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Have you ever had to follow a decision that you did not agree with?
What do you do when you boss chooses to go with a different option than the one you proposed?
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
Making effective decisions is one of the key behaviours that is assessed during the Civil Service interview process. It is testing that when you need to make a decision, you look to gather all the available data, evaluate all of the potential options and use this to make the best choice available.
Even if you are not going for a Civil Service position this is a key skill that will be assessed by your interviewers for a number of roles.
Interviewers want to know that you can make decisions that will benefit their organisation.
This particular question is a slight twist on the questions you will usual face when assessing this behaviour. This question is looking to examine 3 things:
- How effective your decision making is.
- How well you communicate your ideas and proposals to your managers and stakeholders
- How you react when your approach is questioned, and in this case overruled.
At first this might look like a trick question, where the interviewer is trying to make you trip up and say that you failed at 1) or 2) above. But that’s not really the case. Or rather it is not the whole case.
Even if you come up with the best ideas, and even if you communicate these well, there will be occasions where your proposals are denied. The interviewer wants to see how you react to that.
The best approach to answering this question
This is a ‘tell me about a time’ question so the best approach is going to utilise the B-STAR method for interview questions.
Let’s see how you would use that technique here:
B – Belief – Share your thoughts / philosophies on decision making and how you react to being overruled. The best answers will talk about how you always ensure you make the most optimal decision given the information available to you and that you ensure this is correctly articulated when seeking approval. Talk about how you welcome input from your leadership team, and if they go a different direction you treat it as a learning opportunity.
S – Situation – Set the scene for the interviewer. Remember you are in a interview setting here, there is only so much time and you need to get through a number of questions. That said make sure you keep your example easy to explain, don’t get bogged down describing superfluous details.
T – Task – Describe your role in what was happening. To fully answer this question you want to be in the position where you have been asked to evaluate some options (maybe a new hire, or picking a software).
A – Activity – Run through the steps you took in coming up with and presenting your decision. Make sure you talk about how you gathered all available information and clearly articulated the reasons for your decision.
R – Results – How did it go? Remember the question asks for a time that were overruled so here you should talk about how your management team decided to go a different way. Make sure you talk about the lessons your learned from this experience.
How NOT to answer this question
Do not take offence to being overruled. It is a fact of life that someone will hold a differing viewpoint than you at some time or another. Even after explaining their reasons you might still think they are wrong. That is fine. But a professional response would be to understand what you could have done better next time and carry on. Advocate your position but don’t take it personally and don’t lash out.
Do not appear to be a pushover. The question is about a time you were overruled so any protests you make will obviously have to be fruitless. But ensure that you explain to the interviewer that you advocated strongly for your position.
Do not avoid the question. Answering that you have never been overruled does not appear as clever as you think it is. It shows a cocky attitude and naivety that the interviewer will attribute to a lack of experience rather than an innate ability to always be right.
Tell me about a time your decision was overruled – Example answer
“When I make a decision I always make sure that I have evaluated each and every option and take a rational approach to choose the optimal one based on the data available. I would say it is not often that my decisions are questions or overruled but when they are I am always appreciative of the feedback provided and, while I try to advocate my position further, if the decision has been made I accept that and see what lessons I can learn for the future.
On one such occasion I had been asked to produce a list of employees who would be suitable for a new task force the organisation was deploying. This would be a great career move for all of the potential members so there was a lot of interest from within the department.
I set about immediately by collating all of the information about the candidates and matching this against a list of required and desirable qualities for task force members. Any colleague that did not have the required qualities was ruled out and then the rest of the candidates were ranked according to how many desirable qualities they showed.
When I presented this list to my director he overruled a number of the choices I had made. I listened to his reasoning for each of the changes and largely agreed (for example 2 of the candidates had disciplinary actions on their file that I did not have access to see).
There was one change that I did not agree with. The director was requesting that a colleague be brought onto the task force when their position in my ranking meant that he would be jumping ahead of 3 other better qualified candidates. The reasoning behind the decision was clear in that the candidate in question was a relative of a senior director elsewhere in the organisation.
I advocated strongly against this change informing my director that doing so would be a case of nepotism that is highly discouraged in our organisation and would look poorly upon myself, the director and might even tarnish the reputation of the newly formed taskforce. Once it was laid out in front of him like that the director acquiesced and we went ahead with the original list of colleagues with the 2 discipline cases swapped out.
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