Imagine you are being interviewed for a new job. Everything seems to be going well until the interviewer says: "Tell me about a time you had a conflict on the job."
What should you do?
* (A) Dish the dirt about a jerk you had trouble with on your last job. After all, honesty is the best policy.
* (B) Tell the interviewer you get along with everybody, so you haven't had any conflicts at work.
* (C) Say "if I had a conflict with someone I would sit down with that person to discuss how we could resolve it."
* (D) None of the above.
In most interview situations, the answer is D.
If you badmouth anyone during an interview (answer A), the employer may think you're a difficult person who will create conflict in their workplace. Answer B makes it sound like you are either answering dishonestly or don't have much experience working with people.?
Answer C may sound like a good way to respond. However, most employers don't want to hear what you would do in a hypothetical situation -- they want to hear how you have actually handled a real situation in the past.
The Interest in Conflict
The purpose in asking about a past conflict is not to see if you have ever had a conflict (the interviewer assumes you have). The goal is to see how well you resolve difficult situations and, if something did not work out in the past, what you learned from it.
Asking applicants about past experiences is known as behavioral interviewing. Behavioral interviewing involves asking about specific past behaviors in an attempt to determine how you would likely behave if you got the job.
Of course, people's behaviors can change over time and in different situations. However, past behavior is a much better measure of how someone is likely to behave in a similar situation in the future as opposed to what that person says they "would" do. In an ideal world, we would all handle conflict effectively. In the real world, some of us are better suited to jobs with minimal conflict.
Expect Behavioral Questions
To ensure you're a good fit for the job, many interviewers will ask behavioral questions relating to the particular position. So you may hear questions such as "Describe your most successful project so far. What did you do to make it a success?" or "Describe a project where something went wrong. How did you solve the problem?"
To prepare for behavioral questions, spend time before the interview thinking about your past experiences so you can answer questions by: (1) describing the situation, (2) explaining what you did and what the outcome was, then (3) finishing with the experience you acquired or what you learned if the situation didn't turn out the way you had planned.
Evaluate Your Answers
If you have the chance, do some role-playing with a friend to practice responding to tough interview questions. Ask your friend for feedback about how you answer. Do you get to the point or give too much information? Do you sound natural or do some of your responses sound rehearsed??
Most importantly, could any of your answers raise a red flag with the employer? For example, if you are asked to describe a conflict you experienced and respond with examples of three conflicts you were involved with, the interviewer may think you don't get along with anyone!?
Your purpose during the interview is to show that you will be an asset to the company. Being prepared can help you show that you are the ideal person for the job.