone difficult feedback with tact and grace, you have a highly-prized skill.
How to Answer This Question
Focus on the distinct personality traits that make you a great people person.
Good managers are great with other people.
They are professional, empathetic, trustworthy, and most importantly, they have the ability to lead in difficult situations.
Make sure you emphasize these traits when providing your example.
Here is how to answer this behavioral interview question using the STACK method.
Situation – Task – Action – Conclusion – Keep it Positive
1. Introduce the Situation
This is where you describe the context of the situation.
One of the worst things you could do during your interview is to give vague responses.
It’s important to provide enough detail so that the interviewer can understand the scenario you’re describing.
You should also explain why the situation was important or relevant.
Describe a time you had to give someone difficult feedback.
Candidate: Part 1 (Situation)
A couple of months ago, I gave a new staff member the task of compiling and sending out our monthly e-newsletter.
She used images with very high resolution, which affected the newsletter’s formatting, making it unreadable for subscribers.
We had several people unsubscribe as a result.
2. Explain the Task
This is where you explain what task or goal you were trying to achieve in the situation.
You should be specific and describe what was expected of you.
The hiring manager is going to want to know that you are extremely comfortable in these sorts of situations.
Someone who second-guesses their judgment and feedback will not make for a great leader.
Candidate: Part 2 (Task)
As the employee’s manager, I had to make sure this didn’t happen again so we didn’t lose more subscribers.
I also wanted to make sure the employee felt like she was trained thoroughly.
3. Describe the actions you took
This is where you describe the actions you took to achieve the task or goal.
You should explain your thought process and how you approached the situation.
It’s important to focus on what you did specifically, rather than what your team or colleagues did.
Showing your interviewer that you prepared a strategy before you offered the negative feedback is a great way to show that you care.
It also shows you are not an impulsive manager who neglects planning.
Lack of preparation in a situation like this could be devastating for yourself and the person you are offering feedback to.
Candidate: Part 3 (Action)
Rather than immediately confronting her, I put together a folder of lower-resolution images that she could use for future newsletters.
I know negative feedback is hard to hear, especially when it’s someone’s first attempt at a task, so I wanted to make it a little easier.
I met with this employee and started the conversation with something good she had done.
I took note of a couple of strong points in the newsletter; the lead story she had chosen and the organization of her material were both excellent.
I explained the formatting problems to her, showing her on my phone how the newsletter would have appeared to readers.
I then mentioned her creativity and attention to detail with the rest of the newsletter.
Many leaders use the “sandwich method” to give critical feedback. Start with the positive, proceed to the negative feedback, end with something positive. The positive is the bread, and the negative is the meat/cheese.
4. Add the conclusion
This is where you explain the outcome of your actions.
You should describe the impact you had on the situation and what was learned from it.
The sample response below shows a supervisor who is concerned and takes the time to teach skills to staff members.
Convey that you know how to be firm with your feedback, but that you also remember to keep it constructive.
Candidate: Part 4 (Conclusion)
She expressed that she had been aware of the problem, but wasn’t sure how to fix it.
We discussed how to fix the issues, and I emailed her the folder with low-res images.
I also gave her the name of another staff member who could assist with the e-newsletter next time around.
We agreed that she would send a test version of the newsletter to several coworkers before sending it to clients.
5. Use a story with a positive ending
It’s important to focus on positive outcomes and show how your actions had a positive impact.
Don’t use an example that didn’t end well!
Candidate: Part 5 (Keep it Positive)
The following month, there were no problems, and I stopped by her office to compliment her on a job well done!
Let your leaderships skills shine! Be sure your answers show that you thought carefully about the feedback and that you were positive and confident in your delivery.
Answering the interview question, “Tell me about a time you gave difficult feedback,” can be challenging, but with the right approach, it can be an opportunity to showcase your communication and problem-solving skills.
It’s important to provide specific examples, focus on the positive outcome, and demonstrate your ability to handle difficult situations with professionalism and empathy.
By following these tips, you can impress your interviewer and show that you’re capable of navigating challenging conversations in the workplace.
Additionally, with the help of Find My Profession‘s resume and reverse recruiting services, you can further highlight your leadership skills and increase your chances of landing the job.
Find My Profession is a leading provider of career services, including resume writing, LinkedIn profile optimization, and reverse recruiting. Their team of experts has helped thousands of professionals land their dream jobs by providing personalized support and guidance throughout the job search process.
(For more interviewing tips, be sure to check out the 50 Top Job Interview Questions And Answers.)