Describe a Time When Your Work Was Criticized

Interview Question: Describe a Time When Your Work Was Criticized

Throughout an employee’s professional journey, there will always be good and bad times. One of such bad times is being criticized for poorly executed work.

No matter what the intentions are, dishing out criticisms to an employee is never pleasant at first. Although an employee might learn from it, no one enjoys being criticized. The problem is that interviewers might bring it up when you go for an interview. Therefore, how do you answer that question without looking incompetent or implicating someone else?

The good news is that there are direct, practical steps to take to answer this question which will increase your chances of getting hired. It’s high time you found out what they are in this guide.


Why do interviewers ask this question?

Before you figure out a strategy to answer this question, it is advised that you learned why employers ask this question. Knowing the intentions of the employer will help you to prepare better and come up with better ways to approach the question.


To test your character.

It is in tough and unpleasant times that people reveal who they truly are. Thus, this question reveals your true nature as criticisms are a test of character.

The way an employee receives criticism deals with it and reacts to it is crucial. Some criticisms are malicious and intended to bring an employee down emotionally and mentally.

However, when such an employee takes the criticism in their stride and produces a better result, it speaks volumes. It shows that they don’t give up and that they can turn bad situations into good ones. Employers need candidates like this which is why they ask this question.


To know your ability to take criticisms.

Criticisms come with the territory. They are part of what to expect on the job and are sometimes justified. Employers know that no candidate is perfect regardless of their qualifications or experience. This means that a time might come when they would criticize such employees.

Since criticisms are inevitable, employers want to hire those who would be able to handle criticisms. The way a candidate answers the question relating to criticisms at work shows their ability or inability to take criticism.


To know if you learned from the experience.

There are two ways to receive this question – a positive or a negative way. With a positive outlook on criticisms, you are most likely to learn from the experience. When your work is criticized, the positive reaction would be to examine the work and find the flaws.

After doing this, you would come up with better ways of executing the task. At the end of the day, you have improved in an area and will not repeat the same mistakes.


To find out other skills you possess.

This is a deep question that reveals your flaws as well as your strengths. It would take a combination of skillsets to handle the situation professionally.

Firstly, the criticism may have been unfair. It could be someone else’s fault that the outcome was not satisfactory even though you had to take the blame. Instead of being quick to point the finger at someone else, taking responsibility first shows integrity and leadership skills.

Secondly, the criticism could be destructive which means that it was probably aimed at you maliciously. Acting accordingly and not taking it personally reveals a high level of professionalism and being able to work well under pressure.

On the other hand, it could be constructive which could see you do better than you did previously. This shows your ability to learn fast and pay attention to detail. All these scenarios reveal different skillsets that every employer needs in an employee.


To be sure of your professionalism.

Professionals are advised to keep work-related issues at work for a reason and not let them interfere with their lives. Thus, how you answer the question helps the interviewer to know how professional you are.

When you reveal confidential information about where you worked previously, it shows a lack of professionalism. Likewise, speaking idly of former superiors reveals a negative side that employers don’t want in their organization.


How to Answer Interview Question: Describe a Time When Your Work Was Criticized

Although the answers you give to this question ought to be brief, they must contain important features. These are some of the things to keep in mind and do while answering this question:


Talk about something that happened.

As a rule, make sure every detail, account, and experience you share with an interviewer is accurate to the best of your knowledge. I suggest you came up with no made-up stories to play down the situation or make yourself feel better. There will undoubtedly be a fear of revealing what you did wrong but you ought to state a factual event. Interviewers like to confirm certain information they find interesting to build trust.


Address any misconceptions.

There are different sides to a story and some might get blown out of proportion quickly. The criticism incident might have sparked a conversation making people form a perception of you.

As you answer this question, address any unclear incident or quote that transpired. For instance, if the word on the street is that you said something insulting to the critic, you should address it. If you remember the exact words you said, it would be even better. Address misconceptions as a way of “clearing your name” without appearing defensive.


Take some responsibility.

Taking responsibility for both individual and group productivity is a positive trait every employer looks for in a candidate. No matter how bad the situation was, own up to it.

Let the interviewer know that you approached the task or project wrongly and you may have deserved the criticism. Yes, say you may have deserved it. Go on to explain briefly the aspects where you went wrong and how surprised or disappointed you were to find out the errors you made.


Refer to specific details.

Firstly, talk about the key points of the task and what your duties were. Next, narrate how you devised an approach to the best of your knowledge to execute the task. From there, you can start to figure out what you did wrong that you were not aware of at the time.

Also, the remark of the superior and how they criticized you should be mentioned tactfully. If the superior called you “an idiot” for example, don’t mention it. There are clever ways to recount the situation without selling yourself short.


Show how you learned from the experience.

The two most important reasons for asking this question are to test your character and see if you learned from the experience. Thus, you ought to reveal how you learned something valuable from the situation. Not only will you state the things you learned professionally, what skills you gained should be part of the conversation.

If the criticism was due to slow typing, for example, you should recount how you improved your typing speed. Stating that you now type at least 10 more words faster is a positive point.

Also, if you learned how to be more persistent as a result of correcting your errors, say it. These are skills that show the character you have and every employer would love to have people like that join their organization.


Reveal the positive outcome of the situation.

The narration is never complete without a befitting ending. What the employer is looking for at the end of the narration is the overall positive outcome of the situation. Thus, how you used that situation to better yourself and hand in a much-improved work would be the perfect ending.

Show how the experience became a turning point for you in your career. The lessons learned, the feeling of vindication afterward, and your eventual appreciation of the criticism are vital. Lastly, if the task yielded profits or won your company a contract, by all means, end with that.


How not to answer the question

Answering this question goes both ways. There are things to say or do and there are other things you should never say.

Avoiding some topics, choice of words, or actions when asked these questions can be what gets you the job. Ultimately, how you answer this question shows your true character, so, pay attention to what not to do.


Blame others directly.

One of the best qualities an employee could have despite their level of experience in leadership. As a leader, you have to take responsibility for your actions – both the good and the bad. Blaming others for the criticisms you faced is not a leadership trait. When an interviewer asks about criticisms at work, don’t try to drag someone else under the bus either.

Indeed, you might not be the main cause of the problem or poor turnout but still, take some responsibility. It is more impressive when you are clearly not to blame for the poor output but still take responsibility for it. It shows leadership and teamwork abilities and proves that you can be trusted.


Show strong emotion.

Action speaks louder than words, even in an interview. When asked to describe a time when your work was criticized, memories resurface and they are not good. It is advised to focus on the professional aspect and not how it made you feel.

Showing strong emotion when professional matters arise is not a good sign of professionalism. Breaking down or changing your tone when answering these questions gives an interviewer many things to worry about.

Will you be the type that treats criticisms as an attack on your character? Are you going to react the same way when you are talking about them in a future interview?


Show disdain towards your superior.

When a question about criticism at work arises, it could bring back bad memories and trigger negative emotions. In such cases, your disdain for superiors or colleagues who criticized you could become visible. Even if you try not to act as such, your words could betray you.

While you feel unjustly criticized and show disdain towards your superior, some bad signals are caught by the interviewer. No employer wants their former employee to speak negatively about them for any reason. Especially when it is a work-related issue, employers expect candidates to try to keep it professional.


Deflect the question.

Some questions do not make candidates comfortable, especially personal questions. In such cases, a candidate can tell the interviewer that they would rather not answer such personal questions, and rightly so. This is not deflecting the question but refusing to answer, which is acceptable.

However, a question related to work and criticisms is not a personal question that should be refused or deflected. Deflecting this question shows that you may be hiding something.

It is risky to deflect this question because the interviewer may decide to confirm from the company you left. The truth is always better coming out from you than from the place you left as they will only tell their side of the story.


Play down the situation.

Criticisms directed towards your work ethic or total output are something that should concern you. Although you are to try to remain calm while you share the experience, playing down the situation does not always portray you in the best light.

To some interviewers, if you act like the criticism didn’t matter or bother you the slightest, it shows that you don’t take your work seriously.

Also, it could mean that you don’t care about the place where you worked at the time. Playing down criticisms means you are throwing away an opportunity to get better at your job or stand up for yourself when you should.



Employers ask about incidents regarding the criticism of your work for many reasons. For the most part, employers want to test your character and willingness to learn. Narrating what happened like a bedtime story is not what the employer is looking for. Rather, a detailed explanation of the situation is expected.

If you see and interpret criticisms as a personal attack, it would show when you talk about it. No matter how much you try to choose your words carefully, your actions and mannerisms would say something else.


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