Answering Behavioral Interview Questions:
Hiring managers love
to ask behavioral questions — and one of their favorite subjects is
conflict. Here are a few examples of conflict-related behavioral questions:
- Tell me about a team
project when you had to work with someone difficult.
- Tell me about a time you had a conflict at work.
- Give an example of a time you had to respond to an unhappy
- Tell me about a time that you disagreed with a rule or approach.
There are many other
variations on this theme and it is a very common interview topic. From the
interviewer's perspective, the idea is to find out about the candidate's conflict
management ability and general interpersonal skills.
Before we tell you how
to answer the question like a champ, here's a little refresher on answering
behavioral interview questions in general.
Behavioral Interviewing Refresher
Most job interviews include behavioral questions (those questions that
typically start with "Tell me about a time..." or "Give me an example
of..." or similar).
questions, interviewers seek examples of how you've handled specific situations
in the past. The idea is that past job performance will say a lot about how you
would handle yourself if hired for the job at hand.
Why Interviewers Ask About Conflict
Most jobs require you
to get along with different types of people. Some of your coworkers, managers,
and/or clients will turn out to be idiots, slackers, and/or weirdos.
Disagreements are bound to arise.
To succeed at work,
you must be able to deal with conflict professionally. This is particularly
true in certain jobs (project management, customer service, law) and in
certain company cultures.
Your interviewer wants
to get a sense of how you will respond to conflict. Anyone can seem nice and
pleasant in a job interview, but what will happen if you're hired and Gladys in
Compliance starts getting in your face?
Conflict questions are
common because everybody wants to hire a good "team player." (It is probably
the most common behavioral question subject) Interviewers often ask about your
team experiences and they like to ask specifically about one that involved a
conflict or "difficult person."
How to Answer Behavioral Questions About
This type of question can catch you off-guard. After all, you've probably been
focusing on how to talk about all of the positive and wonderful bullet points
on your resume.
Nobody likes to talk
about conflict at work. Most work conflicts are boring. Plus, you'd probably
prefer to pretend that you are an absolute delight to work with and that nobody
has ever had an unkind word to say about you.
A behavioral question
about conflict forces you to talk about a less-than-delightful situation. It
can be difficult to come up with a good example on the fly — and even
more difficult to describe in concisely in a way that presents you in a
This is why it's
important to prepare an example in advance using the S.T.A.R
The goal is not to
script out an answer word-for-word. The STAR format allows you to structure the
general shape of your response by jotting down bullets for each of the key
aspects of the story. Check out our website @ www.ismidwest.com go to the interview
tabs to learn more about the STAR method
Sample Answer — "Tell Me About a Time
You Had a Conflict on a Team Project."
Here's an overview of
how to use the STAR format specifically to present a conflict experience:
describe the context for the conflict that arose. Provide just enough background
information for context.
- I was managing the
creation of our new corporate brochure and we were on a very tight deadline
because we had to have brochures printed in time for a big upcoming trade show.
- I was in charge of
delivering on time and I had to manage team members from Marketing, Sales,
Graphic Design, and Product Management.
- The designer that
was assigned to the project was very talented, but unfortunately missed a
deadline that I assigned. When I approached him about it, he blew up at me.
Why We Like Them
These bullets provide
good context — it was an important and complex project with a tight
deadline. The designer not only missed a deadline, but threw a fit when called
on it. This is a real conflict that could have led to disaster if handled
Tip: Don't get too caught
up in unnecessary details. The interviewer doesn't need to know about the color
scheme of the brochure, the history of the trade show, or the designer's weird
— Talk about the
key actions that you took. In the case of a conflict story, the focus should be
on how resolved the disagreement in a professional and productive way.
- I was taken aback by
his response, but I remained calm. I acknowledged that the deadlines were tight
and explained again the reasoning and the importance of having the brochure
ready for the trade show.
- He relaxed a little
when he saw that I wasn't attacking him. He told me about all of his other
competing projects and how overwhelmed he was. I asked him if there was any way
that I could help him come up with a solution.
- Eventually, we agreed that it would help if his manager had a better
understanding of how important and time-consuming this project was. We decided
we would speak with her together.
- She ended up
assigning some of his other projects to another designer, which took some of
the pressure off of him.
Why We Like Them
This candidate walks
through the actions taken and why. He shows that he stayed calm under pressure,
tackled the issue head-on, and was able to persuade others (the designer and
his manager) to his point of view.
Tip: Again, stick to the
actions that are most relevant and that show your conflict-management prowess.
— Every good
interview story includes a happy ending. End your response with a description
of the positive outcome(s) of your action. These results can be quantifiable (increased
sales 20%, saved the company $25K) or anecdotal (The client was thrilled
and sent my manager an email, my manager loved my approach and gave me a
- As a result, the
designer was able to focus on the brochure and meet the deadlines.
- He apologized for
his blow-up and thanked me for my help.
- We successfully
completed the brochure in time for the trade show and received numerous
compliments from both our own sales reps and potential customers.
- Our trade show presence led to $300,000 in new sales leads and I believe the
new brochure played a key role in that.
Why We Like Them
This is a nice,
concise happy ending. The candidate describes the resolution of the conflict,
the positive effect on the relationship with the designer, and the business
Tip: The bottom-line
results ($$$) make it even more impressive. This is not possible with every
conflict-resolution story, but you should always pick the example with the most
More Tips for Handling Behavioral Questions
About Work Conflicts
1. Pick a Good Example:
- Choose an example
that shows you taking an active approach to resolving an important conflict.
- Be specific. Don't
give a general answer like, "I deal with conflicts all the time and have
learned to stay calm and that communication is key." It's boring and it doesn't
answer the question.
- Don't choose a minor
disagreement ("He didn't want Italian for lunch") or a conflict that was
resolved by someone else or just went away without direct action. The idea here
is to show off your interpersonal skills and problem-solving
- Avoid examples that
could make you look bad. For example, don't share a time when your mistake or
miscommunication CAUSED a conflict.
2. Get Specific About
- The most memorable
and compelling stories include enough detail to paint a picture. Show why this
conflict was important and that you handled it capably.
- However, you must
make an effort to keep the story concise. It's very easy to go off on tangents
(especially if you haven't prepared in advance). Keep it focused.
- Stick to bullet
points. Don't try to memorize a script.
Take the time to
practice telling your story. This is especially important when telling a story
about a conflict.
Conflicts often lead
to arguments, problems, and damaged/broken professional relationships. You want
to feel confident discussing the sensitive details in a way that gets your