How to Answer: What Is The Most Challenging Project You’ve Worked On?

A commonly asked competency-based interview question is ‘What is the most challenging project you have worked on?’. These types of questions may look like one of the more difficult ones to answer. However, it’s actually a great opportunity to discuss a great challenge that you were able to turn into a big accomplishment.

Interviewers want to get more information on how well you can manage projects and challenging situations. Furthermore, they want to assess your approach to dealing with situations at work and how your skills could be of value in the position that you’re applying for.

Questions about dealing with challenges are asked for all types of jobs and all different levels. It’s therefore important that you prepare your answers in advance so that you’re able to demonstrate how you deal with challenges and describe what you learned from them.

Other ways the interviewer can ask you questions about challenging work situations:

In this blog, we discuss why the interviewer is asking you about working on challenging projects. Also, we tell you what you should focus on when answering this question. Furthermore, read more about frequently asked job interview questions here and check our job interview preparation checklist.

Why Interviewers Ask About The Most Challenging Projects You Have Worked On

The interviewer is interested in finding out how skilled you are in managing projects and situations. In other words, how do you react to complexities, challenges, and new or unexpected tasks? As stated earlier, there are several ways the interviewer can ask you questions to find this out. In general, these questions are designed to assess your attitude towards challenges and to find out how you deal with them. The interviewer wants answers to questions such as:

  • What is your approach to dealing with challenges?
  • How do your skills help you successfully finish projects?
  • What is your work ethic like?
  • How do you handle stress?

All these questions are asked to find out whether or not you have the ability to handle challenges, and if you’re resilient when facing complexities. The answer you give to questions regarding complex and challenging projects will give them insights into:

  • Your ability to manage projects and complex situations and the skills you possess to do this
  • The approach you use to deal with situations
  • Your decision-making skills and planning abilities
  • How the company could benefit from your skills and abilities

How To Answer Job Interview Questions About Challenging Projects You’ve Worked On

Just like other behavioral job interview questions, it’s important to prepare scenarios before the actual interview. By doing so, it’s easier to bring up concrete examples during the interview without hesitating. This shows that you came prepared, that you’re self-aware, and that you take the interview seriously. You can imagine that it’s difficult to bring up a full example scenario if you did not prepare these before the interview.

When you’re discussing a project, always start by giving the context of a situation and walk the interviewer through the process of working towards a solution. The best way to structure your answer is, according to the STAR interview technique. This is a step by step process of structuring your answer that will help you convey your answer in a concise way.

STAR Interview Technique

The STAR interview technique helps you to provide a logically structured answer. It’s a way to give the interviewer an answer in the form of a story. STAR is an acronym for a Situation (S), your Task (T) in that situation, the actions (A) you took in that situation, and the Results (R) of your actions. The STAR technique is perfect to answer behavioral interview questions that require you to provide the interviewer with a real-life work example.

Behavioral interview questions often start with:

  • Tell me about a time when
  • Describe a time when

Below, the STAR acronym is broken down into steps with more information on what you can include in your answers.

1. Situation

When you give your answer to the interviewer, start by setting the stage. Provide context around the situation or challenge you were facing. Also, make sure to provide relevant details. When the interviewer asks you questions about challenging situations or projects you have worked on, ensure that you provide all the details necessary for them to understand what you were up against.

2. Task

After you describe the situation, talk about your specific responsibilities and what your role was. It’s important that the interviewer gets an understanding of your task during that specific situation.

3. Action

Then, talk about the actions you took to resolve the challenges you were facing while under stress. Provide the interviewer with a step by step description of what actions you took.

4. Result

Finally, talk about the outcomes of your actions. Make sure to take credit for your behavior that led to the result. Here you answer questions such as What happened? And What results did you get? Also, provide the interviewer with information about what you learned from the situation. Make sure to focus on positive results and positive learning experiences.

Choosing the right example situation

When you’re preparing your answers that include example situations, try to create a list of situations that relate to the job that you’re applying for. Providing examples that are relevant to the responsibilities of the job are more likely to give the interviewer the impression that you’re suitable for the position.

Also, if possible, select projects that you worked on recently. When you’re providing the interviewer with an example situation of 10 years ago, he or she will not be that impressed and might wonder what happened in all those years after. You don’t want to give the interviewer the impression that the last challenging project you worked on happened a decade ago.

Furthermore, give the interviewer an example of a project that was successful, unless you’re specifically asked for an unsuccessful project. Explain what your role was clearly because the interviewer is not only interested in what you did, but also based on what you made your decisions.

Learn more about work experiences that you can include in your answers.

Be specific and to the point

Interviewers ask you questions about challenging projects to get more information about how you approach and handle situations. Therefore, make sure that you provide the interviewer with what he or she is looking for.

Don’t just focus on a few responsibilities but be specific and walk the interviewer through what you’ve done to deal with the situation, how you led your team, or how you made decisions. It’s important that you explain your thought process in a particular situation you choose to discuss.

Include tangible outcomes

If possible, always talk about tangible outcomes of your actions. If your actions saved the company money or time, improved a process, or gained a competitive advantage, make sure you quantify this in your answers as much as possible. Tangible outcomes give your answers more weight and are more convincing to interviewers.

Mistakes to avoid

Avoid rambling on about a challenging project you have been involved in. Your goal is to answer the question and keep your answers short and concise. The only way to do this is by preparing your answers before the interview.

You can avoid these mistakes by writing down a list of situations you have been in and the characteristics of that particular situation. Detail for each situation how you contributed to them being successful. In addition, as discussed earlier, do not use example situations that had an unsuccessful outcome.

Sample answers to job interview questions about the most challenging project you have worked on

Below you will find an example answer that you can use as inspiration to create and structure your answers.

Situation and Task

‘In my previous job at a marketing firm, I have worked on several challenging projects. One time, when I just started at the company, I was asked to work with a small team on a marketing pitch deck for a new client.

We got the project because of our reputation and ability to take on the project on short notice. It was a great opportunity for us to show what we were capable of doing in a short amount of time.

Then, two weeks before the pitch deck presentation the client requested us to change the entire plan. It turned out that they were unhappy with our first concept and stated that it differed too much from the initial idea that they had in mind.

Action

We organized a brainstorm meeting with the team to figure out what exactly went wrong at which point in the development of the pitch deck. After several hours we concluded that some parts of the project were developed based on assumptions without clearly asking the client for approval before moving on. I asked if I could take the lead on redeveloping the pitch deck. For me, this was a challenge, as well as a great opportunity.

It was a challenge because I had never created a pitch deck working at this company and we had a short amount of time, but it was a great opportunity because I had experience with creating these decks in several of my prior jobs, so it was a great chance to demonstrate my skills.

I overcame the challenge by getting the goals clear of what the client exactly wanted, analyzing their feedback, and setting up small milestones to track progress in the two weeks we had left.

Result

We kept in touch with the client throughout the redevelopment process of the pitch deck and finished and submitted it one day before the deadline. Ultimately the client was very happy with our work, and we are still working with them today.

Include what you’ve learned from the situation

For me, the most important learning from this project is that it’s important to get the goals clear before a project starts. Furthermore, my experience taught me that the best way to work on challenging projects is to create milestones to track progress.

Now, at the start of a new project, I focus on the most difficult parts and challenges of the project so that I know as soon as possible if there are any issues or attention areas. If this is the case I have more than enough time to work on this before any deadlines. A detailed plan to work on a project is essential to finish it successfully.’ 

Job Interview Topics – Common Job Interview Questions & Answers

Below you can find a list of common job interview topics. Each link will direct you to an article regarding the specific topics that discuss commonly asked interview questions. Furthermore, each article discusses why the interviewer asks these questions and how you answer them!

  1. Accomplishments
  2. Adaptability
  3. Admission
  4. Behavioral
  5. Career Change
  6. Career Goals
  7. Communication
  8. Competency
  9. Conflict Resolution
  10. Creative Thinking
  11. Cultural Fit
  12. Customer Service
  13. Direct
  14. Experience
  15. Government
  16. Graduate
  17. Growth Potential
  18. Honesty & Integrity
  19. Illegal
  20. Inappropriate
  21. Job Satisfaction
  22. Leadership
  23. Management
  24. Entry-Level & No experience
  25. Performance-Based
  26. Personal
  27. Prioritization & Time Management
  28. Problem-solving
  29. Salary
  30. Situational & Scenario-based
  31. Stress Management
  32. Teamwork
  33. Telephone Interview
  34. Tough
  35. Uncomfortable
  36. Work Ethic