Answering those “Describe a time when…” Questions

“This job requires dedication. Please give us a 300-500 word description showing your dedication.”

Do you have an answer to that? Can you grab an anecdote from the air and put it into 100, 300, or 500+ words/characters? If so, good for you! If not, then join the club.

I always have problems with questions that ask me to write about a time I did something with dedication, responsibility, courage, etc. I almost never have something to say to fill in those spaces, but it took me until today to figure out what I could do to save me from locking up in those instances.

So, in order to answer those “Describe a time when…” questions that are so popular with internships, scholarships, schools and jobs, just have one already prepared. It’s that simple! From now, this is what I will do.

This is what I recommend you do in order to prepare a written response especially for online applications:

  1. Look over applications to see what questions they have in common and write a general response to that question. Make sure you set a minimum word count (I suggest 300).
  2. Save the general responses in a folder for later use. (Call it something like “General Essay Answers”
  3. When an app requires one of your “generic” answers, just copy and paste!
  4. Watch the acceptances roll in!

Now this of course is not a surefire way to get jobs, but it is a great way to prepare for anything. Now for some questions you may have.

What are characters vs words?
Characters are each individual space taken up in a line of text. For example: “I ran 26.2 miles!” has 17 characters (not including the quotation marks) and only 4 words in it. Every SPACE, letter, symbol, and punctuation counts as a character. Every word is separated by a space which includes numbers like 301 and 18.7. If you are not sure if certain words don’t count as words, check the resource mentioned below.

What if the question requires 100 words/characters and I have 300?
Easy. Condense it! Cutting away is often easier than adding. Stick to main details.

What if it requires 500+ words/characters and I have 300?
Easy. Stretch it out! Adding can sometimes be a challenge, but be descriptive and add personal insight to the situation to give it more substance.

What if the question requires more than what I have in general?
Aforementioned, some questions may require more than a general answer and general word/character count. The whole point of having a general answer is that it can be tailored to fit what you need. It is like having a mold that loosely fits everything until you cut away or add to it to make it a perfect fit. It is YOUR response to make sure it fits to the requirements of the application!

Are there any resources for word/character count?
Or course! If you are ever worried about your word count, character count, reading time, or speech time, I suggest going to Word Counter! This website will give you all the information you need and more pertaining to what you wrote.

Remember: there are people out there to help you. If you give someone your general response, they can work with you to tailor it to sound professional or fit the requirements.

Now get out there and start writing those responses!


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