Tell Me About a Time When You Were Forced to Think on Your Feet

Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW
By Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: March 02, 2023

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As you apply to certain positions, there are a number of job-specific questions that you can expect during an interview. These common questions, such as ‘What skills make you a great candidate?’ tend to be more general, in the sense that you can focus your answers on more of an ideal answer. However, in today’s job market, hiring managers have a greater pool of applicants to choose from. To select the best possible candidates, they dive more into the character of the applicants by asking behavioral interview questions. These questions ask about specific experiences and help the interviewer determine the individual’s capability to fulfill the requirements of the position.

To properly answer a behavioral question, you first need to know the full intent of the question. When interviewers ask you, 'Tell me about a time when you were forced to think on your feet,' they are trying to gauge your analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as your ability to work under pressure. Plans rarely go exactly as expected, and great candidates are able to shift and adapt as needed. To ensure that you properly answer this question, you must address the underlying questions in a manner that helps to highlight your skills and abilities. Utilizing the STAR method is a great way to that.

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How to Answer the 'Tell Me About a Time When You Were Forced to Think on Your Feet' Behavioral Interview Question

1. Paint the Picture

In situations where you have to think on your feet, things are often rushed and thrown together. However, your answer should not be. Make sure that you clearly outline the reason you had to think on your feet, as well as the skills that you used to help you to accomplish the task at hand. You do not have to give every detail, but be sure to express the need for urgency. Otherwise it may appear to be just another problem that you have addressed at work, which does not properly address the question at hand.

2. Do Not Be Negative

Situations requiring fast thinking usually do arise out of unexpected problems that catch you off-guard, which can be frustrating. Understand that the interviewer is looking for how you perceive such situations as well as how you handle them. Therefore, you should try not to be negative in your description of the issue, but rather stick to the facts and let that express the angst of the situation.

3. Utilize the STAR Method

In expressing your answer it is important to use a strategy that helps you to properly state your answer in a format that is easy to remember and to understand. The STAR method is a great way to structure your answer to most behavioral interview questions. There are a few parts to this process:

  • ST - the situation or task that you faced
  • A - the action that you decided to take
  • R - the results that arose from the action taken

Correctly implementing this method can help you to make sure that you ace your answer.

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4. Stay Truthful

Even if you do not feel that you have faced a situation where you had to think on your feet on your job, consider somewhat similar situations. Talk about a time where you had a short period of time to address an issue or when you had to correct a mistake quickly. Utilizing a real event in your life that you can apply is always a better choice than making up a story. If you are caught lying, it is virtually impossible to recover in the eyes of the interviewer.

5. Be Professional

Stay away from personal experiences when answering behavioral interview questions like these. This is a fine line to walk and can lead to the interviewer becoming uncomfortable or viewing you in an unfavorable light. Even if you have to pull an experience when you had to think fast from years ago or past positions, try to keep your answer as professional as possible.

Sample 'Tell Me About a Time When You Were Forced to Think on Your Feet' STAR Interview Answer

In my previous position I was working with a team on an important presentation. I was designated as the speaker to present to the board of executives. I had almost completed the slideshow when my computer caught a virus and I completely lost the presentation, the night before I was set to present it. I did not have the data backed up anywhere else and did not have another computer. That night I wrote out as much as I could remember of the presentation on flashcards and practiced the portions that I could remember to ensure that I had a solid base to work with. I headed into the office first thing in the morning and accessed the file that the team had compiled for the presentation. As my other team members arrived I explained the situation to them, and we all worked together to ensure that we were covering all of the needed information. Together we were able to assemble the full presentation in time for the meeting where I had to present it.

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