Interview Question: How Do You Handle Complex Workplace Projects

Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW
By Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: December 07, 2022

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Interviewers who employ interview questions about complexity- challenges- or new and unexpected tasks are all asking about how you react to having the bar raised. “What was the most complex assignment you have had? What was your role?” is not the only bar-raising question- either. Other forms of this query include “Tell me about the most difficult project you have ever been on and what you did to deliver it successfully?” and “Please describe the assignment that you feel pushed you to grow the most as a professional.”

No matter how it is phrased- interview questions such as this are designed to gauge your attitude toward being challenged by complex or new tasks- your methods for dealing with them- and your self-perception as a contributor. It also gives the interviewer an objective look at the level of responsibility you were given and the way you addressed yourself to that role. Keep in mind that even if you were in a minor- supporting- or training role during a complex assignment- how you learned and what you did to contribute are more important than whether or not you led the team or devised the solution to a problem.

How to Answer the ‘What Was the Most Complex Assignment You Have Had? What Was Your Role?’ Interview Question

Focus on the team

Asking about your role in the assignment is a way of acknowledging that complex tasks are rarely about just one person’s contribution and that they are also rarely one single person’s responsibility. When you are asked interview questions that put your work into that kind of group context- it becomes important to map out an answer that highlights the same dynamic- to make sure you are needs-matching with your prospective employer. It is also important because it makes clear to them that you are keyed in to what they are asking about and that you are attentively providing it.

Be detailed and concise

The anecdotes and explanations that have the most impact and power are the ones that require the least justification. That does not mean that you want to refuse to explain yourself- though. It means you want to explain yourself with powerful reasons and details that clearly line up compelling demonstrations. When answering a question about a complex task or assignment- your goal should be to highlight how it was complex- avoiding the overly detailed explanations of the minutiae that might distract a listener from your contributions and the overall goal of the assignment you were given.

Match your contribution to your new role

Instead of focusing on the team- or alongside it- focusing on how your role helped you grow professionally and what it means for the next role you take on at a new company is a great way to make sure your answer fits prospective employers’ needs. This allows you to present the assignment as an opportunity to become bigger than your previous position or to show that you are ready for more responsibility. Either way- you are showing prospective employers how your last challenge prepared you for your next one- and that gives them insight into what kinds of challenges you might be ready to take on when hired and what support you will need as you acclimate to the new job. For people whose previous work has been mostly entry level or supportive- this is an opportunity to talk about how they stepped up and delivered more.

Sample ‘What Was the Most Complex Assignment You Have Had? What Was Your Role?’ Interview Answers

1. I would say that the most complex assignment I ever had was when I was still an intern because our company acquired another one of about the same size. I was tasked with a lot of supporting assignments for my department- to make sure that new employees had the right orientation and that people knew who they would be working with after the transition. I did not have a lot of the decision-making power- but I was responsible for making sure that after the decisions were made- everyone had the resources they needed to pull things together and communicate effectively with their new teammates. That meant a lot of coordination and follow-up.

2. My most complex challenge was the first time I was given a leadership position- too. Our team was tasked with reworking a project that had been rejected by the client already. The catch was that the team leader from the first team had moved on from the company- so my working group was faced with trying to understand another group’s process and approach- but we had no one to go to with questions. I learned how to reverse engineer a lot of research and decision-making by having to step through that one. I also learned a lot about how to interpret a client’s expectations- because in the end it was clearly just a misunderstanding that had been complicated by the transition.

The key to standing out is having a unique challenge and a positive attitude toward the solutions you helped put in place.

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