Competency Question - Bad News

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Economist

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Hi Folks,

I've been asked a few times in interviews (and not just railway ones) about a time where I've had to give someone bad news. I honestly haven't much of a clue what the interviewers are looking for, except perhaps they want to know if someone can hold it together in the immediate aftermath of a fatality.

I've tried answering it by talking about situations where someone else has been doing something wrong and I've had to stay clam and correct them, the "bad news" being the correction though I sense I'm barking up the wrong tree here.

I'm aware that they are probably looking for empathy and staying clam etc. That said, when I receive bad news I just want the facts, not the emotional fluffy stuff. Most of my examples are technical in nature (e.g. something not working as it should - need to tell my manager), the only "fluffy" ones are when relatives have died and I think that might be a bit distasteful.

May I please ask if anyone's got a view on these sorts of questions? I'm not after someone to answer them for me but to give me a rather general idea of where I'm going wrong.
 
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922011

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Hi Folks,

I've been asked a few times in interviews (and not just railway ones) about a time where I've had to give someone bad news. I honestly haven't much of a clue what the interviewers are looking for, except perhaps they want to know if someone can hold it together in the immediate aftermath of a fatality.

I've tried answering it by talking about situations where someone else has been doing something wrong and I've had to stay clam and correct them, the "bad news" being the correction though I sense I'm barking up the wrong tree here.

I'm aware that they are probably looking for empathy and staying clam etc. That said, when I receive bad news I just want the facts, not the emotional fluffy stuff. Most of my examples are technical in nature (e.g. something not working as it should - need to tell my manager), the only "fluffy" ones are when relatives have died and I think that might be a bit distasteful.

May I please ask if anyone's got a view on these sorts of questions? I'm not after someone to answer them for me but to give me a rather general idea of where I'm going wrong.

You could do with finding out who the announcer was at Old Trafford on Sunday, I bet he could tell you exactly how it feels!!
 

ComUtoR

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May I please ask if anyone's got a view on these sorts of questions? I'm not after someone to answer them for me but to give me a rather general idea of where I'm going wrong.

With these style interviews the answer given is not always what is important. Yes it needs to be answered but they are more looking at how you interpret the question rather than a specific answer. "Bad News" is generic and open but that is the point of competency based interviews. It gives you an open platform to put across your interpretation and gives room for discussion. People are different so the questions need to be more open.

You stated that you prefer technical and consider emotional to be fluffy. So you need to justify that response. Why do you prefer the technical side, what do you consider bad and why. That needs to be communicated through discussion.

With that specific question its not just about how you act or what the specifics are but how you are dealing with others. Its more about how you are dealing with them in that situation.

Many of these style questions are about communication and interaction. These style questions also prevent people from having canned answers and the interviewer may start to cross check and probe for more in depth answers from you. Canned answers or even less than honest ones can falter upon discussion.

Its those sort of things that interviewers are looking for. An experienced interviewer will pull the right answers from you and lead the candidate. They know a prepared answer and know when people are not genuine.

It is difficult, if not impossible to tell where you are going wrong. They are looking for more than just specific answers. Did you give a clear and consist account of what happened, can you recall specifics, did you resolve the situation, what did you learn, how would you change your actions, can you communicate effectively.

Other than the answers given you need to be relaxed and be well presented etc.

During the interview did you interrupt the interviewer ? Did you ask for clarification ? I'd rather have an candidate seek more information than someone clearly trying to wing it or crowbar their answer into the expected response.

How well did you come across and how was the relationship with the interviewer. Was you confident or nervous ? Importantly, did you meet the required criteria ?

I have done a few interviews in my time and I am stunned by the number of candidates that don't meet the criteria. A railway example is where you may need to live within 10 miles form your depot but you get to the interview and your living 15 miles away. If you haven't read the job requirements or get to interview and are still asking about basic information that has been provided on the job description then your already behind.

Hope that helps.
 

Economist

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Thanks for the in-depth answer ComUtoR, it does help quite a bit.

The reason I tend to prefer the direct approach to bad news is that I tend to know exactly where I stand. If I've been faced with bad news, I like to know exactly where I stand, I like clarity.

One of the examples I have yet to use is where a team I was liaising with made a software cock-up which I had to communicate it to my manager, needed to be concise and to the point there.

I do like to prepare answers before I go in because I'm not so strong on the spot. Probably one of the reasons I passed the MMI was that I was able to write things down before I went into the room. The answer as to why I want to drive trains and/or drive for the TOC in question I know before I walk in. Again stuff regarding emergencies, rules/procedures I know and they do tend to be strong examples.

In one DMI (an early one), I was rather jumpy and this was communicated in the feedback, everything apart from this one question was excellent. They strongly encouraged me to apply again after six months.

In another, one of the interviewers said it was a really nice interview at the end, yet I didn't get the job, felt I had a really good rapport with them.

After being asked a question I tend to wait for a few seconds, in one or two questions I may ask for clarification, otherwise I'll just start my answer having mulled things over.

I am well-presented and meet the minimum requirements, when I need to relocate I tend to discuss rental prices, when I would actually do the move etc. I make this clear in my written application too.
 

ComUtoR

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The reason I tend to prefer the direct approach to bad news is that I tend to know exactly where I stand. If I've been faced with bad news, I like to know exactly where I stand, I like clarity.

My follow-up in an interview would be to ask you what if the person your giving bad new too doesn't like clarity and breaks down in tears ? As I say. Its not always about you but how you are interacting with others. If the question was "how do you like to receive bad news" then I would be pulling your thoughts and feelings from you but as this is "tell me about a time where..." is a more holistic question and you need to see its about you AND the person your giving the news to. I hope that is clear. It could make or break how the interviewer sees your answer.

One of the examples I have yet to use is where a team I was liaising with made a software cock-up which I had to communicate it to my manager, needed to be concise and to the point there.

Yes you did and you have justified why you took the approach of being concise and to the point. Your actions were relevant. The person you were giving bad news to needed cold hard facts so you acted correctly. That Manager/Staff relationship is clearly defined. The interviewer will still pull more questions and answers from you and push for criteria to be met by giving you "what if's."

I do like to prepare answers before I go in because I'm not so strong on the spot. Probably one of the reasons I passed the MMI was that I was able to write things down before I went into the room. The answer as to why I want to drive trains and/or drive for the TOC in question I know before I walk in. Again stuff regarding emergencies, rules/procedures I know and they do tend to be strong examples.

Preparation is good and there is a difference between a canned answer and a well prepared and thought out one. There are folks who post here who want canned answers. Its is essential to think about your answers past the initial question. Just as much it is important to be competent in your answers to give those strong examples. As you have gone through this process you can understand that the initial question is just the tip of the iceberg

In one DMI (an early one), I was rather jumpy and this was communicated in the feedback, everything apart from this one question was excellent. They strongly encouraged me to apply again after six months.

Great and that is the point of feedback. When you notice your jumpy and can work to fix that when you return for a second interview they are looking for improvement. When your encouraged to reapply then you know you have basically passed but other candidates just tipped you to the post. You took it on the chin and worked on it. That is what good candidates do. Part of the skill of interviews is to make those changes and improvements.

In another, one of the interviewers said it was a really nice interview at the end, yet I didn't get the job, felt I had a really good rapport with them.

Sometimes we tick all the boxes but still don't progress. Never take that as a negative or see it as a failure. Another candidate may have smashed it out the park. (or ticked more boxes)

After being asked a question I tend to wait for a few seconds, in one or two questions I may ask for clarification, otherwise I'll just start my answer having mulled things over.

That's what people are looking for. Its not the specific answers but behaviour like this that can make a good interview.

As your past the MMI stage I assume that your awaiting DMI ?
 
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Economist

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Thank for all the advice, it has been really helpful. I've passed the MMI on the first go but had a few DMIs and it hasn't been easy, throughout my life it's always taken me a while to get to where I've wanted to be, though I've tended to get there in the end.

I believe I'm in a pool for at least one more DMI, plus I've got another couple of active applications. Never been fantastic at interviews because I'm not great at body language/non verbal stuff, I tend to be very literal in how I interpret things. Of course I've worked hard to overcome some of the shortcomings and do have a phenomenal memory. Reckon I'll hopefully get there in the end.
 

donpoku

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Thank for all the advice, it has been really helpful. I've passed the MMI on the first go but had a few DMIs and it hasn't been easy, throughout my life it's always taken me a while to get to where I've wanted to be, though I've tended to get there in the end.

I believe I'm in a pool for at least one more DMI, plus I've got another couple of active applications. Never been fantastic at interviews because I'm not great at body language/non verbal stuff, I tend to be very literal in how I interpret things. Of course I've worked hard to overcome some of the shortcomings and do have a phenomenal memory. Reckon I'll hopefully get there in the end.
You'll get there as you're very determined.

Which TOC are you in for?
 
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