Interview questions: Have you ever had difficulty working with a boss?

02.09.2015 9966

When your interviewer asks, “Have you ever had difficulty working with a supervisor or manager?” they’re not really asking about your past supervisors. They’re asking about you. They want to know how YOU are to work with. The answer you choose to give them will tell them more about you than about your previous boss.

So if you launch into a story about how your old boss yelled at everyone or was unreasonable in his or her demands or was a bad manager, the only message they’ll get is that you badmouth people.

   READ ALSO: Interview questions: Describe yourself to me in one word

If you talk about how your boss accused you of not working hard enough when you clearly did, they’ll assume that you are someone who doesn’t work hard.

If you mention a boss who played favorites, they’ll think you’re a difficult person to work with.

So you have to be very careful about answering this question. Even if you had legitimate complaints about your old boss (and lots of bosses earn every one of those complaints), you can’t say so. It's never a good idea to badmouth your former boss, for any reason.

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If possible, avoid it: “I can’t say that I’ve ever had much trouble working with anyone. I actually appreciate the personality differences I’ve seen in my various supervisors and found that I could learn something from working with each of those styles. It hasn’t been hard for me to adapt to working with anyone.”

If you can’t avoid it, tell them the story along with your thought process. But keep in mind that any story you tell should be the Disney version: positive, and with a happy ending.

For example, you could say something like, “I did get off to a bad start with my manager in my very first job because we had different expectations and at the time, I didn’t know enough to ask about those before I started work. But I got some very good advice to go talk with him about it, and we cleared the air. It turned out to be a great experience for me, and it was a good lesson to take forward in my career. Good communication is essential to a productive working relationship.”

   READ ALSO: Interview questions: Tell me about yourself

See? You haven’t said anything negative about yourself or about your manager. It was the situation that was difficult. You took proactive steps to resolve it in a mature fashion, and the end result was a productive relationship. (By the way, that’s a STAR structure: Situation or Task, Action, and Result. It’s a great way to tell a story. Check out my Behavioral Interview podcast for 10 minutes worth of tips on how to answer behavioral interview questions.)

Keep your answer positive, show them how you think, and add one more point to the plus column for hiring you.

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