Interview Q&A: Can You Describe a Time When Your Work Was Criticized?

Gabriela Hernandez
by Gabriela Hernandez   CPRW, Career Advice Expert 
Last Updated: June 22, 2023

Specific questions require more effort and premeditation during job interviews to answer correctly. One question that catches candidates off guard is, “Can you describe a time when your work was criticized?” This seemingly tricky inquiry aims to assess an individual’s ability to handle and grow from constructive feedback.

In this article, we will touch on the following topics:

  • Why do employers ask this question
  • How to answer this question step-by-step
  • Examples of well-crafted responses
  • Common mistakes to avoid

Why employers ask this question

When employers ask about a time when your work was criticized, they’re not trying to discover a fault that makes you unhireable. This question helps recruiters gauge your ability to receive and act upon feedback. Other common reasons employers ask this interview question are:

Assessing accountability and self-awareness

Employers want to know if you can take ownership of your work and be accountable for your mistakes. By asking about a time when your work faced criticism, they want to know if you can take it, learn from mistakes and improve your work. This question allows them to gauge if you possess the humility and maturity needed to reflect on feedback and improve.

Evaluating resilience and adaptability

In the professional world, setbacks and criticism are inevitable. When employers ask if your work has been criticized, they want to know how you respond to challenges and whether you can bounce back from setbacks. The correct response will reassure them that you possess the composure and adaptability to use criticism for the better.

Assessing communication and interpersonal skills

How you navigate criticism speaks volumes about your communication and interpersonal skills. Employers want to know how you communicate your point of view and resolve conflicts that may arise from criticism. By answering this question correctly, you can give employers a glimpse into your ability to handle challenging conversations and work constructively with colleagues or superiors.

Determining a growth mindset and continuous improvement

Employers value candidates with a growth mindset – an attitude that embraces challenges and seeks opportunities for growth and improvement. By asking about a time when your work faced criticism, interviewers want to evaluate your willingness to learn from feedback, adapt your approach and strive for continuous improvement. They want to know if you can turn criticism into a personal and professional growth catalyst.

Now that you understand the motivations behind employers asking this interview question, you can prepare your answer. In the following section, we’ll share some helpful strategies to structure your response.

How to answer this question

Crafting a thoughtful and compelling response to the question, “Can you describe a time when your work was criticized?” requires careful consideration and preparation. Here are some critical steps to help you answer this question effectively:

  • Select an appropriate example

    Choose a specific and relevant situation where your work faced criticism. It should be recent enough to demonstrate your current abilities and showcase your growth mindset. Ensure the example aligns with the job requirements and the skills the employer seeks.

  • Provide context

    Begin your response by setting the stage. Briefly describe the project or task you were working on, your role in it and the expectations or challenges you faced. Providing context will help the interviewer understand the circumstances surrounding the criticism.

  • Describe the criticism

    Clearly articulate the nature of the criticism you received. Be objective and avoid getting defensive or blame others. Summarize the gist of the complaint and who shared it — a coworker, a client or a supervisor.

  • Highlight your reaction

    Share your initial reaction to the criticism. Did it catch you off guard? Were you initially defensive or upset? Be honest and emphasize your ability to remain composed and professional despite any initial negative emotions.

  • Emphasize your growth and actions

    Demonstrate your growth mindset by highlighting your steps to address the criticism and improve your work. Did you seek clarification on the feedback? Did you take proactive measures to enhance your skills or knowledge? Describe your actions to rectify the situation and demonstrate your commitment to personal and professional development.

  • Discuss the outcome

    Share the positive outcomes or results from your response to the criticism. Did your work improve? Were you able to establish better communication with your team or superiors? Highlight any achievements or successes that stemmed from the feedback you received.

  • Reflect on the experience

    Finish your response by reflecting on what you learned from the experience. Share how this experience shaped how you approach work now, how you’ve learned to be proactive with feedback and how it helped you grow professionally.

Remember, practice is vital to delivering a confident and polished response. Rehearse your answer, focusing on clarity, conciseness and maintaining a positive and growth-oriented attitude. By following these steps, you will be well-prepared to confidently address this question and demonstrate your ability to learn from criticism and grow professionally.

Sample answers

Barista

“In my previous role as a barista, I received constructive criticism regarding my latte art skills. A customer commented that their drink lacked the intricate designs they had seen at other cafes. Instead of becoming defensive, I thanked the customer for their feedback and expressed my commitment to improving. I proactively researched various latte art techniques and practiced during my off-hours. Within a few weeks, I noticed a significant improvement in my skills. The customer returned and expressed delight with the beautifully crafted latte. This experience taught me the importance of taking feedback seriously and continuously striving to enhance my craft.”

Customer service representative

“As a customer service representative, I received criticism from a client who was dissatisfied with the resolution of their issue. The client felt I didn’t adequately address their concerns and expressed frustration in a phone conversation. Instead of taking it personally, I maintained a calm and empathetic approach. I listened to their concerns, apologized for any miscommunication and assured them I would rectify the situation. I transferred the issue to a supervisor, who provided guidance on alternative solutions. By following up with the client and ensuring their needs were met, we rebuilt their trust in our company. This experience reinforced the importance of active listening, empathy and proactive problem-solving in delivering exceptional customer service.”

Software engineer

“As a software engineer, I encountered criticism during a code review session. A senior developer pointed out inefficiencies and suggested improvements to my code structure. Although initially I felt defensive, I quickly realized the value of their insights. I humbly acknowledged their feedback, asked questions to understand their recommendations better and actively incorporated their suggestions into my code. As a result, we improved the application’s performance and enhanced the readability and maintainability of the codebase. This experience taught me the importance of embracing feedback, collaborating with teammates and continually refining my coding skills.”

Cook

“As a cook in a fast-paced restaurant, I once received criticism regarding the presentation of a dish I prepared. The head chef noticed the plating lacked finesse and didn’t align with the restaurant’s aesthetic standards. Instead of getting discouraged, I approached the chef afterward to seek guidance and understand their expectations better. They graciously shared techniques and demonstrated proper plating methods. I practiced diligently, paying attention to details and honing my presentation skills. The next time I prepared the dish, the chef commended the improvement in presentation. This experience taught me the value of humility, seeking mentorship and striving for excellence in every aspect of my culinary work.”

Secretary

“In my previous role as a secretary, I faced criticism from my supervisor regarding a mistake in scheduling an important meeting. Due to a miscommunication, the meeting time overlapped with another appointment, causing inconvenience for the attendees. I took responsibility for the scheduling error, sincerely apologized and worked swiftly to rectify the situation. I rescheduled the meeting, coordinated with all participants and ensured their concerns were addressed. I also implemented a double-check system for future scheduling to prevent similar mistakes. My supervisor acknowledged my proactive approach and commended my efforts to prevent such issues in the future. This experience reinforced the importance of attention to detail, effective communication and implementing preventive measures in my administrative work.”

Mistakes to avoid 

Once you’ve structured a detailed response to describe a time when your work was criticized, you must avoid mistakes that can cost you the interview. Some common errors that shouldn’t be present in your answer are:

Blaming others or making excuses: Own up to your mistakes and refrain from blaming others. Don’t make excuses for your errors. We all make mistakes and constantly deflecting them will make it seem like you can’t accept your shortcomings.

Getting defensive or emotional: Reacting defensively or emotionally to criticism can poorly affect your ability to handle feedback and work collaboratively. Maintain a composed and professional demeanor throughout your response, demonstrating that you can accept criticism gracefully.

Failing to provide specific examples: Vague or general responses can undermine the impact of your answer. Be sure to provide specific details about the situation, the criticism received and the actions you took to improve. Specific examples enhance the credibility of your response and showcase your ability to handle challenging situations.

Neglecting to highlight the outcome: Remember to discuss the favorable outcome or growth that resulted from the criticism you received. Employers are interested in seeing how you transformed the feedback into a learning experience and made tangible improvements. Emphasize the impact of your actions and any achievements that arose from them.

Overemphasizing minor criticisms: While it’s important to acknowledge all types of feedback, be cautious not to magnify minor criticisms or blow them out of proportion. Instead, focus on significant instances of criticism that allow you to learn and grow professionally.

Lacking self-reflection: Your response should demonstrate your ability to reflect on your actions, accept feedback and improve. Avoid simply describing the situation without showcasing introspection and self-awareness. Instead, openly share what you learned from the experience and how it helped you grow professionally.

Not connecting the experience to the role: Tailor your response to the job you’re applying for. Ensure that the example you provide highlights skills relevant to the position. You want to demonstrate you possess the qualities the employer is looking for, not share these experiences at random without thinking about how to connect them to the potential job.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can present a well-crafted response that showcases your professionalism, accountability and growth mindset. Remember to practice your answer and seek feedback from others to refine your delivery. With careful preparation, you can confidently address this question and leave a lasting positive impression on your interviewer.

In conclusion, the interview question, “Can you describe a time when your work was criticized?” provides a valuable opportunity to demonstrate your ability to handle feedback, grow from it and showcase your professional development.

Remember, the job search process doesn’t end with one interview. It’s essential to continue exploring opportunities, refining your skills and updating your resume for each application. We can help you create a standout resume with the help of our Resume Builder and its prewritten content and professional resume templates.

About the Author

CPRW, Career Advice Expert

Gabriela Hernandez CPRW, Career Advice Expert

Gabriela Hernandez is one of LiveCareer's resident writers. She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a degree in Journalism. Throughout her career, she has tackled copywriting, blog articles, journalistic writing, academic writing, resume writing, and even prose and verse.

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