The Job Interview: “Tell Me About a Conflict with a Coworker.”

This job interview question is tricky for two reasons: 1) it asks for a specific story from your past work history, and 2) it asks you to talk about a negative or unpleasant situation. Here are some tips for avoiding the most common mistakes and crafting a good answer:

mistake #1

“I can’t say I’ve ever really had a conflict with a coworker. I get along well with everyone.”

How this hurts you: This might seem at first like a great answer – you get along well with people, that’s awesome! But you dodged the question. Employers ask this question because they want to know how you’ll handle conflict in the workplace when it eventually does come up. . . which it almost certainly will. Even if it’s only a minor disagreement or misunderstanding, conflict of some sort is inevitable. And employers want reassurance that you will handle such things professionally. This answer does not provide that reassurance.

mistake #2

“At my last job, I had one coworker who absolutely hated me. I don’t know what her problem was; I think I’m a pretty nice person, but apparently she didn’t, because she decided that I was her enemy. She kept trying to undermine me and get me into trouble. If I was 3 minutes late clocking in, she couldn’t wait to go tell the boss. Never mind that she spent 45 minutes a day on personal phone calls, she decided that I needed to be reported for checking my personal email at work once. I genuinely don’t understand what her problem was; I never did anything to her.”

How this hurts you: Yikes, how could this NOT hurt? This answer breaks the unwritten rule of the job interview: Never say anything negative about a current or previous boss, coworker, organization, etc. This answer is full of negativity, and it reflects poorly not only on the coworker, but on you too. Anger and bitterness are unprofessional, and blaming everything on other people instead of taking responsibility yourself indicates a lack of maturity.

mistake #3

“I had a conflict where I wasn’t getting along well with a coworker, so I went to my boss and asked for him to intervene. My boss talked to each of us separately to get our individual sides, and then talked to both of us together. He laid out a new set of rules for us and separated our duties so that we wouldn’t need to work so closely together anymore. I didn’t see the coworker much after that, and things went much more smoothly.”

How this hurts you: While there is some excellent conflict-resolution work being done in this story. . .none of it is being done by you. It’s all being done by your boss. This story paints a picture of an employee who doesn’t have the ability to resolve conflict themselves, and who will go running to the boss to solve everything, creating more work for the boss.

so how do you answer this question?

Tell a story that showcases your conflict resolution skills: a story in which you took the initiative to talk things over with the other person, reach a compromise, smooth over any misunderstanding, and resolve the conflict. Use the STAR formula to keep your story organized and well-structured. Avoid negativity, badmouthing, and judgmental terms. Take responsibility for your own role in contributing to the conflict. Above all, remember to frame the conflict not as “me vs. the coworker,” but as “me and the coworker together vs. the problem.”

winning example

“At my last job, there was a coworker that I didn’t quite see eye-to-eye with. It wasn’t really anyone’s fault; it was simply a case of different personalities. We tried to work around it, but at some point, we realized that it was causing tension. So, I pulled her aside and broached the idea that this was something we needed to work on. It was a very awkward conversation at first. But she did open up eventually about certain things that I was doing that annoyed her, and I had had no idea! So, once I started changing those things, and once I was able to understand where she was coming from, we had a much better relationship after that. I wouldn’t say we ever became best friends, but we became good colleagues.”


If you need any help preparing for a job interview, you may call 225-231-3733 to schedule a practice interview with one of our career specialists.

Written by Lynnette Lee