This question is one that will often be directed toward those applying for leadership positions. What's really being asked is what type of interaction and behavior you feel is appropriate or inappropriate between a supervisor and a subordinate. It's meant to determine your outlook on professionalism and conduct for those in positions of authority, and whether you can be trusted to put the right priorities first.
Points to Emphasize
In any industry, maintaining order in the chain of command is crucial to operational efficiency. Take this question seriously for a much better chance at earning a management role:
- Discuss the need for separation of personal and professional priorities and relationships.
- Supervisors should be business-first but should still be friendly and approachable by staff.
- Highlight the need for accountability, regardless of personal feelings or preferences.
- Show that you understand a supervisor's need to remain impartial for the benefit of the business.
Different employers have different outlooks regarding off-hours socializing, but it's usually easiest for supervisors to maintain a reasonable separation from subordinates outside of work.
Mistakes You Should Avoid
Don't go too strongly one way or the other—supervisors should be focused and in control, but they need not be ogres. Steer clear of these pitfalls:
- Don't try too hard for the all-business approach; supervisors who are not personable are not usually as effective.
- Avoid the appearance of the buddy-buddy supervisor, the one who has a hard time delivering the bad news to friendly subordinates.
- Do not over-simplify. Employers know that supervisors must direct and subordinates must follow; there should be more substance to your response.
- Don't cite examples from your work history to validate an opinion you know to be unconventional. The fact that something has worked in the past doesn't always make it a smart approach.
Finding the middle-ground is important for this question, as supervisors themselves are often expected to balance opposing priorities in the workplace.
Consider the following as an example response to the question of supervisor and subordinate relationships:
It's in a supervisor's best interest to develop a good, friendly rapport with each person who reports to him or her, but it's also important to stay focused on the job. A supervisor should always have open lines of communication and be able to boost morale among the team without losing sight of work priorities.
While you're more likely to encounter this type of question when applying for a supervisory position, the general principles are the same no matter what type of job you're seeking.