Describe the most difficult coworker you’ve worked with and tell me how you dealt with him or her.
Similar interview questions:
Give me an example of working with others where you did not agree.
How well do you work with people who are different from you?
Tell me about someone who has been difficult for you to work with in your job.
What has been the most difficult situation for you to deal with in your current team?
Why the interviewer is asking this question:
The interviewer in probing both your definition of a difficult coworker as well as how you interacted with that person. This will give the interviewer an indication of how effectively you are able to work with a wide variety of different people.
The best approach to answering this question:
This question needs to be answered carefully by thinking in advance not only about the person you would select, but also why you are selecting him/her. The best selection criteria is to avoid making the selection due to who the person is or personality issues, but select based on specific behavioral actions the person has taken, especially if they have a detrimental effect on others in the department or across the organization. Then you need to talk about a specific example or two of how you successfully dealt with that person.
An example of how to best answer this question for experienced candidates:
"In my current role, we have to get our major purchases approved through the Supply Chain team. In the past, this has caused a timing delay for us due to the person in Supply Chain who is assigned to work for our department. So I first of all took time to go to lunch with him, informally asking him about his workload and workflow. As it turns out, he has an ongoing backlog of work of about 2 weeks at any given point, so often requests just literally sit there in the queue waiting for a response. I was able to work with him to give him a two week advanced notice of an upcoming purchase request so that we could get slotted into the queue in advance. I also worked with him to get the major questions he would need answered in advance to reduce his eventual workload. It requires some advanced planning on our part, yet the net effect is that we have been able to cut our response time from three weeks down to just one week, which makes our entire team more productive and accountable for our delivery timelines…"
An example of how to best answer this question for entry level candidates:
"During my recent internship, we had a member of our team who was negative on the approach I was taking for my summer project. I took time to meet with her to better understand her concerns. I will say that it wasn’t easy and I didn’t get a lot accomplished in that first meeting. So I met with my mentor asking for suggestions and she recommended going to lunch with her. When I asked her about lunch, she initially declined, saying that she brings lunch with her to the office. I said I did as well and asked if we could just meet at her desk for a brown bag session. She agreed and we were able to talk through the specifics of my project. It turns out that one part of my project would potentially be removing her access, temporarily, to some data that she needed for her daily work. As we talked it through, we were able to come up with a way to set aside a copy of a static dataset for her to access while the main data was taken offline when needed. She was happy with the outcome and I was as well, since it removed what could have been a major roadblock on our team…"
An example of how you should not answer this question:
"Wow, that’s easy. There’s this woman in our department who keeps complaining about how she’s being discriminated against for being female and she point to how all the guys talk around the water cooler and she’s not being included. Well, we’re usually talking about sports, so I told her if she wanted to be included, she would need to start actually watching the sports stuff we’re talking about. That seemed to have worked, since she hasn’t been coming around the water cooler anymore to complain…"
Remember to answer each interview question behaviorally, whether it is a behavioral question or not. The easiest way to do this is to use an example from your background and experience. Then use the S-T-A-R approach to make the answer a STAR: talk about a Situation or Task (S-T), the Action you took (A) and the Results achieved (R). This is what makes your interview answer uniquely yours and will make your answer a star!
Further review: know the answers to these Fifty Standard Interview Questions to be fully prepared for your interview!