Tough Interview Question - Tell me about the biggest risk you have taken in your life

Tell me about the biggest risk you have taken in your life.

Similar interview questions:
Are you a risk taker?
Do you prefer taking risks or playing it safe?
What is your level of risk tolerance?
Tell me about taking a risk that has paid off for you.

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
The interviewer is probing whether the candidate is risk tolerant or risk adverse. Taking risks can be part of any job, yet employers are typically looking for candidates who take manageable risks rather than extreme risks. The question also allows the interviewer to probe for ways the candidate may have planned in advance to mitigate risk.

The best approach to answering this question:
While many candidates assume this question means that the interviewer is looking for a high risk taker, that may not be the case. Depending on the role, it could be the opposite. So understand the role before answering this question. You should select an example which is clearly a calculated risk that paid off for you. Also, many candidates answer the question with risk taking activities in their personal lives, when the more appropriate answers are risk taking with regard to either work experience or education.

An example of how to best answer this question for experienced candidates:
"Probably the biggest risk I have taken was with a recent project where we developed a new feature that had not been used before either internally or externally. In doing so, it introduced a clear element of business risk to our project. We mitigated that risk by providing a baseline fallback position to which we could revert in the event of lack of user adoption. Yet the product launch went well and this was considered to be a leading edge feature for our company. I was even awarded the CEO Award for my role on this project…"

An example of how to best answer this question for entry level candidates:
"On my recent internship, most of the other interns chose safe projects with established product lines. I took a risk in asking to work with the new product development group, since it gave me the opportunity for leading edge experience. We were working with experimental tools and technologies that were not yet adopted internally. Part of this project was selection of an automated survey tool for gathering user feedback. I played the lead role in implementation of this survey tool. Not only was it adopted for our project, but it has since been adopted more broadly internally…"

An example of how you should not answer this question:
"I guess it would be the time when I went cliff diving in Mexico. It’s something I had never done before and I probably wouldn’t normally do something like that, but, well, we were all drinking and it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was the first one to dive and it was shallower than we thought. Then there was the trip to the emergency room to get stitches in my head. But the important thing is that I survived. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Would you like to see my scar?…"

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 Common Interview Questions to be fully prepared for your interview!

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