“What is the most difficult work situation you have faced and how did you solve it?”  The gentleman asking the interview question was almost pained to ask it, as he recognized just how generic it was.

I paused for a few seconds.  Here I was, in my latest interview with a group of very interesting people and potential team mates.  We’d talked like regular people at the beginning, just conversing with conspiratorial smiles resulting occasionally.  But eventually they had their list of questions they had to ask, and so I responded, sometimes asking them questions as well.  But this particular question, well, there were a few difficult situations I had faced.  But instinct forced my hand.  My answer to them was out before my speech filter was in place.  In retrospect, I think it was a very good answer.

A tough-to-answer common question

“Working while knowing I was not going to be working anymore.”  I said, “My company notified me of our contract changes, including me being part of the contract cut, a month or so before I would have to leave.  They did this to give me and another worker time to find more work (futilely, in my case) somewhere else.”

All three interviewers seemed sympathetic.  “That would, really, make it difficult to work,” said the one who had asked the question. “How did you deal with it?”

I remembered receiving the bad news.  I remembered feeling a little numbed by the news of being let go.  I felt let down by the company, and worse, betrayed by the customer.  They had discussed these decisions in closed-door meetings.  This can affect a person’s motivation to work.  I had seen how some colleagues had dealt with news like this before.  They had shut down.

Because it felt personal, they didn’t feel obligated to work very well during the remainder of their time for a particular company or customer who they felt had betrayed them.  They reacted negatively to the news and appeared to validate the decisions to let them go, even if the decisions to do so were initially based on purely monetary grounds.  I could’ve gone the same route, but didn’t.  First, I’m not a very angry person to begin with, and second (and more importantly):  like those angry people, I worked with people who depended on me to get the job done.  They weren’t in on the decisions made by executive management and some were even my friends.  Could I really let them down?  Besides, somebody had to do the work and the mission always needed work.

“Very simple,” I replied, “I didn’t want to let my team and teammates down.  That is what motivated me to keep working for the remainder of time.  So I continued working, as I normally did.”

“Well, you must have been extremely professional.  In fact, it speaks to your professionalism that so many people you worked with during that time have come out and recommended you for this particular position.” said the lead interviewer.  I smiled and thanked him.  The interview continued with their questions, then I asked a few.  The lead interviewer showed me around the work area.  I thanked everyone and left.

negativity and long-term unemployment

It’s very simple and tempting to take the easy route and react negatively to job loss.  I know my initial reaction wasn’t positive.  But, there are always better reasons to get the work done.  I couldn’t ignore the fact and impact of losing the job, but I did continue to focus on the things and people that matter.  Anger might be a healthy reaction, but I didn’t want it to impact the people working alongside of me by just throwing up my hands and walking away.

And sometimes, quite unintentionally, it does pay off.  At least I got the interview…now if only I can get the job.  Right now, that’s the most difficult work situation.



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John Holst’s career path is as nonsensical and mad as the March Hare. In a series of what John thought were very trusting decisions, the United States Air Force let him babysit nuclear weapons, develop future officers, and then operate multi-billion dollar space systems. Then John re-enacted scenes from “Brazil” by joining the Missile Defense Agency, working as minutes-taker, configuration, project, mission, and test manager. When he’s not writing for Clearancejobs.com, he is putting his journalism degree skills to use as The Mad Spaceball.