Interviewers ask job candidates about issues with managers to discover whether they are team players who can get along well with their bosses and others in the workplace.
Be careful how you answer this question. Interviewers don't like to hear you elaborate too much (or much at all) about bad bosses. After all, it could be someone from their company that you're talking about next time around.
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
Interviewers may be curious about how you have related to previous managers. Another reason to ask this question is to get a sense of the interviewee's interpersonal skills. Conflict resolution is an important skill for workers to possess.
Your response will reveal how you handle a disagreement and your ability to create smooth working relationships even in difficult situations.
Your answer may also reveal your personality: do you hold on to conflicts and negative moments, or are you able to be positive even about difficult situations? That's one of many reasons it's important to avoid negativity in your answer.
How to Answer "Have You Ever Had Difficulty Working with a Manager?"
Watch what you say and be careful when answering questions about previous managers. You don't want to come across as a difficult employee to work with. Thus, you will want to cast any past experiences in the most favorable light possible.
Even if your previous manager was awful, you don't need to say so. You don't know if your interviewer knows your former boss personally, and you also don't know when your paths might cross again. It is always smart to be as considerate as possible when describing your relationship with a difficult manager. You gain nothing by coming across as bitter.
Choose instead to be upbeat. If possible, discuss the strengths your past supervisors had and how they helped you succeed. It's a good idea, before your interview, to think of a specific example or two in which previous managers excelled in this capacity so that you can focus on positive rather than negative interactions in your answer.
Examples of the Best Answers
Here are ideal sample answers to the interview question, "Have you ever had difficulty working with a manager?" In an actual interview, be sure to tailor your response to fit your circumstances.
I have been fortunate to have terrific managers during my career thus far. I have respected each of them and got along well with all of them.
Why It Works: This response is positive and genuine, and shows that the prospective candidate is likely an agreeable, easygoing person.
No, I am a hard worker, and my managers always seem to appreciate the job I'm doing. I got along well with every manager I've had.
Why It Works: This is another positive response that also points to some of the candidate's qualities as an employee.
I had a rocky start with a manager earlier in my career because we had different expectations for the flow of the workday. Once we talked about it, we realized that our goals were very compatible, and we were able to work successfully together for several years.
Why It Works: This honest answer reveals a challenging situation and then ends on a happy note about a resolution. It shows that the candidate has strong communication skills.
I once had a manager who brought her problems to work with her on a daily basis. She was going through a difficult time in her personal life, and this tended to affect the atmosphere in the office. It didn't impact my work because I was able to sympathize with her circumstances, but the situation was challenging.
Why It Works: Not all managers are good ones. If it's true that you've had a challenging situation, it's best to acknowledge it as this response does. This answer shows that the candidate is able to separate a difficult situation from her work.
I have found that if I take the time to speak with my manager at the beginning of a project, we can all get off to a great start and end up on the same page.
Why It Works: This answer shows that the candidate has had successful relationships with managers because they actively work at it.
I did have an experience where I thought my new supervisor was unhappy with me, so I made a point to arrive early one day so that I could talk to her in private. It turned out that she was not unhappy with me at all, and she apologized that she had come across that way.
Why It Works: This answer shows that the employee doesn't let problems fester and is able to use communication skills to address potential issues.
Tips for Giving the Best Answer
Be honest, but keep it positive. If you have only had positive experiences with managers, say so. But if you've had a long career with many supervisors, it's not unreasonable to have had some negative experiences. You do not need to pretend everything's been positive if that's not truly the case.
If you do describe a negative situation, make sure to end on a positive note.
Show how you were able to work out a disagreement or come to a good resolution.
You can also be evenhanded, mentioning a supervisor's strengths as well as an issue.
Give examples, and share anything you learned. In most cases, when it comes to interview questions, specific answers are better than vague statements. Describe a difficult moment briefly and then share what you did to come to a positive resolution.
If there is something you learned from the experience — for instance, that it's best to have a one-on-one conversation early on or how to state an objection clearly and unemotionally — share that in your response.
What Not to Say
Stay away from negative statements and/or a negative attitude. Avoid character assassinations and long complaints. You can describe a difficult situation without being negative in your tone. Also, avoid describing several conflicts or answers that paint you as a frequent victim.
Keep your response focused. Don't ramble on. In a sentence or two, describe the negative relationship or encounters. Then, quickly move to describing the resolution. The STAR interview response technique can help you give a focused answer.
Don't get too personal. Did you dislike your manager? Now is not the time to mention it or to share anything negative about their personality. Be professional in how you summarize the interpersonal difficulty you experienced.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
- Tell me about a time when you had a difficult coworker.
- Would you describe yourself as a nice person?
- What do you do when you disagree with colleagues or a company strategy?
- Do you work well with other people?
More Interview Questions About Bosses
It can be tricky to negotiate conversations about your past relationships with bosses or supervisors, particularly if you were unfortunate enough to have worked with a difficult or excessively demanding individual.
While you want to be honest in discussing your past work relationships, you should keep negative opinions to yourself. Interviewers aren't as interested in the information you provide about a former boss as they are in your tone, attitude, and positivity in framing your response.
Forewarned is forearmed. If you take the time before your interview to review more interview questions about bosses, including common questions about working with your supervisor, your best and worst bosses, and what you expect from a manager, you'll be ready to respond to your interviewer with confidence and poise.
Keep it positive: Share your experience objectively. There is no need to insert negative emotions or complaints into your response.
Brief is best: Explain the situation, then the resolution, along with anything you learned from the experience without rambling.
Share how you handled the issue: Interviewers will be looking for your communication and conflict-resolution abilities. Make sure to discuss how you dealt with the situation and what (if anything) you learned from it or would apply to your future relationships with managers.