How to Answer Interview Questions About When Your Boss Is Wrong
Occasionally an interviewer will ask you a question about how to handle a situation when your boss is wrong. He or she may ask, “What do you do when you know your boss is wrong?” or, “If you know your boss is 100% wrong about something, how would you handle this?”
What the Interviewer Wants to Know
An interviewer will ask you this to see how you deal with a difficult situation or if you have had difficulty working with a manager. He or she will also ask this question to see how you view your relationship with your boss or other authority figures.
Tips on Giving the Right Answer
This is one of those questions that should be answered carefully. Interview questions about bosses can be tricky. You want to demonstrate your tactfulness when dealing with your boss, but you also want to show that you know when to point out someone’s errors.
- Don't Say It Never Happened: Interviewers don’t want to hear that you never correct a boss; this is unrealistic, and a sign that you don't think for yourself. They do want to hear how you did so politely and diplomatically.
- Use an Example: If you have dealt with a situation like this with a former employer, use that as an example. Explain what the situation was, how you addressed it, and the ultimate result. Answering this question like you would a behavioral interview question will provide the interviewer with a concrete example of how you handle these kinds of situations.
- Explain That This Situation Is Rare: While you should provide an example of a time you tactfully told your boss he or she was wrong, you want to explain that this does not happen often. You do not want to seem like the kind of employee who always questions his or her employer. Ideally, your example will be from a situation that directly affected you and your team’s ability to complete a job successfully. It will also show how you turned the situation into a positive experience.
- Explain How You Told Your Boss: One of the reasons an interviewer will ask you this question is to see how tactfully you dealt with your boss. Therefore, when describing an example, you want to emphasize the polite way in which you spoke to your boss. If you made sure to speak to him in private (and not in front of his other employees), say so. This shows that you are a thoughtful employee who thinks carefully about communication.
- Don’t Talk Badly About a Former Boss: Even if you are noting a mistake a boss made, do not speak negatively of your employer. If you had a lot of problems with your boss, or she was often wrong, do not express this. Explain that the times when you had to correct your boss were rare.
- Explain the Result: Tell the interviewer the positive results of the conversation. Perhaps your boss thanked you for sharing this information with him or her. Maybe an error was corrected, which ultimately helped the company.
Examples of the Best Answers
Here are two examples of an answer you could give during an interview when the interviewer has asked you the "What do you do when you know your boss is wrong?” or the “If you know your boss is 100% wrong about something, how would you handle this?” question.
A few rare times in the past, I have spoken to a former supervisor about a particular error. Recently, my boss assigned our team a project. I knew the data he gave us was a couple of years old, and that there was more current data. Working with the most up-to-date information was vital to the success of the project. I went into my boss’s office and spoke to him privately about the error, merely showing him the most recent data. He thanked me and immediately updated the information. We completed the project with great success.
Why It Works: This response is effective because the candidate emphasizes how she rarely corrects a boss, but when she does so, she talks to them privately and respectfully. She skillfully structures her answer using the STAR interview response technique, where she describes a situation, the task or challenge involved, the action she took, and the result of her intervention.
I have spoken to a boss about an error, but only when I thought the error would negatively impact the company. For example, a former boss instituted a new online storage system and was unaware that the system was not easily accessible on employee computers. During her daily “open office hours,” I privately discussed the issue with my boss and pointed out the effect these problems had on our ability to complete assigned tasks. She was so glad I brought the issue to her attention that she put me in charge of a task force that solved the error, resulting in increased productivity for all employees.
Why It Works: This candidate, too, explains how he resolved an operations issue tactfully by taking advantage of his boss’ “open door” communications policy. He thus casts her in a positive light (she welcomed and was grateful for employees’ feedback) even though she had made an error.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
KEEP YOUR RESPONSE POSITIVE: Interview questions about your former bosses are “trick questions” because the interviewer is assessing your attitude as much as he or she is your actual answer. Even though you are discussing a mistake a previous supervisor made, be careful not to be critical of them in your response.
STRESS THE RARITY OF THIS SITUATION: The last thing you want to do in answering this question is to present yourself as someone who frequently corrects their supervisor and undermines their authority. Emphasize that this doesn’t happen too often.
FOCUS ON GOOD RESULTS: Without throwing shade on your boss, describe how your efforts resulted in a positive outcome for your team, your department, or your company.