Tough Interview Question - Give me an example of a time when you had to make a split second decision

Give me an example of a time when you had to make a split second decision.

Similar interview questions:
How are you at making quick decisions?
Are you prone to making snap judgments?
Tell me about a time you had to decide something quickly and later regretted your decision.
Do you take your time in making decisions or make them quickly?

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
This is a tough interview question. Why? Because you can normally come up with a work example or situation to provide as the content for your answer. That’s typically not the case with this interview question. By definition, you should not be making split second decisions in your at work, unless you work in the medical field or if they are of a personal nature, such as helping a work colleague who experienced a stroke, heart attack, etc. So the interviewer is purposefully asking you a question to move your decision making outside the work environment to see how you handle it. The intent is to find out how you handle quick decisions in the real world.

The best approach to answering this question:
There may be some rare work situations that truly call for a split second decision. Someone working in the medical field with typically have plenty of these. But outside of medical, split second decisions are not typically going to be required within a work context. So answer first by saying you do not have a work situation (unless you truly do), then give a personal life situation where you had to make a split second decision. Think about your answer in advance. The best answer is when you were there to save the day for someone else. If you have a “hero” story, this is your opportunity to tell it. If not, tell about a time where you needed to respond quickly and made the right call. In this case, it can be personal, although not too personal.

An example of how to best answer this question for experienced candidates:
[Author’s note: this is the summary of a real life example I heard in an interview] "Although my job itself doesn’t have any true split second decisions, probably the best example I can give you was on September 11, 2001. I was working in the World Trade Center the morning the planes hit the buildings. We were told to evacuate, but the elevators stopped working, so we were all going down the stairs. On the sixth floor, there was a woman sitting in the stairwell who couldn’t go any further. I encouraged her to keep going, but she had a partial disability and said she couldn’t go on. She told me to just keep going and she would wait there for someone to help. I asked her if she could stand up and she said she could. I told her I was going to carry her down on my back and at first she objected. But then others encouraged her as well. It was tough going, but I made the decision that I wasn’t going to leave her there. We got out of the building and within 15 minutes the South Tower had collapsed. She said I was her hero, but I think I did what anyone would do in that case. There were a lot of heroes that day…"

An example of how to best answer this question for entry level candidates:
"I haven’t had any split second decisions in my recent internship, but at college there was recently an emergency medical situation where I needed to respond quickly. I’m First Aid, CPR and AED certified, so when I saw a guy fall to the ground while playing a pickup game of football on the quad, I ran over to see if I could help. The other students were gathered around, but no one was helping yet. He was lying unconscious. I pushed my way in and first of all asked someone to call 911 and then asked someone else to call campus security. Then I asked someone to run to get an AED. I knew where one was in the Hall of Administration, so I told him where to find it and get back as soon as possible. In the meantime, I checked pulse and breathing. Nothing. So I started CPR. By then there was another student there was CPR-trained, so we switched off with chest compressions and timing. Then the student arrived with the AED. I had only used one in training and this was a real life experience. I opened and applied the electrodes, then told everyone to stand clear. The system shocked and we got an immediate heartbeat. By then campus security arrived. I stayed with him until the paramedics arrived. He survived that day. Someone in the crowd said that I had saved his life. I’m not sure if I did or not. I was there and just wanted to help…"

An example of how you should not answer this question:
"My boss yelled at me again the other day. I really hate him. He’s always yelling at me for messing up in my work. So I made a split second decision and quit. Just walked out the door. That will show him. Now he can do his yelling at someone else. Do you yell at your employees when they mess up?…"

Remember to answer each interview question behaviorally, whether it is a behavioral question or not. The easiest way to do this is to use an example from your background and experience. Then use the S-T-A-R approach to make the answer a STAR: talk about a Situation or Task (S-T), the Action you took (A) and the Results achieved (R). This is what makes your interview answer uniquely yours and will make your answer a star!

Further review: know the answers to these 100 Standard Interview Questions to be fully prepared for your interview!

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