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How to Reply to Interview Questions About Past Coworkers

by Lisa McQuerrey

Job interview questions that ask you about previous coworker relationships are designed to assess how well you get along with others in the workplace. Questions may be behavioral in nature, where the interviewer asks you to describe real-life scenarios about coworkers that pertain to conflict resolution, group work or managing a difference of opinion. Answer these questions by demonstrating your interpersonal communication skills and your ability to get along with a wide range of personality types.

Contentious Relationship

You might be asked if you ever worked with a colleague who rubbed you the wrong way, or with whom you had frequent disagreements. The interviewer is assessing your ability to work with someone you might dislike. Don't claim you get along with everyone all the time. Rather, use this question as an opportunity to show how you remain professional, even in difficult circumstances. For example, you might say, “If I disagree with a coworker, I let him know in a respectful way. I explain the reasons for my position and ask him to do the same. After that, I strive to find mutually agreeable ground to work from.”

Positive Relationship

An interviewer wants to know what you view as a positive coworker relationship, so you might be asked to describe your ideal colleague. Respond by describing traits you value as a worker, such as honest communication, respect, professionalism, and a willingness to brainstorm and provide constructive feedback. The interviewer might also want to see if your past relationships with colleagues were team-oriented. If the conversation moves in this direction, you might say, “Everyone has her own individual talents, and I think successful coworkers learn to use each other's strengths toward the collective good of the team.”

Group Work

The interviewer is likely to ask you about previous group work efforts. For example, you might be asked to describe how you responded if a single member of the team refused to pull his weight. Respond by being diplomatic. Explain how the group collectively set individual and team expectations and used positive reinforcement and encouragement to get everyone to perform at peak levels. For example: “Teammates should be accountable to one another and decide as a group how work will be divided and progress monitored. If someone falls behind, the team should work together to address the issue and ensure it is quickly resolved."

Dispute Resolution

An interviewer wants to know that you're capable of working out minor differences with colleagues without bringing the boss into the situation to mediate. If asked how you resolved problems with coworkers in the past, demonstrate your professionalism and your ability to maintain your temper and composure. For example: “I ask for a private meeting when neither of us is angry or frustrated. I suggest we both give our side of the situation and then rationally discuss how to come up with an equitable compromise.”

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