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Have you ever had difficulty with a supervisor? How did you resolve the conflict?

This is a difficult question. Keep in mind it’s one of those questions used to determine future actions based on past actions. The interviewer is looking for specific examples. Be honest, but don’t relate stories that may show you in a negative light. “I had one supervisor who was on me all the time for not working hard enough. The guy was a jerk.” The problem with answers like this is the interviewer is likely to get the idea you really were slacking, rather than that the supervisor was a jerk.

Very often situations with supervisors are emotional. Take some time to think about your career and times you’ve had a problem with a supervisor. Remove the emotion from the answer, so that it doesn’t sound like sour grapes or reflect badly on you. Remember, when you put people down it reflects badly on you, not on the target of your personal attack.

The keys to a good answer are:

  • Remove emotion
  • Specific Example
  • Keep it short, don’t go into too many details
  • Limit discussion to situations where you took positive action, with a positive result to that action

Abusive:
“When I was younger I had a supervisor who yelled at everyone, all the time. Some people got angry, yelled back at her. But I decided the job was pretty good, so I just didn’t pay much attention to the yelling. She seemed to want a reaction, so she usually didn’t turn her anger onto me.”

Here’s how an emotional answer can reflect badly on you. Remember, the interviewer is likely going to be your new boss.

Company Supports Supervisor:
“Most companies take the side of people in higher positions. To this supervisor I could do no right. Eventually I had to quit. I talked to HR who said this person had been a problem in the past, but there was nothing they could do about him.”

The same situation can be described in a more positive manner.

Difference of Opinion:
“I had a supervisor who, well, we didn’t see eye to eye on most things. Eventually we decided it was best to go our separate ways. I found a better job. I think we were both happier.”

Even in situations where a supervisor was wrong, the new job interview isn’t a place to air dirty laundry.

Here’s an answer that’s probably best not repeated, except maybe as a joke. “Why, do you plan on being a problem?”

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