2

I don't know if this question is too subjective or vague, but I don't really know what I could answer if I had to. I am a junior developer (I had a couple of internships which were great and got offered job opportunities), but when I was asked this by another company's HR, I didn't know what to say, I just stuttered something like "Well, writing code in a whole new language seems like a great challenge to me, but I don't know if it would be the greatest".

The interviewer told me back that as a developer, I had to experiment a lot, and try new languages, frameworks and such. I'm perfectly aware of this, I'm curious and try plenty of those, but I didn't even know what to answer because I'm not shy at all, I work great in a team and I'm quite organized. Thus answering "There is no great challenge for me" really didn't seem like an acceptable answer.

What is the interviewer looking for by asking this question, and how can I craft a good answer for this question in the future?

closed as too broad by jcmeloni, Michael Grubey, Jim G., CincinnatiProgrammer, squeemish Jul 17 '13 at 19:06

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Depends on the person and your position but I'd always favour candidates who answered along the lines of "requirements", "people" and "relationships" because these, not coding, are the hard problems in software engineeering and in workplaces in general. – Michael Jul 17 '13 at 13:41
  • @Michael I feel like that's the answer they wanted to hear, but I never felt like it was a challenge to get along with people... And I didn't really want to lie... – Fabinout Jul 17 '13 at 13:44
  • 5
    Getting along with people and getting people in business to make decisions, commit to decisions and not change their minds 5 minutes later are very different things. – Michael Jul 17 '13 at 13:47
  • 1
    Well first I woud fix that not worked longer than 6 months at a company part. That will hurt you in looking for work more than any answer to a subjectiuve question. At your age I would expect at least one job to be over a year or I woudl think you can't get along and will abandon my company just as you are starting to be useful. – HLGEM Jul 17 '13 at 13:54
  • 7
    Actually it often is as you get older. You need to fix this as soon as possible. People who stay less than six months tend to never get the advanced skills either, they stay beginners becasue they never have to live with the consequences of their decisions. – HLGEM Jul 17 '13 at 14:12
5

What would be your greatest challenge in the workplace?

This is a variation on the "What's your greatest weakness?" question as the idea here is to identify what aspect within the company will be the hardest part to handle. Another way to word this is, "What part of this job will be the most difficult for you?" Whatever you pick as the item isn't the key point as much as it is what kind of follow-up do you give to it. For example, if writing documentation was a great challenge then one may answer that, "Going back to document what was done and why it was done is often a challenge as there are usually other top priority tasks to get done yet I do try to set aside some of my time to ensure that things are written down in a wiki or something that is accessible to everyone on the team," so that while the documentation is the challenge, there are things being done about it. Some people may pick that they are very diligent about doing good work and may have issues with perfectionistic tendencies.

There is no great challenge for me

This would likely come across as a very arrogant answer as you are admitting to having nowhere to improve. You write flawless code in record time without any bugs, really? You probably do have areas where you'd like to improve and those are the challenges being referenced here. The key point here is what kind of weaknesses, vulnerabilities, or areas to improve is what is being requested here though in an odd packaging but that is the nature of this question where the key is to see how do you handle having to give a tricky answer as admitting to having a weakness is often seen as not going over well. As another example to consider here, how well do you give formal presentation to fellow developers? How about to non-technical people? Could you handle giving a presentation on the advantages of a software methodology to a dozen non-technical executives?


There will be parts of the job that are outside of work in software development is something else to note here. Giving presentations, interviewing other possible developers and facilitating meetings would be a few things that come to mind that while not part of Systems Development Life Cycle, there may be an expectation that you know how to handle these.

  • Thanks for your time answering my question. It is marvelous ;). I thought I had no great challenge, because I know no side of software development that I totally suck at. I am sometimes not as good as I wish I were , but it's never been a major problem for me, that's why I stuttered and didn't know what to answer. If I understood the question as you stated it; it would have been much easier to answer. Thanks again! – Fabinout Jul 17 '13 at 14:10
7

The emphasis here is absolutely on YOUR greatest challenge, not THE greatest challenge.

In most fields, there are certainly some known huge challenges that the majority of the population will have a problem with - big changes in technology, organizational culture, roles and expectations - are hard on anyone.

The goal in answering is to show you have some reasonable self-awareness of your own personal limitations, but also that you have some useful methods for getting over your own issues. Here's two lists - what to do, what not to do.

What to do

  • Be honest, don't make stuff up about yourself
  • Be fair - everyone has challenges, and "challenge" does not equal "problem" - so just because you find something challenging does not mean you are a horrible candidate. Believe in yourself
  • Be enthusiastic and proactive - just because something is challenging, don't avoid it at all costs - have a plan of action in mind if you are ever called upon to be challenged this way.
  • Focus slightly above your current level - don't focus on a bare minimum type of skill (working a full day) - focus on a skill that is useful at your current level and even more required if you want to move up to the next level. Your next level - for example, in tech work, some people want to move to surpassing competence in all technical areas, while others want to do more leadership.
  • Bonus points for tying yourself and the new role together in a meaningful way - "My experience has centered around X, to be excellend in this new role, I understand I'd need to be good at Y, my plan of action for getting from X to Y is..." This is a bonus - it's not always possible in the interview to get to this level of depth.

What not to do

  • Don't aim low - even if it's true, answers like "getting to work on time", "being accountable for my assignments", "saying inappropriate things at work" are not winners. I don't care how great your means of addressing this challenge may be... this isn't what your employer wants to see you struggling with.

  • Don't lack a plan of action - if this is a challenge that you really can't think of a meaningful plan of action for, either find some help and get yourself a plan, or find a different challenge.

  • Don't skip it - saying "I see no challenges" can be interpreted as "this job sounds boring"

Well-packaged answers

There's some answers in this line of questioning that are always "right" not matter who you are. I find them obnoxious, personally, because it doesn't really tell me anything about the candidate - but I also try to avoid asking questions that will only get me packaged answers.

Here's a few for this question:

  • My continous challenge is always work life balance. I'm really dedicated and I put in so much time that I can sometimes cause frustration at home. My solution is to plan ahead as much as possible, and keep my work very organized to minimize unpleasant surprises that add to the workload.

  • My continous challenge is working with people who aren't as passionate about the work as I am... I don't understand it. My solution is to try not to let my frustration show.

0

Have you considered why you chose to be a programmer over othere professions? Your answer may be getting a position where you are not getting to program as much. You may be more in meetings, dealing with client issues, writing specs, managing projects, other people, etc.

This is why it is important to have your best coders avoid these things. You may think not getting to code is a rare situation, but it is very common for people who advance up the corporate ladder.

-1

First off, this is why I don't like HR interviews. If the guy who will actually tell you what to do each day is too busy to pick his own people, and instead lets a department more concerned with what they'll be paying you than what you're actually capable of do the interviewing, then he deserves the people he gets. In my experience most in-house HR are busier than the hiring manager, and virtually ignorant of the skills required for the job and how to make an applicant demonstrate he has them.

Rant over. I agree with many that this is a rehash of the classic "what's your biggest weakness". It's a question designed to force the applicant to do some self-examination, and to give an answer other than one that implies he walks on water and you're a fool for not having given him a job offer already. Obviously, since it's so common, its purpose has been perverted, and the answer is more often than not a better measure of how well the applicant can be good-naturedly self-deprecating, and also how well he can spin.

One good canned answer is "My greatest challenge in the workplace is knowing when to call it a day". Depending on your personality it can be an honest answer; a lot of junior and even senior programmers like their job enough, at least at first, that they'll end up working 10 and 12-hour days regularly just by being plugged in solving a problem, then looking up to see everyone gone and both hands on the clock pointing straight up. Long-term, this isn't good for you; it leads to burnout which can be a career-killing problem. But, as an answer, this answer tells your interviewer that you like the work, and are willing to commit to it heavily.

  • @Downvoters, care to comment? – KeithS Jul 17 '13 at 16:57
  • 3
    I'm not a downvoter, but I can imagine a big part of the reason being that this answer seems to fail to answer the OP's explicit question "What is the interviewer looking for by asking this question, and how can I craft a good answer for this question in the future?". The first paragraph is a self-admitted rant, and the third paragraph is unrelated to what the OP is asking as it explicitly gives a canned answer. The middle paragraph basically agrees with existing answers. The result is an answer that does not answer the question and adds nothing substantial to the other answers. – a CVn Jul 17 '13 at 20:39

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.