Tell me about a time when you didn’t have enough data to make the right decision

Now we will have a look at a question that is typical at many schools nowadays, but also in a corporate setting. Teacher or a corporate rat, you’ll have to make decisions daily, in the classroom or in the workplace. And while (almost) everyone can make a decision when the pros and cons of different options are obvious, only the best employees and teachers can make one when they lack the data, and it isn’t easy to decide what one should do. How do you react in such a situation, and can you make the decision? As it is often the case, hiring mangers are interested more in your attitude than in the actual situation you narrate. But how to show the right attitude?

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this tricky question, some for teachers and some for corporate employees. Each of them will work well, and I hope at least one of them fits your situation and interview scenario. You can always adjust it, or add more details to make sure it sounds authentic (if you decide to make something up for your meeting with the hiring managers), but you can also say it has never happened to you yet, as you will see in one of my answers. Enjoy!


7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you didn’t have enough data to make the right decision” interview question

  1. It happened in my last teaching job. I was working with special needs students, and my predecessor didn’t leave any documentation for me. If I understood it correctly, they left the school at bad terms, and decided to burn the bridges and take everything with them. As you know for sure, individual approach is the key with each special needs student. But I didn’t know how to design my lesson plans, and how to proceed, simply because I lacked the data, the information about my pupils. I couldn’t make the right decision, so I decided to make sure I won’t make a wrong one. Instead of coming up with tailored lesson plans I started with general ones, and during first three weeks I just tried to understand my students. Just then, when I came with the data myself, did I work on individual plans for each student. Sure, one can say we lost quite a lot of time in this way, but I still feel it was the right things to do, and would do the same thing if similar situation repeated.
  2. I have just graduated from college so cannot talk about decisions from work. But I believe that once I was deciding about my professional career I faced this situation. You know how it goes when one is eighteen. You care for everything but your studies, your future. I just went with the flow, and since my best friend decided to study teaching, I went to the same college. Today I know that I needed more data to decide. I should consult the counselor at high school, do some tests, do my research, pay visit to different colleges, and so on. I didn’t do that, and perhaps didn’t study at the college that would be the best match for my strengths and personality. Yet along the years I learned to love teaching, and I am looking forward to my professional career.
  3. It happened to me in my last job of a purchasing manager. I faced a tight deadline, and my task for to purchase certain quantity of raw materials for production. The problem was that I didn’t have enough time to visit the suppliers, and check on the quality of the material. I had to decide based on my impression and intuition (which doesn’t betray me often, but we should follow data when making important decisions worth tens of thousands of dollars), and the online reviews–which can be manipulated easily as everyone knows. Hence I decided, picked two suppliers. And while quality of materials from one was great, other wasn’t really fitting for our top-class production, and we had to return it, faced delays, lacked materials, and so on. It was the reason why I had to leave my job, but I can assure you that I learned my lesson, and won’t repeat the same mistake again.
  4. Power is in data as they say. Speaking honestly, I cannot recall one such situation, since in all my marketing jobs I relied strongly on data, analytics, and put emphasis on collecting data everywhere, of course in compliance with GDPR and other regulations. Therefore my decisions were always data driven, and almost all proved right. As we all know though, while data do not lie trends do change, and it happened a couple of times that my decision proved wrong, though I could backup it with data. I think it is something we have to accept and simply move on. Even the best manager makes a mistake sometimes, and I am not going to claim that I am an exception to the rule.
  5. In my last job of a process engineer I lacked data to decide about eventual improvement to a process. And while I tried to break it down to smallest parts and analyze everything, I just felt the thing was too complex and interrelated, and my conclusions were wrong. I lacked data to make a decision, and hence I made none. What I try to say here is that I decided to leave the process as it was–good enough in my opinion, instead of taking risks and perhaps ending with worse results than before. Not sure if I would do the same in a similar situation–it depends on the process in question and other circumstances, but I feel I did the right thing as a process engineer.
  6. It happened to me a lot in my last managerial job. I led a team of twenty people, and while I thought I knew everyone well, people are not machines and are never 100% predictable. When facing a situation we never faced before–which happened quite often in a fast growing startup, I logically didn’t have data, didn’t know how different people reacted in the past to similar situations. Still, it was a startup and in such a setting it is important to act quickly and make decisions, even if you risk some of them will turn wrong. And that’s exactly what happened to me on multiple occasions. But I always moved on and solved problems on the go, since it was really the only viable way in this business. Everyone makes mistakes in a startup company, and I am ready to admit I made many. At the end the idea wasn’t a success and once the funding ended we were all left jobless. But I learned a lot and now I am looking forward to a new opportunity in your company.
  7. I faced such a situation daily in my last sales job. You know, I was cold-calling customers, and had a little file on each person–if any. That means that I had no data to decide about the optimal sales pitch, or optimal time to call them, and so on. Of course, it helps a lot when you know your customer, but this wasn’t the case. When I lacked data, I followed intuition, and actually tried to gather some data directly on the call. Sure enough I made wrong decisions, people hang up, or even said some bad words to me. But such things belong to the work of every salesman, and I am resilient and can deal with rejection.

Final thoughts

As you can see, one can approach this question from a variety of angles. Regardless of whether you worked in education, sales, accounting, management, or haven’t worked anywhere yet, you can always find a situation in which you lacked data, and had to decide. Perhaps you got lucky and made a right decision, and perhaps you did not, and paid the price, or even lost your job. It isn’t the most important thing for the interviewers.

As long as you can admit making a mistake, and talk about your failures, as long as you do not blame other person for your mistakes, and can explain why you did what you did, and learn from your bad decisions, they will be satisfied with your answer. I hope this helps, and do not forget to check also other tough questions we analyze on our website:

Matthew Chulaw
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