Written by
Changeboard Team

Published
12 Mar 2012

Part five interview questions: how to tackle difficult questions

12 Mar 2012 • by Changeboard Team

TASK arena

The TASK arena is about how you organise yourself and others to deliver; how you coordinate people and resources to achieve something; how you structure, implement and execute projects/assignments in order to achieve objectives.

In this article we’ll give you an example question and answer, followed by a critique of the answer. For more examples of TASK questions, please refer to Chapter X in  “You’re Hired!  Interview Answers: Impressive Answers to Tough Questions”.

Recognising TASK based questions

Before being able to answer comprehensively, you’ll need to recognise TASK based questions.

Words such as organise, goal, objective, delivery, targets, deadlines, budget, system, process, steps, stages, project, manage, implement, execution, monitoring, controlling, measures are all giveaways that the question you are being asked is a TASK based one.

TASK based questions try to reveal your approach to getting things done. More than for other kinds of questioning, it is important that the message and the medium line up in the way that you build your answers. In other words, if your answers are poorly structured and all over the place, it is going to be hard to convince the interviewer that you are systematic and organised in the way that you implement tasks.

Preparing to respond to TASK based questions

It is worth spending a few minutes considering the following. Try to recall examples of situations where you have had to:

  • Organise something relatively complex.
  • Deliver something to a tough deadline.
  • Implement a new process or system.
  • Overcome significant obstacles to achieving an objective.
  • Coordinate resources to achieve a goal.

Once you have thought of your examples, use the CAR process to frame a short description of the example, making sure that you cover the Circumstances, the Action you took and the Result.

The following example question and answer is aimed at graduate/trainee management level, however it could equally apply to middle or senior management level. At entry and middle levels of recruitment, the TASK domain is mostly about self organisation, planning and personal delivery style and how you meet deadlines and quality standards. At more senior levels it is about mustering resources and lining them up to deliver the required goal. Let’s consider a graduate/trainee example.

Interviewer: “Can you tell me about a situation where you had to organise something in detail?”

Interviewee: “Yes, well, when I was working in the supermarket over Christmas I re-did the Saturday work roster because so many people were off sick. I had a chat with all the Saturday team and we agreed that something had to be done because we were all working too much overtime. It had got to the point that one more person going sick would have meant that we were seriously understaffed, we wouldn’t be able to re-stock shelves or even fully staff all the tills.”

Why is this a poor response to the question? Mainly because the interviewer is going to have to ask a lot of follow up questions to find out what actually went on. The circumstances have been partially described but not in enough detail. The action taken is very woolly – ‘I had a chat with the team’ – and the outcome or result is not covered at all. The clue is in the question - the interviewer wants to know how you organise, so explain the process that you went through.

A better answer would be:

“Yes, when I was working in the supermarket at Christmas we had a staffing problem because so many people were off sick. I took on the job of re-doing the work roster because it was clear that we were going to be understaffed if nothing was done. I checked availability with all the existing staff, matched this with the staffing requirement and then built in an allowance for temps in case anyone else should fall sick. I showed the new roster to the team and got them to agree where they were willing to put in extra hours. Everyone was very cooperative and the end result was that we kept to full staffing for the whole period.”

Once you have thought of your examples, use the CAR process to frame a short description of the example, making sure that you cover the Circumstances, the Action you took and the Result.

The following example question and answer is aimed at graduate/trainee management level, however it could equally apply to middle or senior management level. At entry and middle levels of recruitment, the TASK domain is mostly about self organisation, planning and personal delivery style and how you meet deadlines and quality standards. At more senior levels it is about mustering resources and lining them up to deliver the required goal. Let’s consider a graduate/trainee example.

Interviewer: “Can you tell me about a situation where you had to organise something in detail?”

Interviewee: “Yes, well, when I was working in the supermarket over Christmas I re-did the Saturday work roster because so many people were off sick. I had a chat with all the Saturday team and we agreed that something had to be done because we were all working too much overtime. It had got to the point that one more person going sick would have meant that we were seriously understaffed, we wouldn’t be able to re-stock shelves or even fully staff all the tills.”

Why is this a poor response to the question? Mainly because the interviewer is going to have to ask a lot of follow up questions to find out what actually went on. The circumstances have been partially described but not in enough detail. The action taken is very woolly – ‘I had a chat with the team’ – and the outcome or result is not covered at all. The clue is in the question - the interviewer wants to know how you organise, so explain the process that you went through.

A better answer would be:

“Yes, when I was working in the supermarket at Christmas we had a staffing problem because so many people were off sick. I took on the job of re-doing the work roster because it was clear that we were going to be understaffed if nothing was done. I checked availability with all the existing staff, matched this with the staffing requirement and then built in an allowance for temps in case anyone else should fall sick. I showed the new roster to the team and got them to agree where they were willing to put in extra hours. Everyone was very cooperative and the end result was that we kept to full staffing for the whole period.”

Buy the book - discount for Changeboard members

For more examples of TASK based interview questions and answers, in particular for those aimed at middle and senior management, we strongly advise that you read the full chapter in “You’re Hired! Interview Answers: Impressive Answers to Tough Questions” available for purchase from the Trotman Publishing website. Remember to use the discount code ‘change’ at the checkout to secure an exclusive 25% discount off your order*.