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Other interview questions that are similar
Tell me about a time when you have shown initiative in your role
Have you ever challenged the status quo when at work?
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
This question is all about improvement. The interviewer wants to know whether you are the type of worker who will look to make positive changes to the processes and work within the organisation or are you going to be content with following the process as is.
Oftentimes this question is asked because the interviewer knows that their organisation is ‘stuck in its ways’ and people generally work to process because ‘that’s how it has always been done’.
The interviewer is looking for people who can break them out of this mindset, someone who comes in and looks behind the process to understand why things operate as they do and see if there could be any changes made that could improve business efficiency.
The best approach to answering this question
B – Belief – As mentioned above the interviewer is looking for people who aren’t content with the status-quo and who seek opportunities to improve. Start your answer off talking about how you believe continuous improvement is vital for both individuals and for organisations to evolve and grow over time.
S – Situation – The best responses will talk about a situation where you were learning a new process and you identified either redundancies in the process or areas that could be enhanced (maybe a certain task could be automated).
T – Task – Walk the interviewer through how you explained the change to your management – maybe there was some resistance you had to overcome at first – then discuss how they directed you to make the necessary changes
A – Activity – Briefly discuss the steps you took to implement your change. The interviewer will be most interested in how you navigated through your colleagues who use the process and how you calmed any concerns they had.
R – Results – The example you share with the interviewer should be one with positive results. Talk about what benefits your organisation reaped once the change was implemented, and how happy your colleagues and management were with the new ‘way of doing things’
How NOT to answer this question
“It is not part of my role to improve the processes. I work to the guidelines and get my job done”
Sure there are roles where this would be a good answer. Some companies just need people to clock in work to the letter and clock out again.
But guess what?
Those companies are not going to ask this question. Those companies will ask questions like “Tell me about a time you needed to follow a script when dealing with a client” or “How do you handle a situation that is outside of your process maps?”
See the difference?
This goes for all questions not just ‘challenging the status quo’: If a company is asking you to ‘Tell me about a time’ you need to give an example that matches the question.
These are not trick questions, if they are asking for your experience in something it is because they want to know how you will fit in with their plans. They need someone who can challenge the usual way of working, so you need to show them that you have experience in doing so.
“In my previous role I was always offering up suggestions on how to improve, but management were not receptive to my ideas and they were never implemented”
Again this is not a great answer. At first glance you might think it is reasonable as it shows that you have ideas and are always looking to improve things. But what this tells interviewers is that your previous employers did not like your ideas.
While the truth may be that your previous employers could have listened to your ideas and maybe they would have produced great benefits for the organisation. But what this answer is telling the interviewer is that either your ideas were bad and rightly ignored, or that you are incapable of selling your ideas well.
And neither of those things are what is being looked for in this question. Make your answer one of success. You had an idea, pitched it well, helped to implement it and everyone was happy. Simple.
Tell me about a time when you have challenged the usual way of doing things – Example answer
“I am always looking for ways to improve, be it my own development or trying to enhance the work in the office I believe that we all need to continually evolve else we will be overtaken by others.
On one such occasion I was assigned to oversee a process that was somewhat new to me. I took a short while to ensure I fully understood the end to end process and when I did I started to identify areas that could be improved.
My first ‘enhancement’ was also the most difficult to push across the line. In this organisation we had a number of subcontractors. These subbies would complete invoices on a word document and then email these across to the office staff who would then manually type the invoices into excel where another user would then combine them into other reports.
Coming from an automation background I knew that this process could be better streamlined so I set about seeing our options. I presented these options to my management team along with the estimated costs and benefits of each.
Management approved of my preferred option and tasked me with overseeing the deployment. Getting the subbies on board was easy as our process was similar to other firms that the subbies worked with so it made their jobs easier. The biggest hurdle to overcome was getting the office staff on board with a new process, but after a few training sessions and once they saw how much time would be saved out of their day they eventually came around. I did have to spend the first few days fighting fires though and handholding some colleagues through the process!
Overall the new process was a success and is still being used today saving a lot of time manually re-typing data.”
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