Tell me about a time you had to make an unpopular decision
- 1 Tell me about a time you had to make an unpopular decision
- 2 Other interview questions that are similar
- 3 What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
- 4 How best to structure your answer to this question
- 5 What you should NOT do when answering questions
- 6 Tell me about a time you had to make an unpopular decision – Example answers
- 7 Other Interview Question and Answers
Other interview questions that are similar
- Can you describe a situation where you went against the majority to implement a change?
- Have you ever had to enforce a policy or decision that was met with resistance?
- Can you recall a moment when you chose a difficult path that others disagreed with?
- What’s an example of a time you stood by your decision despite it being controversial?
- Have you ever led a project or initiative that was initially unpopular?
- Can you share an experience where you had to persuade others to accept an unwelcome decision?
- Describe a time when you had to make a tough call that wasn’t well-received.
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
There are probably an infinite number of questions that the interviewer could ask you on the day. Some questions are incredibly common appearing in almost every interview you will have, while other questions you might hear once and never again regardless of how many jobs you apply for.
Fundamentally though all interview questions are really trying to find out one of 3 things:
1 – Can you do the job? (Do you have the skills/experience needed?)
2 – Will you do the job? (Do you have the drive/motivation to get the job done?)
3 – Will you fit in? (Does your personality match the workplace culture? Are you likeable?)
That’s it. Those are the 3 things that the interviewer is trying to ascertain. Every question that is asked of you will fundamentally be trying to resolve one (or more) of these 3 things.
When you’re asked about an unpopular decision, you’re essentially being tested on key aspects: your competence, commitment, and compatibility. By detailing the thought process behind your decision, you highlight your competence, showing that you possess the necessary skills and judgment for the role. Discussing the steps you took to implement this decision, despite its unpopularity, demonstrates your commitment and resilience, indicating that you’re someone who will see tasks through to completion. Lastly, explaining how you handled the team’s response or worked to mitigate negative impacts showcases your ability to maintain positive relationships and communicate effectively, reflecting your compatibility with team dynamics and workplace culture. This approach subtly addresses the interviewer’s core concerns, presenting you as a well-rounded candidate.
How best to structure your answer to this question
Unless the question you are asked is a straight ‘up or down / yes or no’ style question then you are going to need to learn to describe, expand and elaborate on your answers. The best way of doing this is to follow the B-STAR technique for answering interview questions.
Answers using this method follow the below structure:
B – Belief – What are your thoughts and feelings with regard to the subject matter? This reveals your values and mindset, directly relating to how you make decisions under pressure, which is crucial for assessing cultural fit and problem-solving approach in the context of an unpopular decision.
S – Situation – What was going on? Briefly explain the scenario that was taking place. – Try not to spend too much time describing the situation. The bulk of your answer needs to be about you and what you did so keep the situation simple to understand and even simpler to describe. Briefly setting the scene demonstrates your ability to distill complex information into essential facts, a skill valuable in making and communicating tough decisions.
T – Task – What was your role in the action? Most of the time it is best that you are taking an active rather than passive role in the encounter. Clarifying your role showcases leadership and responsibility, critical when explaining your involvement in an unpopular decision, highlighting your capability to lead and execute.
A – Activity (or action) – What did you do? Detail the steps you took and why you took them. – This should take up the bulk of your time answering the question. Detailing your actions provides concrete examples of how you apply your skills and judgment to navigate challenges, directly addressing your ability to perform and succeed in difficult situations.
R – Result – How did everything end up? Try to use figures if possible (e.g. we cut costs by $3m, customer satisfaction scores increased 25%, failures reduced to zero, ice cream parties increased ten-fold etc.). Quantifying the outcome of your actions illustrates the tangible impact of your decisions, reinforcing your effectiveness and potential value to the team, especially in the wake of unpopular decisions.
Remember though that the B-STAR technique is descriptive not prescriptive. You do not need to follow this flow strictly, go with what is best for your answers and that will allow you to put your point across and show your experience the best.
What you should NOT do when answering questions
Do not avoid the question. Facing it shows your ability to tackle difficult topics head-on, important when making unpopular decisions.
Do not downplay the situation. Acknowledging its seriousness reflects your understanding of the impact of your decisions.
Do not overhype the situation. Staying factual demonstrates your ability to remain objective under pressure.
Do not give a one-sentence answer. Expanding on your thoughts provides insight into your decision-making process.
Do not overly describe the scenario and miss the action. Focusing on your actions illustrates your role in navigating the challenge.
Do not have a passive role in the situation. Highlighting your active participation shows leadership and initiative.
Do not forget to mention what you learned. Sharing lessons learned underscores your capacity for growth and adaptation.
Tell me about a time you had to make an unpopular decision – Example answers
Example Answer 1 (Detailed)
Certainly, I’ve always believed that true leadership sometimes requires making tough decisions that may not be immediately popular but are necessary for long-term success and efficiency.
In my previous role, my team was relying heavily on an outdated process that was comfortable but inefficient, affecting our delivery times and client satisfaction. I believed we needed to adopt a new software that, although initially challenging to learn, would significantly improve our efficiency in the long run.
The situation was that we were consistently missing deadlines, causing frustration among our clients and stress within the team. As the team leader, I was responsible for finding a solution to improve our workflow and ensure client satisfaction.
I decided to implement a new project management software that promised to streamline our processes. I knew this decision would be unpopular due to the learning curve associated with the new system, but I was convinced it was necessary for our team’s growth and success.
To roll out this change, I organized a series of training sessions and created a support system where team members could help each other. I also set up weekly check-ins to address concerns and monitor progress. It was crucial for me to lead by example, so I made sure I was fully versed in the new software, demonstrating its benefits through improved performance on my projects.
The result was remarkable. Within three months, our project delivery time improved by 30%, and client satisfaction scores rose by 20%. Initially resistant team members began to see the value in the change, acknowledging the positive impact on our work. Additionally, the team’s morale improved as we started meeting deadlines with less stress and more confidence.
From this experience, I learned the importance of clear communication and providing adequate support when implementing new processes. It reinforced my belief in being proactive about change and the positive outcomes that can result from making tough decisions.
Example Answer 2 (Shorter)
More Sample Answers…
The examples provided above can serve as a foundation for creating your unique answers. For additional inspiration, our new guide includes five sample responses to this question and over 250 answers to all of the most common interview queries.
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