How to answer: What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned during the last year?

It’s safe to say that we’ve all learned a lot over the last year…

However, whilst you might be able to easily articulate your learnings from a personal perspective, knowing how to identify what you’ve learned in a professional sense may be more of a challenge. Especially if you’re put on the spot with this question in your next job interview

We’ve already covered some of the emerging questions interviewers are asking in 2021, but here’s our advice for how to answer: ‘What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned during the last year?’ 


The real question

What they’re asking: ‘What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned during the last year?’

What they’re actually asking: ‘Do you have the ability to reflect on times of adversity in order to learn and grow?’


This question really straddles the line between a character and a competency question

On the face of it, the interviewer is asking you to talk about an element of your character – your ability to learn. But despite how it may seem on the surface, they’re really not that interested in your personal growth. 

So instead of covering your recent cookery course, or talking about the fascinating history book you just read, you need to think about what you’ve learned that you can actually apply to the role

To do that well, you need to start by looking at recent challenges you’ve faced. 


Step one: Reflect on your recent challenges

Another way of thinking about this question is to think about what limitations you had professionally, that you’ve overcome during the last year.

Start by writing down a few of your recent challenges or weaknesses, that you think you’ve improved upon during the last twelve months. You could also choose to talk about a mistake you’ve learned from, or just a general change to the business landscape that you’ve had to adapt to. 

For example, it could be getting used to the challenges of working remotely, if it’s not something you’d done much of in the past. Or a mistake you made whilst learning a new system, which you worked to correct. 

Once you’ve jotted a few things down, you’ll have a perfect starting point to move on to step two.

How to answer: What are your weaknesses?


Step two: Explain what you learned 

Now you’ve identified and articulated the areas you wanted to develop in, it’s time to talk about how you went about this. 

It could be that you’ve completed a course or undertaken some personal development, which has helped improve your skillset. Or it could be that you’ve taken learnings from a particular incident after performing a retrospective, and taken steps to ensure the same incident won’t happen again.

Whatever you choose to focus on, the key here is that you can clearly explain the steps involved – making sure they’re as quantifiable and measurable as possible.


Step three: Reflect on the impact of what you learned

The final step is to put everything together. Explain how you applied your learnings in a specific business setting.

Just like with a traditional competency question, the best approach here is to use the STAR method. This simple technique stands for: Situation, Task, Approach and Results.

A topline tactic for using it to answer this question could be: ‘Explain the steps you took to learn X, how you then applied it to Y, which led to Z results’. 

In other words, choose an anecdote about a time you picked up a new professional skill, walk the interviewer through the steps you took to learn it, and then finish by outlining the happy outcome it resulted in for the business. 


Example answer

My team had to switch to a remote working format as a result of the pandemic. It was a huge learning experience for me, and something I found really challenging at first, as I wasn’t used to working with colleagues remotely. However, the experience taught me just how flexible and resilient I can be. 

The first step was connecting with our tech team to ensure we were set up with the right tools – such as Zoom and Slack. I also did some online research to identify best practice when it comes to successful remote working. 

I quickly figured out that we could condense several of our weekly meetings into one and also keep track of each other’s progress with a shared worksheet. This made bottlenecks more visible and helped us prioritise and plan our time better as a team.

We’re more productive and organised than we were before -which just shows you how much you can learn if you really throw yourself into new challenges. 


Need more interview answers?

Unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball to tell you which interview questions will come up on the big day. However, we can help you prepare for every eventuality and avoid any interview nightmares.

Buy James Reed’s latest book: Why You? 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again to find out how.

Five interview questions you should stop being scared of



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