#5 of 5 Tough Interview Questions – “How have you resolved an interpersonal conflict in the workplace?”

#5 of 5 Tough Interview Questions – “How have you resolved an interpersonal conflict in the workplace?”

A five-part series of really tough interview questions… and how to respond!!

5 tough eThus far we have addressed these questions:

#1 – “Why have you changed jobs so many times?”

#2 – “Why should we hire you?”

#3 – “Tell me about yourself.”

Last week’s essay covered question #4 “What salary are you looking for?”.

You need to know and understand that interviewing for a new job is a “single-elimination” process! Get it right and you usually move on to the next step in the job-seeking process with that organization. If you don’t do well…it’s then time to start over elsewhere.

The job-seeking process requires the need to prepare for interviewing – you really do need to be ready to answer all the questions that will come your way…. especially the tough ones… the ones where a bad answer will end your opportunities with that potential employer.

Let’s look at the fifth and final of the five toughest interview questions:

“How have you resolved an interpersonal conflict in the workplace?”

Why is this a tough question? Because you need to first tell the story as to why you had such a conflict….and then tell the story of how your arrived at a winning solution.

As you prepare your answer, keep in mind the objectives of the interviewer; it is to learn from your answers:

  1. How well do you get along with people such as co-workers, a difficult customer or vendor, your boss?
  2. How well do you handle stress?
  3. Are you able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective?

The conflict may have come about because a co-worker wasn’t doing their fair share …and it reflected poorly on you and the department.

The conflict may have come about when you were hired and one of your reports felt they should have promoted to your job.

It may have been because of conflicting priorities between you and a co-worker.

However it came about there are some important rules to follow when answering this kind of question.

  1. Describe – briefly – the situation: “We were developing a new website for one of our divisions and I was in charge of the project. I assigned different graphic and writing pieces to others along with deadlines when I needed first drafts.”
  2. Describe what the conflict was: “The person responsible to get the graphic layout options ready to present missed the deadline by a full day. Furthermore when I asked about it, this person came unglued – almost yelling at me in the open office layout we have that I had no idea how hard the task was and how busy he was with other responsibilities.
  3. Discuss what you did: “I said hold on Barry… let’s not let this become a fistfight.”  I said this with a big smile to disarm his temper. I then said “Let’s go offline on this so we let others get back to work.” We went to a more private location – one of our conference rooms. I then said, “Barry – why didn’t you come to me and let me know you were up against a wall of conflicting priorities? A day or two isn’t a deal breaker, especially when I know about it ahead of time. When do you think you will have it ready for review?” He responded , “Sorry I got a little reactive there – I can have it by tomorrow afternoon.” I said, “Great – and in the future be sure to let me know in advance if you are running out of time so I can either adjust or change the priority of things”.

Then comment to the interviewer, “I understand that conflict is part of life and the workplace. The key thing is don’t let it become personal and don’t let it get out of hand.”

If the follow-up question is “How do you handle stress?” a good response might be:

“I try to think ahead and plan ahead so that there are no surprises… it is often the surprises that lead to stress. Surprises are for birthdays not the workplace! But still stress can sometimes occur. I take a deep breath… maybe standup for a minute… and then put the situation into perspective:

  • How serious is the issue; does it require an immediate resolution or not.
  • What was the triggering action or event that brought it on?…and how do I turn it off?”

If you are a supervisor and two or more of your reports are in conflict  and you need to resolve it, then a different course of action is called for…and you may use an example of this type of conflict resolution to answer the question.

Let’s go back to the three step process:

  1. Describe – briefly – the situation: “One of my departments consists of a sales team and also people internally that ship out product based on what the sales team generates.”
  2. Describe what the conflict was: “Two of my reports were having an ongoing feud. One was in sales and the other fulfillment. The sales person – Susan – wanted to know why the orders they got weren’t taken care of quicker; they had a complaint of sorts from a customer. Meanwhile the fulfillment person – Bill – was also handling a big influx or orders from another department. It was getting nasty.”
  3. Discuss what you did: I called them together in a neutral location – one of our conference rooms. I said, “Susan – Bill – you are both very valuable to achieving our mission and we need to find a resolution to  your differences. Susan – please tell me what you think Bill is upset about and what his concerns are. Put yourself in Bill’s shoes. Bill – we will both just listen – no comments.” After Susan was done I said, “Bill – your turn. Tell me what you think Susan’s concerns are and why she is upset. Susan – same rules – we just listen.” This almost always defuses the situation and each party begins to understand the other’s issues.

We took it from there and developed a course of communications that enables Susan to ask about an order without being critical of Bill and letting him know of high priority orders….and Bill letting Susan know in advance that a shipment might be delayed a day or two.

In summary, as you prepare to interview and prepare your responses to questions think through from your experience what conflict you can talk about in a manner that illustrates your skills in this area.

OK… you now know how to answer “How have you resolved an interpersonal conflict in the workplace?”

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Copyright © Robert Mulberger All Rights Reserved

How to Answer the Interview Question “What is Your Biggest Weakness?”

How to Answer the Interview Question “What is Your Biggest Weakness?”

This question is a standard interview question…and like every interview question… you need to be prepared to answer it.

Interviewing cWhile not a trick question ….it does give you a chance to torpedo what has otherwise been a good interview.

First – let’s examine what the interviewer is looking for. He or she knows no one is perfect and they are looking for someone who can admit that that they have made mistakes or are not without flaws. The interviewer is looking to see if you “know thine own self”…if you truthfully know those areas where special effort  is called for to address your weaknesses.

If you give an answer like “I really don’t have any I can think of” you come across as either conceited or naïve.

You have them… we all do. Think them through and what you do to address them or compensate for them.

Keep your answers in the professional realm; personal issues should not be raised. The fact that your home is messy or that you hate the traffic you endure to get to work has no place in a job interview discussion about weaknesses. Remember – the interviewer is trying to find out during the interview what they will know for sure about you after ninety days on the job!

Be sure the weakness you identify is one that has been resolved or where you have put into place mechanisms to address it and keep it in the background.

For example – “I used to be too much of a perfectionist – both in my own written work and of those that reported to me. I realized that the important thing is to get the work done error-free and on time or earlier. You can write and re-write until the cows come home – but the important thing is to proof once or twice and if it says what it is supposed to say – great.. shut it down and move on.”

Or – “I used to get upset about co-worker being five minutes late coming to work…after all – I am on time! Then it dawned on me that my co-workers were doing great work…the work got done ….and they weren’t coming in thirty minutes late…just five or ten and they made it up time-wise by often working through lunch. I was taking it personally that they came in late…and in retrospect – that is silly.”

Be sure the “weakness” you are going to disclose is not one that is injurious to the kind of job you are applying for. An accountant who says a weakness is “their obsession with detail” is not helping their cause – accountants need to be very concerned about detail! Rather state the weakness as “I used to check my work over and over to be sure it was perfect. I found out that once I double-checked the foot and cross-foot and carefully scanned the final work product I never made any changes. So I just check carefully and then move on to the next task at hand.”

A side advantage to preparing for this question is that it does give you a chance to examine yourself and re-examine what you have done in the past to address the issue and whether it is truly working or not. If not – here is a chance to further refine what you can do to address the shortcoming or weakness!

Remember – the job interview is “The Bridge Between You and Your Next Job”… you need to be prepared to answer every possible question – it is a critical step to getting a job offer! Some of the questions are easy – this one isn’t – prepare for it!!

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For jobs and career opportunities in the Washington, DC metro area –  visit the NRI website. Many jobs are listed there …..and NRI Recruiters can find others for you!

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Copyright © Robert Mulberger All Rights Reserved


5 Must Ask Questions You Raise in a Job Interview

5 Must Ask Questions You Raise in a Job Interview

The job interviewing process has one objective for you – to get a job offer that is a good fit for you and your career path.

You will be asked lots of questions and as I have discuss numerous time, you MUST be prepared to nail the answers….. every time. You will be evaluated to a large degree on your answers and behavior during the interview. Remember – job interviewing is a single elimination process!!top-5

However, you will also be evaluated  in light of the questions you ask…so let’s review the top 5 questions for you to ask! Each of these questions brand you as a serious job seeker and one who understands that “things may not be what they seem to be”.

1. What is the training or orientation program for the position we have been discussing? Note – if applying for a significant management job – then ask What is in place to get me up and running as soon as possible –  what is your “on-boarding” process?

2. How would you characterize the culture of the organization overall and of the XXX department/division/etc. where I will be working? Formal? Informal? Collegial? Tough – best perform or else?

3. Is it possible that I meet who I will be reporting to during the interview process?

4. What are the areas of performance that – when accomplished to a high degree – will mark hiring me as a successful decision and mark me as a valuable asset? What is important to accomplish in this job; how will success be measured?

5. Based upon the people that have been in this job before – what are the most enjoyable aspects of it and what are least desirable? Are there any hidden challenges to this job that don’t appear on the surface?

My suggestion is to memorize these questions or study them sufficiently that you know them cold. Of course, you can have them in written form in your notes you have before you but you don’t want to appear to be reading them. Referring to them – yes; reading them – nope!

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Copyright © Robert Mulberger All Rights Reserved


Interviewing to be Hired – What is the Interviewer Looking for?

Interviewing to be Hired – What is the Interviewer Looking for?

Interviewing – as noted as a chapter title in my book – is “The Bridge Between You and Your Next Job”. You can never be too well prepared to interview.

Interviewing cPart of being prepared is to put yourself in the shoes of those who will interview you – what is it they are trying to learn about you and then evaluate whether you are a good match or not.

I am part of an advisory team assisting a group of students at American University in Washington, DC. My role is to facilitate discussions that will help prepare them for life after graduation, including career planning and finding that first “real” job after college.

In doing so I have been looking at the material provide by AU’s career center and I find it to be really good informaton – much better than I have seen at other colleges and universities.

In particulalr, I really like their piece on Interviewing – “Key Considerations”. It breaks the interview process into four parts with suggested questions to be prepared to answer or ask as follows:

  • Likelihood For Success
  • Willingness To Perform
  • Organizational Fit
  • Your Turn (you get to ask questions here)

As noted in my book and elsewhere in this blog, to successfully interview… you need to be prepared. Really well prepared!

You need to be prepared to answer any and every possible question you might be asked by an interviewer. You also need to be prepared to ask questions to flesh out full knowledge of both the job and of the organization.

Write out the answers … and rehearse

If you are going to do anything a multiple number of times, it makes great sense to figure out the very best way to do so and then “cookbook” the process. Interviewing falls into this category.

You will be interviewed multiple times, often by different people at the same organization. You really need to nail the answers—every time. And the only way to do that is to draft—in writing—what you want to say as an answer. Then speak it aloud and then revise the answer to fit the spoken word. Ideally, have a friend or relative ask the questions, you speak out loud the answers in return, and have him or her critique your answers. You can read your answers for this exercise and then again edit the written responses. Is it time consuming? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes again!

The point is that you should never “wing it” answering a question. Your response needs to appear to be natural, an extension of your thought process. Yet you want to put the absolute correct spin on it—to convey the thoughts, ideas, and image putting you in the best possible light. And if you prepare properly, you should virtually never have to answer a question for the “first” time in an interview! You have answered it before in rehearsal and honed your answer to be the best possible answer.

Have you essentially memorized the meat of each answer? Yup, you sure have! To not do so is to risk not doing your best. Actors commit their lines to memory because they understand that without sticking 100% to the script, the story line will not be as clear and vivid as the producer and writers intended. Your interviews are no different.

It really isn’t that hard. The process of modifying your answers and then rehearsing them will result in you remembering them.

OK.. back to AU’s four areas of focus. I really like their recommended list of possible questions to be prepared to answer…..so I am going to list them here…with full accreditation to American University’s Career Center:

  • Likelihood For Success – To convince an employer that your are the person it needs, you must first artulate your unique qualifications and outperform other interviewees. Be prepared to answer questions such as:
    • What do you know about our organization?
    • What led you to choose your college major?
    • What is your greatest strength and weakness?
    • What do you consider your greatest accomplishments and why?
    • Why should this organization hire you?
  • Willingness To Perform – Before investing heavily in you, an employer assesses your level of commitment to the position and organization. To convey your enthusiasm for the role and support of the organization’s mission, prepare genuine responses to these common questions:
    • Why are you applying for this position?
    • What are your most looking forward to in this role and why?
    • What activity do you believe will be the most challenging and why?
    • What contributions can you make to our organization?
    • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Organizational Fit –  An employer asks questions  like the ones below to measure your compatibility with its mission, goals, workplace values, procedures, and people. In the interest of both you and the employer, answer honestly.
    • What motivates you to put forth your greatest effort?
    • What qualities do you seek in a manager?
    • In what type of work environment are you most satisfied?
    • How would a colleague or professional reference describe you?
    • What situations are most stressful for you and how do you cope?
  • Your Turn – An employer always reserves time toward the end of an interview to answer your questions. Take the opportunity to learn more in order to determine if the position and organization are right for you. If you are not prepared to ask questions, an employer may doubt your intention, so use the samples below as a starting point.
    • What would a typical day be like for me?
    • How will my performance be evaluated?
    • How do employees advance within the organization?
    • What do employees most enjoy about working here?
    • What significant changes or challenges to the job, department or organization do your foresee in the short or long-term?

In closing – to “make the cut’ when interviewing – you MUST be prepared. Use this list of the four factors interviewers are exploring and the sample questions to aid in that preparation!!

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Interview Questions You Need to be Prepared to Answer to Get the Job You Want!

In Chapter 8: Interviewing – the Bridge Between You and Your Next Job, I talk extensively about the preparation process. Getting a job offer requires significant preparation to interview.

Interviewing cHere are some additional questions you need to be prepared to answer.  Remember – success lies in the preparation. Just like the questions I detailed in the book, draft and then rehearse answers to these questions:

  1. “Describe the “culture” that existed at your last job.” Follow-up question: “If you were the boss, what would you have changed?”
  2. “How have your increased the efficiency of your group or department?”
  3. “What happened because you were there in your last job?”
  4. “What is the last book you read?” Follow-up question: “What did you get out of it?”…or  “Tell me about it”
  5. “What was the most difficult aspect of your last job?”
  6. “What five words best describe you?”
  7. “When you wanted to make a suggestion or presentation to your boss about an idea you had, how did you prepare to do so?”
  8. “Assume a co-worker is doing something that negatively impacts how you do your work. How would you resolve this issue?”
  9. “How did you plan your workweek? What tools or processes did you use?”
  10. “Tell me how you solved a serious problem or issue.”

Finally – don’t be surprised if your interviewer gives you an assignment such as: “I would like you to do something for me. By tomorrow afternoon, please have sent me an email summarizing a story you read in today’s paper or heard on the evening news. One typewritten page max.”

These guidelines – and others – about how to get the job you want can be found in “The Ultimate Job-Seeker’s Guide”.

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For jobs in Washington, DC – visit the NRI website.

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Copyright © Robert Mulberger All Rights Reserved