Before this gets closed for being a duplicate to this question, I have another question that would fit into that criteria.

Describe a situation where you know you should have apologized and you didn't. Why?

I understand this question is looking to see if you can admit a mistake and how you responded to it, but I generally can't think of a time this has happened. I'm somebody who typically apologizes over nothing, so finding a time that I didn't apologize is very difficult. How should I go about responding to a question that I have no truthful response to?

  • Come on you have NEVER EVER had a situation where you knew you should have apologized and did not? Did you pull your sister's hair when you were 6 and did not apologize? It is a behavior question. If you don't have a work example then pick the best. It is not realistic that any person has gone through life and not had that situation. – paparazzo Jul 15 '15 at 18:53
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    @Blam, I am sure that everyone has had experiences like that. The real problem is coming up with answers that aren't humiliating, silly, too personal, or totally irrelevant to the job interview. Some behavioral questions just aren't easily answerable, the OP needs a strategy for those. – teego1967 Jul 15 '15 at 19:17
  • @teego1967 Those as in plural? This is about a specific question. No answer is a bad answer. It is not that hard of a question. – paparazzo Jul 15 '15 at 19:42
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    "I had a habit of getting into fights as a kid that I didn't always apologize for" would seem like a bad answer for multiple reasons. @Blam I have noticed that you have answered a lot of questions on this site with a tone that is very condescending. Although some have been accurate, it doesn't make it appropriate, especially for a question and answer site related to the workplace. You should really work on that. – Ill Informed Jul 15 '15 at 19:50
  • You have a rep of 101 and you have decided what is appropriate for this site. An accurate answer is not always flattering - that does not make it an inappropriate answer. If all you can think of is a fight when you were a kid then yes that is a bad answer. You could not even come up with I missed by brother's birthday and did not call him to apologize. My first job as a paper boy I was late delivering the paper and I did not knock on every door and apologize for being late. As a lawn job I missed trimming part of the curb because I ran out of line and did not apologize. – paparazzo Jul 15 '15 at 20:16

How should I go about responding to a question that I have no truthful response to?

But you do have a completely truthful response, which you expressed in your question:

"I generally can't think of a time this has happened. I'm somebody who typically apologizes over nothing, so finding a time that I didn't apologize is very difficult."

You could expand on it a bit, perhaps talk about why you consider it important to apologize quickly, etc.

Behavioral questions seek to explore your behavior. They look to understand how you performed in the past, as an indicator of how you will perform in the future. Your answer explains an aspect of your behavior quite well.

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    Exactly, the answer is in the question. – user37925 Jul 15 '15 at 18:54

If you can't answer because you're drawing a blank just say you'll think about it and ask to go onto the next question and come back to this one later if you think of something.

No one should expect that all behavioral interview questions will be answerable by everyone. People simply don't index their memories that way. You can "punt" on perhaps one or two questions, but if it you're doing that on more, then you'll need to spend more time preparing yourself before the next behavioral interview.

You can prepare in advance to some extent by simply reviewing lists of behavioral interview questions and coming up with some good answers without the pressure of a live interview. There's not an infinity of such questions, there's probably a few hundred different questions each with some easy variations. The answer for each of these requires illustrating a particular trait with some real example drawn from previous experience.

While coming up with answers, it might be useful to consider the overall goal of the behavioral question. These types of interviews are intended to discern what it is like to work with you as a person. When things are going perfectly in a workplace, almost everyone is remarkably easy to get along with. But when there is conflict or pressure, that's when personalities clash and when getting along with others becomes paramount above even things like technical aptitude. That is why behavioral interview focus almost exclusively on how you deal with stressors, mistakes and problems involving other people.

What is the goal of this particular question? I believe it is intended to probe empathy and the ability to criticize oneself (to admit to being wrong).

The question asks for an explanation about a time when you should have apologized but did not. You could come up with something silly like a grade school incident where you pulled a girl's pigtails where the explanation would be that you were 6 years old or perhaps some situation where you did something trivial that would typically require an uttering "excuse me" but did not. That's NOT what the question is intended to probe.

A really good answer to this question would describe some event where you truly failed to apologize for something that seriously required an apology. If you then indicate some amount of regret and explain it by describing the point of view of the person you wronged that would show that you have empathy and can admit to being wrong.

There's always a lot of "wiggle room" in behavioral questions-- maybe you can't think of a time where you failed to apologize, but you can probably think of a time where your apology was delayed. That would work. Or you can perhaps explain how you made amends to someone for a mistake without apologizing. Sometimes actions speak louder than words ( :-) ).

Behavioral interviews are exceptionally difficult and NOT just for the interviewee.

Part of the problem here lies with the interviewer. It takes a lot of skill to perform a behavioral interview properly. A really good behavioral interviewer will run the interview much like a conversation and you may not even notice that it is a behavioral interview. A poor one, will simply pick a trait and ask a question starting with "Tell me about a time where..."

Skilled interviewers start with a discussion about previous jobs/projects/experiences and then proceed to ask behavioral questions within the context of the discussion. The interviewee is far more likely to be able to answer behavioral questions when it is asked within the context of a specific discussion about a past event.

  • +1 for a good response when asked during an interview. My problem is that I have a few questions that are asked in the application process. I typically don't have a problem answering behavioral questions, but this one has stumped me. – Ill Informed Jul 15 '15 at 18:31

So, you have no regrets in your life? Think about if there is someone that you wanted to have some more time and would have apologized if you had the time. While this isn't precisely what is asked, it can provide a reasonable answer. "At my mother's funeral, I realized that there were some times I did things as a child and wanted to apologize but it was now too late to do that," could be a suitable answer to the question, where you could use grandparents or other relatives as an idea, as part of the point here is to see how you answer rather than just what you say. If you want to say that you are overly apologetic that may backfire as you could then come across as weak in a sense. At least that would be how I could see this going.

Did you ever have any school conflicts where a teacher or other figure said you had to say you were sorry but you didn't apologize? Did you ever have time on a playground and may have left someone without apologizing for cutting them off or taking their toy? Has there ever been a time where you could have apologized to make peace but didn't? That may be another way to think about this question.

  • I think that would be a good answer, but the problem is that I'm pretty fresh out of college with less real world experience than most people (and both my parents are alive). You definitely got me thinking in a different way though... – Ill Informed Jul 15 '15 at 18:27
  • Come not enough real world experience. So you like never cut someone off on the road and did not apologize simply because you could not. – paparazzo Jul 15 '15 at 18:36
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    @Blam, the OP is trying to give an answer which is pertinent to the job. Talking about silly traffic situations in a behavioral interview would sound like the interviewee is reaching too hard. – teego1967 Jul 15 '15 at 18:39
  • @Blam would that really be a good answer to the question though? When I said "real world experience", I meant work experience, sorry. Yes I wouldn't be able to apologize, but it seems very insignificant, unless that is the kind of answer this question would deserve. – Ill Informed Jul 15 '15 at 18:42
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    @Blam: Perhaps I'm the sort of person who just doesn't cut people off on the road? Or more generally, am a kind & considerate person who never does anything that really deserves an apology? – jamesqf Jul 15 '15 at 19:35

I think you should indicate that you try to make it a point to always apologize. If there was ever a instance you didn't apologize, tell them it would not be intentional. Maybe you can share a time when you went out of your way to apologize.

Just be careful that you don't come across as excessively apologetic; that can be annoying. Hopefully, you don't apologize for apologizing.

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