Conflict in the Job Interview: How to Approach the Tricky Questions

by Ruth Lincoln, former Senior Assistant, INALJ Washington, DC 
previously published 10/4/13 & 8/29/14

Conflict in the Job Interview: How to Approach the Tricky Questions

ruth.lincolnA job interview isn’t complete without a little conflict. That is, questions about how you handle conflict.

A great employee knows how to stay calm when plans go awry, attitudes clash, and tempers fly. Even the sunniest workplaces can pack a thunderous punch. An interview committee wants to know how you’ll handle the inevitable conflict. We’re all familiar with the “What’s your biggest weakness?” question, but it’s important to consider other ways we handle stress.

Below I’ve gathered some questions from my own experience and the tremendous interview questions Google Spreadsheet maintained by the blog Hiring Librarians.

When considering your answers, focus less on the problem, and highlight the solution instead. Putting a positive spin on a negative question is a great technique to focus on your conflict/resolution skills.

  • Tell us about time you put your foot in your mouth. What happened and how did you deal with it?
  • Think of a time someone criticized you in a meeting. How did you respond?
  • What’s your biggest pet peeve?
  • How can you tell when you are under stress? What do you then do about it?
  • What makes you angry?
  • Describe a time you had to deal with a difficult patron and how you handled that situation.
  • Tell me about a time you made a mistake and how you fixed it.
  • Name a time when you did something wrong on the job and your supervisor had to talk to you.
  • Name a time when a subordinate had a problem with you and how did you deal with it.
  • How do you deal with difficult people? 

Now it’s your turn. What questions have you been asked to demonstrate how you’ll handle a tough situation?



  3 comments for “Conflict in the Job Interview: How to Approach the Tricky Questions

  1. Illinois to Missouri editors
    October 4, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    What do you do when you see/hear a coworker (or supervisor) giving wrong information to a patron? or What do you do when you have 3 people at the desk, the phone is ringing, and you have a chat question/email all at once?

    • Alabama to Idaho Editors
      October 9, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      Great questions! The ability to multi-task is critical in a high-volume area like the reference desk.

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