Interview Questions About Co-Workers and Supervisors

Group job interview
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Are you prepared to answer interview questions about working with others? Employers are going to want to know how well you get along with your colleagues and managers in order to predict whether you would be a valuable contributor to their current workforce.

It’s fine to take a few seconds, when asked a difficult question like this, before you answer. An interviewer is not expecting you to have a ready answer. However, the Boy Scout Motto, "Be Prepared," certainly applies here as well. By practicing possible responses ahead of time, you’ll find it easier to marshal your thoughts during the actual interview.

Here are some sample job interview questions and answers about facing conflict when working on a team with co-workers and supervisors.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

For the most part, the following questions will be asked to determine if you are a team player, to ascertain whether you are coachable, and to gauge how well you function under stress.

When answering this question, keep in mind that your tone of voice is as important as your response. No one likes a whiner, especially within a collaborative work environment. Keep your tone positive, and avoid criticizing former managers and colleagues.

How to Answer Interview Questions About Co-Workers and Supervisors

The best way to answer this question is to use the STAR interview response technique, in which an interviewee describes a situation that occurred in their past. In their response, they convey the relevant Situation, a Task (or challenge) they needed to address, the Action they took, and the Result of their action.

Examples of the Questions and Best Answers

Here are some sample answers that you can use for inspiration as you role-play possible responses to questions about co-workers and supervisors. 

1. Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a co-worker who wasn’t doing his / her fair share of the work. What did you do and what was the outcome?

I worked closely with Ann who, for the most part, always carried her fair share of the workload. During a stressful time, working on a project with a deadline, I realized Ann's contributions to the project were almost minimal. I made the decision to wait until after the project to speak with her. I'm glad I did because I learned she'd been going through a very tough time in her personal life and she appreciated my willingness to go the extra mile so that the project could be completed on time. As a result, our ability to work well together significantly increased.

Why It Works: This answer is a good example of how to keep one’s tone positive even when discussing a difficult situation with a co-worker. The interviewee explains what happened without throwing her associate “under the bus.” She also portrays herself in a good light by emphasizing her willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt and to do extra work in order to ensure the success of the project.

2. Give me an example of a time when you took the time to share a co-worker's or supervisor's achievements with others?

At my most recent position, one of my co-workers, Dan, did an outstanding job of calming an irate customer, solving the man’s problem and completing a sale. When our boss asked me how things were going, I told him everything was going fine and that Dan had just effectively defused a complaining customer and had closed the sale. It was a win-win-win- for our boss, Dan, and the customer.

Why It Works: Part of being a good team member is being willing to recognize the contributions of others. This candidate is able to show how, rather than being self-centered, he readily offers praise when it is due.

3. Tell me about a time that you didn't work well with a supervisor. What was the result and how would you have changed the outcome?

Early in my career, I had a supervisor who was in a fairly good mood on Monday, but it deteriorated each day until, by Friday, she was finding fault with everything I did. I didn't realize, until I left that position, that I had been a contributor to the decline in her mood. Judy would ask me how my weekend was (on Monday) and during the week she would ask how it was going. I would tell her how much fun I was having (I was single) and how I was looking forward to the weekend plans.

After I left, I realized my life was in complete contrast to hers and I reminded her of it almost daily. When she asked the questions, I should have had a quick answer, and then asked her how she was doing!

Why It Works: This answer avoids the pitfall of criticizing a former supervisor by showing how the candidate can admit a degree of culpability in the situation. She also offers prompt examples of the lesson she learned and the approach she would take should the situation ever happen again.

4. Can you tell me about a time that you helped someone?

Most recently, we had a new hire who was really struggling with getting to work on time, and I knew the boss was getting irritated. Over lunch one day I explained to Paul how important it was to our boss for everyone to be there at least 10 minutes early. You could really get on his bad side when you were frequently late. The new employee was grateful for the advice. At his previous job, his boss had only been concerned about the work getting done on time; he/she did not "watch the clock."

Why It Works: Here the candidate uses the STAR method to explain how he dealt with a workplace challenge. The action he took exemplifies the traits that managers look for in their team members: the ability to support others, tactful mediation skills, and personal initiative in problem-solving.

5. How do you get along with older (younger) co-workers?

If Co-Workers are Older

There are times when I just know that a new way of doing something makes more sense to me. However, there have been occasions where I’ve learned that my "better way" may not have actually been the best way to get the job done. As a consequence, I now respect my older co-workers’ knowledge and I've learned how to make my suggestions at appropriate times.

Why It Works: Here the interviewee proves herself to be open to the ideas of others, respectful, and coachable.

If Co-Workers Are Younger

I quickly realized it was not my job to "parent" the younger people with whom I work; it was my job to get to know them and for us to find common ground where we could effectively work together. It took time, but the result was worth the effort.

Why It Works: This answer, like the ones before it, emphasizes the candidate’s ability to communicate and collaborate with others through an open exchange of ideas.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

  • Showcase your teamwork skills. As you structure your own answers to these questions, be sure to include examples that illustrate important teamwork skills such as communication, creative thinking, goal setting, collaboration, conflict management, and problem-solving.
  • Focus on lessons learned. Prove that you are an employee who proactively takes the initiative to learn from past situations and to devise new and better approaches to common workplace challenges.
  • Review common interview questions, along with sample answers. Not all interview questions will be about how well you work with others. Be prepared to also answer interview questions about you, your knowledge of their company, and your anticipated career trajectory.

What Not to Say 

Focus on the situation, not the culprits. Don’t cast blame on former co-workers or supervisors when describing issues in the workplace. Instead, describe how and why the situation (as opposed to an individual) was difficult and how your own good teamwork saved the day.

Nothing. Don’t duck the question. Even if you are an introvert who works best independently, you still will need to demonstrate how you can work well with others when this is required.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Key Takeaways

USE THE STAR RESPONSE TECHNIQUE: Describe the situation, task, action, and result of a past interaction with co-workers or a supervisor in order to reveal how you possess solid teamwork capabilities.

PRACTICE YOUR ANSWERS: Take the time to prepare a few responses to questions about your interpersonal skills so that you won’t become tongue-tied during the interview.

ACKNOWLEDGE OTHERS: Put a positive spin on your response by praising rather than criticizing past work associates and demonstrating your own willingness to learn from others.