If this interview question sounds intimidating, then you have it all wrong.
Being asked what is the most difficult decision you have made in the last two years is an absolute gold mine!
This is your opportunity to showcase how amazing you are at critical thinking, problem-solving, and making a positive impact.
Reasons behind the question
There are a few ways the hiring manager might phrase this question, including:
- “What are some difficult choices you have to make in your position?”
- “Have you ever needed to make a very difficult decision at work?"
- "In your position, what is the most difficult decision you remember making?"
Regardless of the wording, there is one simple thing the hiring manager wants to find out ...
Can you handle the pressure of making a difficult work decision?
So, use this interview question as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to operate smoothly even in difficult situations.
Things to remember
1. Keep it work-related
If you had an extremely difficult decision to make recently that had to do with family or friends, keep it to yourself. (Even if that is “the most difficult decision" you have made.)
It is better to move on to the second or third most difficult decision as long as it relates to work.
Remember, this is a work interview.
It stands to reason that your response should involve the workplace.
2. Provide an example that results in something positive
You want to showcase your critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
If you give an example with a negative ending, that will probably reflect poorly on these skills.
Perhaps you made a reasonable and logical decision.
However, for reasons outside your control, it went south.
Even if it was not your fault that things didn't work out, don't share this story.
Choose one that had a happy ending.
If possible, add specific details or statistics to prove it was a good decision.
3. Showcase your skills
The entire purpose of this question is for the interviewer to learn about your thinking process behind making decisions.
- Are you someone who doesn’t think things through?
- Do you just “wing it” and get lucky?
- Are you the type of person who has a rhyme or reason for the things you do?
For the sake of the interview, at least pretend that you put some thought into your decision. (For the sake of the job itself, let's hope it's not just pretending.)
(For more interview tips, check out the 50 Top Job Interview Questions And Answers.)
Responses to avoid
Naturally, there are certain responses you would want to avoid.
1. Avoid sounding unconcerned or harsh.
This particularly applies to difficult decisions involving other employees.
You want to come across as sympathetic and involved, especially if you will be responsible for managing or supervising others in the prospective position.
2. Avoid responses that make you seem uncertain.
No one will ever be 100% confident of a decision they are making at the time.
But this doesn't mean you need to share that same sense of uncertainty or indecisiveness during the interview.
Even if you had a hard time making the decision, convey confidence in your answer.
You want to assure the hiring manager that you are capable of making tough decisions.
Practice your response
Before you go into your interview, take some time to think through this question and come up with an answer.
What is the most difficult decision you have made in the last two years?
If you don’t know of any, start putting some thought into this.
- Reflect on some hard decisions you have made in the workplace.
- Pick the decision that will do the best job of showcasing relevant skills.
- This is regardless of whether it was actually the most difficult decision you have made.
- Prepare your response with wording the reflects confidence and professionalism.
By spending a little time in preparation, you can be a step ahead of the other candidates by crafting a powerful response to this interview question.
To help you get started, here are a few categories of difficult decisions that those in management positions might need to make:
- Choosing whom to promote among several good employees
- Deciding where to cut expenses to maintain a company budget
- Decisions regarding layoffs during a company downturn
- Deciding if and when to fire an employee who is not working as they should
- Choosing whom to hire among a number of decent candidates
Clearly, some of these are very difficult decisions to make.
As such, use wording that ensures you come across as professional and positive.
For example, if you share an example in which you needed to make some difficult budget cuts, stress how you did so in a professional manner.
Also, indicate the positive results of that decision.
Here is a slightly tweaked example from LiveCareer
“Two years ago I was offered the opportunity to move up within my company. The promotion would have included a pay raise, better benefits, and a more prestigious title in another department.
However, I was at a critical point in time with several projects and was concerned that moving at that time might jeopardize progress and create negative consequences for employees I supervised.
I expressed gratitude to my superiors for the opportunity and discussed my concerns. We came to an agreement that it was best for the company that I remain in my current role for the time being, with the possibility of accepting the promotion at a later time.”
The above response demonstrates positive leadership characteristics.
The applicant shows ...
- A sense of responsibility
- Concern for employees
- Teamworking, by counseling with others
- Gratitude for the opportunity
If you can demonstrate great qualities such as these when crafting your response, you'll be sure to excel in your interview!
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