Interview Tips

How to Answer: How Do You Make a Difficult Decision?

By: Emily Totura 
Aug 21, 2020 • 10 min read

How to answer: How do you make a difficult decision?

Making any decision can be hard, and answering this question in an interview can be challenging, too. So, why are interviewers asking you this question? As with any new job, you’ll be under a lot of pressure. The interviewer wants to know that you have the ability to critically think and that you can handle the stress of any challenge thrown your way. This question can also be phrased in different ways like, “how do you make important decisions?” The key thing to keep in mind when preparing for this question is that you want the interviewer to know that you can make a difficult decision and work independently—this is especially important in entry-level jobs where you might not have that much experience. So, let’s get into it! 

difficult decision

Step 1: Explain your process of making difficult decisions 

You want your interviewer to know that rather than being spastic, you have a thought-out system for how you make tough choices. You don’t want to seem like you’re a computer following an algorithm. So, you need to make it known that there are steps you take to make any decision. Avoid saying anything like, “I listen to my gut feeling” or that you “wing it.” This isn’t what they want to hear. Even when you have to decide on the spot, you should still have a logical way of making a decision. Everyone has a different process, and that’s okay! You might be someone who likes feedback from others. Or, you might have a more logical approach and refer to statistics and facts—maybe even both. As with most hard decisions, not everyone will be happy with the result. Let the interviewer know, subtly, that your emotions don’t affect your decision too much. For example, if the outcome could affect a coworker that you have a relationship with. Overall, your process is personal, but you need to demonstrate that you take the time to think about the situation before rushing to make your decision. 

You can say something like, “Depending on how much time I have, I usually try to get as much information possible. I like to use other resources to help me, such as research and insight from coworkers who understand the situation better. If I had to make a similar decision in the past, I use that experience to help me as well. After compiling everything together, I take the time to weigh the pros and cons before making the decision.” 

Step 2: Give an example from a past experience

The best way to show how you make decisions, and to stand out amongst all the other interviewees, is to give an example. This doesn’t have to be a lengthy story, but you want to share with the interviewer a time when you were presented with a situation where you needed to make a tough decision. This experience could be from a previous job or school. Just make sure that it’s professional, demonstrates your ability to critically think, and one that has a positive outcome. This is your chance to show off! Remember, it doesn’t have to be an astounding experience where you solved a company’s biggest problem, and it can be as simple as managing your priorities. 

For example, “Last semester, I was taking an accounting class with a professor that I did not connect with, and I was failing the class. At first, I didn’t want to withdraw. So, I spent more time studying. I went to office hours weekly, and I got help from the tutoring center. After a few weeks, I was still doing poorly in the class, and my other courses were suffering from this. I decided to make the difficult decision to withdraw. I ended up re-taking the course over the summer, and I received an A in the class.” 

In these kinds of scenarios that are more on the negative side, make sure to end on a positive note. What did you gain from the experience, and how was this decision helpful to you or others involved? 

difficult decision

Final Tips

There are a lot of different routes you can go to when answering this question, and some are more personal. Regardless, be optimistic in your answer! You should keep your answer to around 5 sentences. However, it never hurts to throw in a sentence or two about what you learned from the experience, or how it affected your decision-making process for the future. It’s also a plus if you relate your answer to something that isn’t blatantly stated on your resume. For example, if you babysit or help with an elderly family member. Sometimes this question is randomly thrown into the mix of questions on an interview because they want to catch you off guard and see how comfortable and prepared you are. So, taking the time to think about your difficult decision-making process, along with some examples, can give you some bonus points on any interview. As long as you show the interviewer that you have a process and the ability to think things through logically, you are golden!  

Do you have a process for making difficult decisions? How do you go about making tough choices, and how do you communicate this in an interview? Let us know! 

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