How To Answer “When Have You Made a Split Second Decision?” (With Examples)

By Ryan Morris - Jun. 9, 2022
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When you’re in a job interview, you’ll more than likely run into a few questions asking you for examples of goals you’ve achieved and decisions you’ve made in the past.

These questions can raise your heart rate by more than a little bit if you aren’t prepared for them, so it’s a good idea to think of answers to questions like, “When have you made a split-second decision?” ahead of time.

To help you with this, in this article you’ll find some insight into what interviewers are looking for with this question and how to answer it. You’ll also find a few examples that you can use as a guide as you structure your answer.

How to answer when have you made a split second decision?

Split Second Decision-Making: What Are Interviewers Really Asking?

When a hiring manager asks about a time you made a split-second decision, the particular story that you tell doesn’t really matter.

It doesn’t have to be impactful or exciting — though it wouldn’t hurt if it were at least one of those — because all that shows is that you’re able to tell a good story. Be prepared with a story relevant for this position, and you’re well on your way to a winning answer.

The point of this question is for a hiring manager to determine what your decision-making process looks like while you’re under pressure — that is, whether or not you’re capable of thinking on your feet and making good decisions in a crunch.

There are a lot of aspects of your personality that should be on display during whatever story you choose to tell, from your creative process to your command of a particular industry discourse, but the most important thing is to showcase just how capable you are of thinking quickly and analytically and acting decisively.

Some things about you and your working abilities that this question might be asking for include:

  • Creativity. When confronted with a unique problem, do you try to just apply old solutions to it? Or are you able to quickly synthesize new information on the fly in order to come up with solutions that are particular to the emergency you’re addressing?

  • Problem-solving. Are you thoughtful and logical under pressure? Or do you tend to take more of a brute-force tactic to problem-solving?

  • Emergency-preparedness. How ready were you for the situation? Did you already have a plan in place for a situation like this? Or were you just really good at thinking on your feet when the situation demanded it?

  • Decisiveness. Once you and/or your team decided on a course of action, how long did it take you to follow through? What were the results?

How to Answer “When Have You Made a Split Second Decision?”

Interviewers ask about split-second decision-making to see if your past accomplishments align with the skills needed for the job in question. It’s known as a behavioral interview question (which are some of the most common interview questions around), and answering these types of questions at job interviews is all about telling a story.

When it comes to giving an actual answer to this question, it can be easy to get lost as you’re telling your story.

Maybe you’re having trouble fitting all of your story into a short span of time, or maybe you can’t decide on a good story to tell in the first place.

One tactic you can employ is the STAR method, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Results.

It’s an interview method utilized that’s designed to help you focus on the main points of any story you tell during an interview:

  1. Situation: Start by quickly summarizing the situation. What problem arose that required you to make a quick decision?

  2. Task: Describe your role in the scenario. Were you acting entirely alone, or did you have a specific job to handle as part of a larger effort?

  3. Action: Then go into what action you undertook to solve the situation. This is the most important part of your answer, because it tells interviwers how you handled a difficult situation.

  4. Result: Finish by talking about the results of your actions. Ideally, everything worked out great, but if there was room for improvement, feel free to identify any weaknesses in the actions to show you’re self aware and capable of learning to do better each time.

Following those steps should help you tell an effective story that demonstrates the point you were trying to get across. In fact, this strategy works for all behavioral interview questions and plenty of other common interview questions.

Example Answers of When You Had to Make a Quick Decision

Whatever stories you use when answering behavioral interview questions, keep the basic STAR format in mind, like in the following answer:

“I think the best example of when I had to think fast was when I worked for old MacDonald’s Farm just outside of Silver City. (Situation)

One of our recent additions, a very fast-running ostrich, had begun acting irritably and one day escaped from its enclosure. I knew I had to get the situation under control before things got hairy. (Task)

Suddenly, I had an idea. Using a whole bucket of black paint from the Acme Corporation, my coworkers and I painted the side of a wall so that it looked like a tunnel. Our plan was to chase the ostrich until it ran towards the “tunnel,” whereupon it would crash into the cliff face and my fellow workers and I would have the chance to capture it and return it to the farm. (Action)

Unfortunately, as we chased the ostrich, it passed directly through the tunnel as though it were real while my coworkers and I all ran headlong into the wall as we tried to follow the beast through the tunnel ourselves. The ostrich got away and terrorizes us to this day, but I learned a lot about thinking on my feet and acting quickly.” (Result)

— Kyle E. Coyote, farmer and scientist

While the content might be silly, you can see how the STAR method works to coherently answer behavioral interview questions. Let’s take a look at some more serious answers to this question:

Example Answer for a Teacher

Early on in my last teaching job, I was informed of a student with fairly severe behavioral issues. During my first week, he had a significant episode where he was threatening another student in my class.

One of my responsibilities as a teacher is to defuse situations like this as quickly and safely as possible. I needed to make sure that nothing violent happened and that it didn’t grow into a situation that upset even more students.

I knew that in order to continue class for the rest of the students and not allow pandemonium to erupt, I needed to get the school counselor involved. After I brought the trouble-making student outside in the hall, I quickly alerted the counselor who came to my class and helped the student calm down.

By acting quickly, I was able to minimize the disruption to the rest of the class and maintain safety for the rest of the students. After this episode, we arranged for the counselor to have daily check-ins with the student, which helped make sure that such a volatile situation never arose again.

Example Answer for a Salesperson

Having worked in sales for a while, I know that even the best-laid plans can come up short when it comes to interacting with clients. At my current position, I had a situation where two clients arrived for a meeting at the same time due to last-minute scheduling conflicts.

I was the primary salesperson for each client, so it was my job to handle both of their needs.

I knew that one client brought the company significantly more revenue, so I arranged to meet with her first. I asked a close colleague to talk to the other client in a separate room and bring them up to speed on the details of their deal. I was then able to finalize the deal with the second client after my discussion with the first client.

Both customers were happy with how things went, and I learned the value of quick-thinking and a solid support team that’s happy to collaborate in a pinch.

Dos and Don’ts of Answering Questions About Quick Decision-Making

All job interview questions and answers have some essential dos and don’ts. The following tips will help you stand out to the recruiter (for the right reasons).

Do:

  • Talk about what you know — show off your experience and capabilities wherever possible.

  • Be intentional about how you tell your story, speaking clearly and organizing your story in such a way that your listener understands everything that’s happening.

  • Dig into your decision-making process. It’s good in these stories to show your listener exactly how you arrived at the idea you had, since this is part of what they’re trying to figure out about you here.

  • Use examples from your personal life if you don’t have any professional experience. Interviewers understand that you don’t have a past job to draw on if you’re a recent graduate, so use an example from school, a summer job, or volunteer work you did.

Don’t:

  • Spend too much time on details — your listener could get lost with too much extraneous info, and (again) the most important thing here is the process. Only bring up relevant details.

  • Tell stories where the decision that you made was actually incorrect, harmful, or controversial.

  • Bash others in your story. You can be respectful even when you’re talking about mistakes others may have made, and interviewers will notice if you are or not.

Quick Decision-Making FAQ

  1. What does it mean to make a split-second decision?

    Making a split-second decision means that you have to decide something with little to no time to think it through.

    Often these involve unexpected problems suddenly arising, and hiring managers like to see that you’re able to handle these issues with a level head.

    Because of this, in your interview they’ll often ask you for an example of a split-second decision you’ve made.

  2. How do you answer “Tell me about a time you had to make a quick decision?”

    You answer “Tell me about a time you had to make a quick decision?” by using the STAR method. This means you start by explaining the situation that arose and the task you had to accomplish or the problem you had to solve.

    Then you talk about what action you took and the results of those actions.

  3. How do you make important decisions quickly?

    You make important decisions quickly by taking a breath and prioritizing the situation. By doing this, you’ll be able to think more clearly and handle the highest priority first.

    You also need to practice to be able to make important decisions quickly, so don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t go well the first time.

Final Thoughts

That’s all for this one! You’re ready for the moment when recruiters ask about your quick decision-making skills.

Remember that when it comes to answering this question, which story you tell doesn’t matter as much as the specific decision-making skills that the story displays.

You could even get away with telling a story where you made a quick decision that had bad results, so long as you framed it in a way that showed that you learned a lot from the experience.

The biggest thing is to show that you make good decisions under pressure — it’s certainly helpful if those decisions happen to have good results, but hey, you live and you learn.

And if telling a certain story keeps you from getting hired, maybe you should learn to never tell it, like, ever again.

Anyhow, best of luck! We’ve got plenty more articles on questions and answers to the most common interview questions; be prepared for all of them, and your interview process will be a piece of cake. And a job offer will be right around the corner.

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Author

Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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