During a job interview, a hiring manager may ask you this classic job interview question—“Can you describe a time when your work was criticized?” A question along these lines might sound like an attempt to get you to admit your worst on-the-job mistakes.
While hiring managers might be interested to hear about your work gaffes, what they really want to know is how you respond to stressful situations, and whether you can take suggestions and corrections with the right attitude.
They also want to get a handle on how well you could work under a variety of management styles, and if criticism of any stripe (constructive, or downright negative) makes you defensive, angry or undervalued.
Points to Emphasize
From Fortune 500 CEO to fry guy at McDonald’s, everyone—regardless of work background—should be able describe a time when their work was criticized.
You must emphasize your ability to handle criticism in a calm, cool, and collected manner when answering “Can you describe a time when your work was criticized?”
This question offers you an opportunity to showcase your willingness to take the opinions of others into consideration, and to learn from the commentary they’re putting to you, and to humbly make improvements on day-to-day work or projects when required. Here are some additional tips to keep in mind:
- Explain a situation where you improved your performance after receiving constructive criticism.
- Talk about how you listened and made changes when a boss or client critiqued your work.
- It can also be insightful to describe a time when your work was unfairly criticized, and how you were able to rebuff the criticism without making anyone look bad.
- Mention why you are flexible and professional when working with others with whom you may at times disagree.
- Give the impression that you always aim for quality work, which involves welcoming all kinds of honest input from others on the job.
Mistakes You Should Avoid
It may be easy to only describe times when your work was criticized incorrectly or unfairly if you are not thoughtful about the matter, leaving the bad impression that your work is always above reproach. This is why you must prep an answer in advance to the “Can you describe a time when your work was criticized?” interview question.
To make sure you leave a positive rather than a negative impression, watch out for these common blunders:
- Do not say that you have never been criticized at work, as this sounds as if you are bragging (or saying you are perfect).
- If you feel that you have never been criticized, dig deeper. Nobody’s perfect. If you don’t have much work experience yet, reach back to school projects, volunteering gigs, or extracurricular group activities.
- Whatever you do, do not make up a story when answering “Can you describe a time when your work was criticized?” Hiring managers can sniff out lies and exaggerations.
- Do not make the mistake of going into excessive detail about any work slip-ups—instead, focus on your positive reaction to criticism.
- Do not talk about whether the person who criticized you was in a position to offer that criticism.
- Don’t disparage anyone with your response, including yourself.
Here’s an example of how to answer “Can you describe a time when your work was criticized?”
“Like everyone, I have received input from my managers that helped me to see how my work could be improved. Once I was asked to revise a project that I had spent a lot of time on, but after listening carefully to the critique, I saw how I could make changes that would strengthen the finished product. I’m always eager to learn from people with different views and experiences, especially when the commentary can help me grow in my career, and strengthen my skillset.”
Always keep in mind that the hiring manager is hoping to find out how you tick with a question like “Can you describe a time when your work was criticized?” Use this question as a way to display your desire for growth and ability to accept constructive criticism.
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