Employers love asking interview questions about decision-making. They want to make sure you can handle pressure and react well to tough situations.
So you could hear questions like, “how do you make important decisions?” in any interview.
You need to be able to clearly describe how you make decisions, and ideally give examples of past decisions that worked out well for you. Managers want people they can trust and don’t have to keep an eye on every second. So this question is your chance to put their mind at ease.
In this section, I’m going to give you 3 steps for answering decision-making interview questions like, “tell me how you make decisions”. Then in the next section, we’ll look at two word-for-word answer examples.
Here are the steps to create a great answer:
The goal here is to sound like you have a system or a process you follow. It doesn’t have to be an exact science, but you want to sound like you approach decisions the same way, rather than doing something completely different each time or trusting your gut (don’t reply by saying “I just trust my gut”).
A good start to your answer will sound like this:
“I like to gather as much information as possible to aid in my decision, but I also consider how much time is available to me. Sometimes a decision needs to be made quickly, even if all the information can’t be gathered, so I weigh time versus information. Then I look at possible outcomes and the likely results of my decisions, and make the best choice for my team and my organization with the facts available.”
This is good advice for pretty much all of the interview questions you face… don’t just say how you’d do something, give examples.
So when they ask how you make decisions, you’d give an answer like what I shared above and then go on to say something like this:
“…For example in my last job, I was presented with a tough decision while my boss was absent. I had to decide between fixing a piece of software we had already created, or starting over. It turned out that starting over would only take a few hours longer than applying a fix to what we had, and through some discussion with colleagues, I also determined that fixing what we currently had might still leave us open to a risk of future problems and issues. So I decided we should start over, spend the extra time now and avoid any future complications, and my boss completely agreed with the decision when he returned to the office.”
Whatever you do, just remember that in almost all cases, it’s best to seem logical when you describe how you make decisions. Show that you rely on facts, that you look to gather information before deciding, etc.
Don’t sound like you act on emotion or hunches. Employers don’t want to hire someone who’s going to be unpredictable, make decisions “on the fly”, etc. So the best way to put their mind at ease when answering decision-making questions is to show you follow a logical process.
That’s my best advice here.
If a hiring manager asks “how do you make decisions?”… they want to see someone who consistently follows a plan to come to the right choice.
Let’s put everything together based on the three steps we looked at above. Here are two example answers for how you make effective decisions.
“I like to gather as much information as possible to aid in my decision, but I also consider how much time is available to me. Sometimes a decision needs to be made quickly, even if all the information can’t be gathered, so I weigh time versus information. Then I look at possible outcomes and the likely results of my decisions, and make the best choice for my team and my organization with the facts available. For example in my last job, I was presented with a tough decision while my boss was absent. I had to decide between fixing a piece of software we had already created, or starting over. It turned out that starting over would only take a few hours longer than applying a fix to what we had, and through some discussion with colleagues, I also determined that fixing what we currently had might still leave us open to a risk of future problems and issues. So I decided we should start over, spend the extra time now and avoid any future complications, and my boss completely agreed with the decision when he returned to the office.”
“The first thing I look at is the timeframe. If I have a week to make a decision, my approach is going to be different than if I have one hour. Once I’ve determined the time frame, I gather the key pieces of information that will help me make an informed decision. It’s not always possible to know the outcome 100%, but I try to gather as much information as possible to make an educated guess at what will give us the best result. Another technique I like to use a lot is risk analysis. Looking at the worst-case scenario and what can possibly go wrong with each decision is a good way to understand the pros and cons of different choices. It gives you a much clearer picture than if you only look at the best possible outcome of each choice.”
Next, the interviewer may ask you a behavioral question like, “Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision without all the information you needed.”
As you describe a situation, it’s important to tell a clear, concise story, starting with the basic situation, then going into the challenge or task you faced. Then, describe the solution you chose and the positive outcome you achieved.
This is referred to as the S.T.A.R. method: Situation. Task. Action. Result.
“I was leading an important project for a client and two team members quit the company midway through the project. This happened just a few minutes before our scheduled call with the client, so I had to think quickly and use problem-solving skills and communication skills to inform the client what had happened and create a plan for how to proceed with the project. In the end, the client was okay with the situation and liked my decision and plan for how to move forward. I think my decision to go into the call with confidence even though I had been caught off-guard by the situation is what helped. Also, my transparency and clear communication with the client maintained their trust and strengthened our relationship.”
“I recently had a patient come into the hospital and we weren’t able to obtain his medical history. He was having an emergency and needed medication and I realized I didn’t have time to wait for all of the information to come in. I prioritized his safety and chose a treatment with the lowest chance of side effects or allergic reaction, while still ensuring it would resolve the primary issue he was admitted into the hospital for.”
When asked about a time you had to make a decision without all of the necessary information, or any other situation where you had to make a tough decision, always provide a decision-making example that shows a positive outcome.
When possible, provide an example that relates to this employer’s job description, too. Describe a task or project where you used skills relevant to this employer’s job.
The more you can relate your answers to an employer’s needs in the job interview, the more excited they’ll be about hiring you onto their team.
It’s okay if your previous job isn’t exactly the same as this next job. Just find the overlaps and try to describe tasks that will seem relevant to this employer and team.
There are a couple of mistakes to avoid when answering ANY question about decision-making, so I want to leave you with these mistakes now.
This will help you answer the questions we looked at above, but also behavioral questions like, “tell me about a tough decision you had to make, and what happened?”
Or, “tell me about a time you had to make a decision without all of the necessary information?”
The fact is, there are a nearly endless amount of questions employers could ask about how you make important decisions, so these mistakes will help you with all of those questions.
You never want to sound like you just “wing it” or go with your gut feeling at the moment. Employers want to hear that you follow a process or a system. Show them you have a series of steps you go through to get to a logical conclusion.
Don’t ever just explain how you make decisions in general and then stop. You should always try to share a specific story with a great outcome.
Talk about the situation and challenges, why you chose the decision you did, and why. And then finally – share the great result it brought to your team/company! That’s what will get the interviewer excited when you’re talking about past decisions in the interview.
Decision-making interview questions are NOT the type of question you want to draw a blank on! If you don’t have a good response ready to go, the interviewer will wonder if you’ve ever had to make decisions.
And if they think you haven’t, they’re going to worry about hiring you because you’ll be unpredictable. Sure, maybe you’d turn out great, but maybe not. They want someone who’s “battle-tested” and has made tough decisions in the past. That’s the best way they can be pretty sure you’ll also perform well in their role.
So make sure you practice and prepare your own answer after finishing this article! Don’t go into an interview without a specific example of a decision you made, why you made it, and how it turned out.
If you follow the steps above and create an answer that sounds like these two examples, you’ll have a convincing answer that puts a smile on the hiring manager’s fire. You don’t want them to have ANY concerns about your ability to make important decisions under pressure, and the steps above are how you do it.
Get our free PDF with the top 30 interview questions to practice. Join 10,000+ job seekers in our email newsletter and we'll send you the 30 must-know questions, plus our best insider tips for turning interviews into job offers.