Companies employ behavioral interview questions based on the belief that investigation into past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. The problem with behavioral interview questions is that they fluster candidates, and can frequently screen out good performers. To prevent this from happening to you, you must practice, practice, practice your responses to behavioral questions.
At some point in your job search journey, you will likely face the question about a time that you had a disagreement or some other form of conflict with a manager, peer, or customer. “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with conflict on the job” is one of the most common behavioral interview questions that candidates can field, and it’s typically one that gives them the most trouble. The best way to address any behavioral question in an interview is to tell a story using the STAR method. What’s that, you might ask? Let’s break down the acronym.
This is the preface of your narrative. Provide background on the particular experience, and what your involvement was.
Describe the challenge you faced, and what the expected outcome was.
Detail the action you took in response to the challenge. Be sure to use “I” and/or “we” statements.
Explain the results and the business impact, and then make them relevant to the position being discussed.
Bear in mind the universal truth of interviewing, which is that the interview is not about you. The interview is about the business problem that the hiring manager has. Your job is to link your experiences to that problem so that the hiring manager can see that you are the answer to that problem. You do this by stopping and thinking about what the hiring manager wants to know by asking this question, and by giving an example that shows how your actions had a positive effect on the business.
Is the hiring manager looking for someone with empathy and self-awareness? Do they want a quick-thinking problem solver? Do they want to know if you’ve learned from your past experiences and applied them to your current or previous role?
Let’s apply the STAR method to a slight variation on the question “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with conflict on the job.”
“Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a dissatisfied customer. What did you do to address the concerns, and how did you resolve the issue?”
“A customer called, and she was quite angry that she’d waited more than two weeks for a reply from our sales team regarding a product query.
I needed to address the customer’s immediate concern and find out what went wrong in the normal query response process.
I apologized to the customer and took down her details, and then passed them to our head salesperson, who contacted the customer within the hour. I investigated why the inquiry hadn’t been answered. I discovered that it was a combination of a wrong mobile number and an old email address that the customer was no longer checking. I let the customer know, and I input all of her new contact information, and then we offered a goodwill discount on her next order.
The customer not only continued to order from us but also Tweeted about her positive experience, and wrote up a five-star Yelp review of our business.”
As you can see in this example, the response is succinct and does not include many extraneous details. It immediately describes the situation, articulates the task, describes the activity that was taken, and, most importantly, conveys the positive end result impact on the business. The behavior described in this example not only resulted in rectifying the issue that the customer had, but it also garnered free positive publicity in the form of an enthusiastic Tweet and glowing Yelp review.
The hiring manager is not particularly interested in the details of the conflict, which is why brevity is important. You need to tell a story that will quickly convey that you can solve problems, diffuse conflict, and keep your focus on the business. Practice your response to this question, as well as some of the other most common behavioral questions in a mirror, or even ask a friend to record you so that you can see what kind of body language you are using. The importance of practice and preparation cannot be overstated!
If you’re in full-on interview mode but also still in the process of applying to different companies, LiveCareer can help. Check out our resume examples and cover letter examples for ideas on formatting and wording, or let us show you how to make a resume (if you’re really, really stuck).