Two women sitting at desk with documentsDuring the interview process employers might want to know your method for learning new material so they can evaluate how well you might do in their organization. That's why a common interview question asked is: "Tell me about a time when you had to learn something quickly, but knew nothing about it before."

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"Tell Me About a Time When You Had to Learn Something Quickly"

May 27, 2021

Two women sitting at desk with documentsIn the first of our series about Behavioral Interview Questions, we described what behavioral interview questions were, why interviewers ask them, and how you should prepare for them. Today, we're taking the next step and talking about answering a specific and common question: "Tell me about a time when you had to learn something very quickly but knew nothing about it before." This question is the interviewer's way of acknowledging that you probably aren't going to know everything that the new job will require. They want to know your method for learning new material so they can evaluate how well you might do in their organization.

Know Your Style

People have different learning styles. Some people are visual learners who succeed most often when they see information presented in graphics, such as charts and diagrams. Some people are auditory learners. They do best when they can listen to information presented verbally. Others process information by reading material. And, still others prefer to learn by doing, much like on-the-job training. Some people like to learn in a group; others prefer a more solitary experience. As you prepare to answer the interviewer's question, it's important to recognize your own style. That way you can easily explain how you learned unfamiliar material in the past and describe how you would tackle it in the new job.

Prepare Your Answer

As we wrote in the previous blog post, you need to think about a situation that you experienced so that you will have an example ready. Once you identify that situation, it helps to approach your answer by breaking it down into specific parts using the STAR method. Here's an example.

"I moved into a new department at my previous employer. I had been handling customer service phone calls about a specific product. In the new department, I was responsible for handling customer calls about a completely different product. To learn about the new product, I read all the promotional material, manufacturing specifications and timelines for delivery. I also listened in to other workers' phone calls with customers to see what customers wanted to know and how my co-workers handled them. After less than a week, my supervisor allowed me to take live calls from customers. Later that year, I was promoted to team leader of that section."

How this uses the STAR method:

Situation: Give the interviewer context to your story and why this event matters.

"I moved into a new department at my previous employer. I had been handling customer service phone calls about a specific product."

Task: Define your role in the situation and what you were responsible for.

"In the new department, I was responsible for handling customer calls about a completely different product."

Action: List the actions you took to fix the situation.

"To learn about the new product, I read all the promotional material, manufacturing specifications, and timelines for delivery. I also listened in to other workers' phone calls with customers to see what customers wanted to know and how my co-workers handled them."

Results: Explain the results of your actions and the positives that came out of this event.

"After less than a week, my supervisor allowed me to take live calls from customers. Later that year, I was promoted to team leader of that section."

Phrasing your answer in this way gives the interviewer a concise response that shows that you can learn quickly, that you've been successful in the past and are likely to take the same approach to learning your new job.

About Ticket to Work

There's a lot to consider when job searching, and it can be tough trying to do everything on your own. Social Security's Ticket to Work (Ticket) Program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSDI or SSI) and want to work. The Ticket Program is free and voluntary. The Ticket Program connects you with free employment services to help you decide if working is right for you, prepare for work, find a job or continue to be successful while you are working.

Learn more

To learn more about the Ticket Program, visit choosework.ssa.gov or call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket Program Find Help tool.

Learn more

To learn more about the Ticket Program, visit choosework.ssa.gov or call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket Program Find Help tool.

Receive Ticket Program Texts

If you're interested in receiving text messages from the Ticket Program, please text TICKET to 474747. Standard messaging rates may apply. We'll send updates from our blog, identify steps on the path to employment and more. We hope you'll find this new way to stay in touch helpful. You can opt out at any time.

If you're interested in receiving text messages from the Ticket Program, please text TICKET to 474747. Standard messaging rates may apply. We'll send updates from our blog, identify steps on the path to employment and more. We hope you'll find this new way to stay in touch helpful. You can opt out at any time.

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