You are halfway through the interview process, feel excited about the job, and are confident all your answers have been great.
You think you're about to reach the finish line when suddenly, the interviewer looks a bit serious and asks:
"Can you tell me about a time when you were criticized unfairly?"
Why am I being asked this question? you start thinking. What kind of information will this provide?
The employer is evaluating how you tolerate criticism.
In particular, they want to know:
how you handle opinions or feedback from others in the workplace
if you're willing to learn from their critique and improve your work — even if you consider it unfair
What to Avoid
Saying it has never happened. If you can't remember a workplace example, talk about a time it happened during a school project, internship, or volunteering.
Talking negatively in any way of the person that criticized you.
Saying that you responded emotionally, for example, crying at the person criticizing you or angrily confronting them for making you feel hurt or disappointed.
Focus on the Positive
Demonstrate that you can listen and are always welcoming of any input from colleagues.
Explain that you're always eager to learn and improve.
Describe how you saw it from both perspectives.
Explain how you rationally assessed the criticism and decided that there were parts that helped you grow.
Sample Candidate Responses
Meet three candidates who were asked this question in an interview. Consider which of them had the best response to this question.
Consider which of these candidates' answer would land them the job.
"I recall when my previous boss told me my report was hard to follow and to do better next time.
I got upset. After all, I worked hard to have that report delivered on time.
I wrote him an email telling him that he needs to appreciate his workers, or they might consider leaving the company."
"Our company launched a new software, and my coworker learned to use it in a week, but I was still finding it difficult to use it in the second week. My coworker said it was very easy to learn, and I was starting to feel inadequate.
I was frustrated and told my coworker that not everyone learns at the same pace and to be more accepting of others who take longer to learn new software."
"Once, I worked on a spreadsheet with multiple sheets and large amounts of data.
My coworker stopped by and told me, 'Make sure to have that spreadsheet checked. I bet it has a lot of mistakes!'
Although I was confident it did not have any, I agreed it is good practice for someone to check for mistakes on complex work."
Which candidate had the best response?
Remember, we've all been criticized at one point or another. What's important is what you learned from the experience.