Congrats on getting the interview! As you prepare for the big day, consider practicing common behavioral questions, like: “Could you tell me about a time you had to explain something complex?” Even if phrased differently, employers are looking for specific information. What is it?
In this guide, we’ll discuss:
- Why employers ask this question
- Tips on creating your answer
- Sample answers for different industries
Why do potential employers ask how you explained a complex situation?
Employers create interview questions, like tell me about a time you had to explain something complex, to help them assess the right candidates. But what are they seeking to learn by requesting a story about how you explained a complex situation?
“A recruiter or a hiring manager who asks you this question wants to evaluate your problem-solving and your communication skills,” says U.K.-based interview coach Margaret Buj.
“A question like this isn’t always easy to answer because you need to come up with a specific example that happened at work versus talking about how you explain complex situations in general terms,” she adds.
How to answer “Tell me about a time you created a goal and achieved it” (with examples)
Organizing your answer is as important as finding a good example. You should organize your reply in a way that helps showcase your skills and expertise. For instance, Buj recommends using the STAR method, where you provide a Situation (offer context), Task (the issue), Action (how you explained it) and Result. You can also use the similar PAR method, where you provide a Problem, an Action and the Result.
“When preparing your answer, remember the hiring manager is looking for specifics. Therefore, think of a situation or a problem that was complex that you made simple and easy to understand for people who were not familiar with your company/industry’s technical terms,” says Buj.
Combine the STAR method with these guidelines to create an effective answer.
1. Use the job description
When crafting an interview answer, you should frame it using the job description. Include your best skills and those that align with the job to make an impact.
For example, someone applying for a job as a mechanic could answer with:
2. Prepare specific examples
While you could have different examples that apply to this question, choose one that is clear and concise.
“It’s important that you avoid being too vague; your answer should be as detailed and specific as possible. Especially if it is a role that requires some specialized knowledge since you want to demonstrate your understanding of these concepts to the interviewer,” says Buj,
3. Show off your creativity
If you’ve taken an unconventional approach to explaining the situation, include it in your answer.
“The meeting for the presentation had people from multiple backgrounds, not everybody was versed on the topic. So I decided to do a fun little exercise that might seem unrelated. Once everybody had fun and relaxed, I revised what we just did and connected the dots. Everybody now had an idea of what our company was about.”
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Answers to “Tell me how you explained a complex situation” for top jobs
Need inspiration to answer, “Tell me about a time you had to explain something complex?” Look at these examples for top jobs, and you won’t have to dig too deep to find your own.
Creative, detail-oriented and excellent communicator with a command of technical skills, audio engineers help shape the sounds of daily life through production.
Special education teacher
Special education teachers are educators that fight for their students to ensure an equitable education with skills like empathy and curriculum development.
Advocates, evaluators and supportive helpers, case managers seek to assist the most vulnerable in their time of need.
Dos and Don’ts when answering “Tell me how you explained a complex situation?”
- Consider a personal example that includes skills for the position.
- Elaborate on the process you use to explain the situation.
- Prepare an answer in advance.
- Use the job description and company values to frame your answer and present yourself as a good candidate.
- Choose a vague example.
- Ramble on about menial details that add nothing to your story.
- Badmouth previous employers and coworkers, even if they caused the situation.
- Give a broad answer where the interviewer cannot identify why you’re a good candidate.
Tips for answering “Tell me how you explained a complex situation” effectively
- Keep it simple.
Knowing how to explain something in layman’s terms helps you establish credibility and command for the subject.
- Be clear on how you explain the complex topic.
If you use metaphors, comparisons, or even thorough visual aids, let the recruiter know how you get your point across.
- Assume the interviewer knows nothing.
When creating your answer, always pretend the person knows nothing about the complex situation, even if they are an expert in the field.
- Avoid sounding condescending.
Use a humble approach that showcases your subject knowledge.
- Connect the story to the company’s values.
Include values you’ve learned about the company in your story.
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“Tell me how you’ve explained a complex situation”: important takeaways
- Prepare for your interview by choosing stories and examples before the day.
- Always frame your answer to the job description by including skills and the company’s values.
- Use the STAR method, where you set the answer by Situation, Task, Action and Result.
- If you don’t have any professional examples, choose a personal one that uses skills for the job.
1. What’s the best way to explain a complex situation if the recruiter is unfamiliar?
As expert Margaret Buj said, use the STAR method to craft the answer. If the interviewer is unfamiliar with the complexities of the position you’re applying for, use the opportunity to explain it to them. You’ll demonstrate your command on the subject.
2. How can I prepare for these types of questions before an interview?
When you start your job hunting process, you can create a document or jot down notes on achievements where your skills shined, and difficult situations that became important lessons for your career. Once you’re preparing for an interview, you can revisit your notes and think about how to frame them to fit into the job description. You can also seek feedback from colleagues and previous managers.
3. How can I explain a complex situation in my cover letter?
Use your cover letter to expand on your resume. While you should include achievements and goals, save longer storytelling for the interview. Think of your application as a sample: you want to garner interest for an interview without retelling your entire career.
4. How can I answer this question if I’m new to the industry?
When it comes to these types of behavioral questions, employers are more concerned with your skills. Your answer does not need to be tied to the position or even the industry. You could even use a personal example, just pay attention to how the question is asked. You just need to show off your skills, particularly those also in the job description. Remember that you can also ask the interviewer for clarification.
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