How to handle conflict-resolution interview questions

There are different types of conflict at work. Demonstrating how well you handle it will impress your next interviewer.

How to handle conflict-resolution interview questions

Clearly explain how well you handle conflict at work.

Every interview has a unique focus, but some questions are asked so often, it makes sense to do all you can to prepare for them. In order to be successful, you need a strategy—not scripted answers. Your goal should be to emphasize your past experiences that best fit what each interviewer is looking for.

Here are some common questions that focus on how to deal with conflict in the workplace and what you should consider when formulating your responses. To help you prepare, think of some examples of obstacles you've faced at work, as well as examples of conflict resolution that you've used in the past.

Work through these potential conflict-resolution interview questions, creating your own responses, and you will be in great shape for your next interview. It helps to write out potential answers. Even better: Practice aloud with someone.

QUESTION: How do you deal with conflict?

Intent: Conflict is part of any workplace, and the reality is that you often can't get ahead or perform well in your job unless you can deal with conflict at a basic level. Do you avoid conflict or face it? Do you think it through, or are you impulsive? Do you use constructive techniques to resolve the situation?

Context: There are different forms of conflict of course: the everyday interpersonal sort, disagreements in direction or strategy, and conflict over resources. You should describe how you handle conflict at an appropriate level. If you are a manager or executive, for example, pick a reflective example.

Response: Consider offering a specific example to demonstrate how you resolve conflict.

QUESTION: Tell me about a time when you faced a major obstacle at work.

Intent: Similar to the proudest achievement question, this is a behavioral interview question focused on an event. In this case, the interviewer is interested in your ability to overcome a major hurdle.

Context: Pick an example that illustrates a significant obstacle that best demonstrates how you work and that had a positive, tangible outcome. Obstacles might include business problems, a difficult objective, key people who stood in your way or lack of resources. Once you have your example, explain the steps you took.

Response: You could include the analysis you performed and the resulting strategy, the process you took, the key actions performed, your arguments or anything else that clearly demonstrates how you achieved your goal. A great response technique for this kind of question is to break your answer down into phases or steps: "First, I... Second...."

QUESTION: Tell me about a time you faced an ethical dilemma.

Intent: The interviewer is looking for evidence of your high ethical standards and honesty.

Context: You might want to say you haven't had any ethical challenges, but we all have our ethics tested at some point. For example:

  • You discovered wrongdoing, or someone asked you to engage in a cover-up.
  • Your employer failed to deliver the full value and quality on products or services paid for by a client.
  • A colleague cut corners on a project.

Response: Without naming names, describe the situation and how you dealt with it. The response may focus on you, or it may involve other people. Remember, your political acumen is being tested—sometimes the best action isn't blowing the whistle but taking care of the problem yourself.

QUESTION: Tell me about an assignment that was too difficult for you. How did you resolve the issue?

Intent: The intent can be varied. The interviewer may be interested not only in your ability to respond to a challenge but also in how you respond. Or he may want to know how you define "too difficult." Your ability to learn from a situation you considered too difficult is also relevant. Answer the right way, and you can impress with your coping skills and range of abilities. The wrong answer could take you out of the running.

Context: If you have been in challenging roles, then at some point you should have found yourself stretched to the limit. This is when we grow. So this question is a marvelous opportunity to talk about a time you dealt with a really big challenge successfully.

Response: Do not make the mistake of saying you have never had an assignment that was too difficult for you. Discuss an example of a time you had to overcome a lack of knowledge, skill or experience, or when you took your game to the next level: "I wouldn't say that it was too difficult for me. However, I was faced with..."

Work it out

Obviously, not everything in your career is going to be easy, whether that means confronting the person who stole your lunch from the office refrigerator to negotiating a new contract with clients to debating on accepting a new job offer. But learning how to peacefully coexist with your colleagues will take you far. Could you use some expert insights to help you navigate it all? Join Monster today. As a member, you'll get career advice and job search tips sent directly to you inbox so you can learn how to stay cool when the pressure inevitably mounts.