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Asked by Kristen on October 18, 2017

I have been through several employment interviews and many times I have been asked to describe a time when there was conflict in my life and how I resolved it. I am always caught off-guard and never what I should speak of. What are employers looking for when asking this question? What is the best way to approach this question while giving an honest answer?

Answered by Phil, Hiring Expert at Merck & Co., Inc., on October 19, 2017

This is a question that I commonly ask during interviews as well - now that you know it's coming, you can be prepared next time! What I'm really trying to learn from this question is how candidates navigate and work through difficult situations or difficult people. I don't really think there is one answer that employers are "looking for"; we really want to learn more about your way of working - do you avoid conflict at all costs? Do you work to mediate disagreements between coworkers? There really isn't a right or wrong answer to this question. Just do your best to prepare so you can be ready when it comes during your next interview. Good luck! -Phil

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Answered by Dean, Hiring Expert at Archer Daniels Midland, on October 26, 2017

HI,
This is a common behaviour base question.  I would never expect a successful person to go through their careers or lives without a conflict arising.  It is not so much what the conflict was about as much as how did you stay true to your values to make sure a standard was upheld.  Employers want employees that do not buckly under pressure but are also looking for someone that discuss rationally a solution while treating the coworker, customer, classmate with respect.
Be honest and true and you will be fine!  Good Luck!

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Answered by Stephanie, Hiring Expert at AT&T Inc., on November 2, 2017

Employers can certainly ask some interesting questions. If you do a quick internet search you’ll see questions like this are part of a widely-used technique called Behavioral Interviewing. The basic idea is to ask questions about how you’ve performed in the past so a potential employer has a reasonable understanding of how you’ll perform in similar situations in the future. Easy enough, right?

Your specific question is about conflict, so the employer wants to know how you’re going to handle yourself in potential conflicts in their workplace. Maybe your best response is to recount a conflict with a challenging customer or co-worker that you had to find creative ways to work with. If you’re new to the workforce it may be a personal scenario like the time you had to have a crucial conversation with a roommate about that seriously overdue rent. The situation doesn’t have to be exactly relatable to the job at hand as long as the interviewer can clearly see the skill they need (i.e. conflict resolution).

One last tip - do some research and lots and lots (and lots) of practice with the STAR answering technique. It’s a highly efficient way to respond to behavioral questions as it teaches you to format and focus your answers on exactly what an interviewer needs to hear:

• Situation at hand
• Tasks you needed to accomplish for success
• Action you took to complete tasks
• Resolution to the situation and what you learned
Best of luck in your next interview!

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