Tough Interview Question – Have you ever had a conflict with a boss or professor? How was it resolved?

By | May 8, 2016

Similar interview questions:
How are you at dealing with conflict?
What do you do when you disagree with others?
Do you open up or close down in conflict situations?
How do you handle disagreements?

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
The interviewer is looking for information that normally would not be offered on the resume or as part of the standard interview response–how the candidate deals with conflict. Many otherwise excellent employees have seen their downfall in how they handled (or didn’t handle) conflict. The interviewer knows that most candidates will not offer up true conflict situations, so the practiced interviewer will continue to drill until a real example is provided.


The best approach to answering this question:
Talk briefly about the conflict, but focus on the resolution of the conflict. Give an actual example of a resolved conflict, walking through the situation which brought up the conflict, what actions you took to resolve the conflict and the end result.

An example of how to best answer this question for an experienced candidate:
“I recently had a conflict with an employee in another department who had a project which was dependent on work being done by myself and two other members of our team. He had sent a rather urgent e-mail acusing us of derailing his project. I had never met him before, so I asked to get together with him for coffee. I asked him to walk me through his project and the interdependency of his project with our project. I then walked him through our project and timelines. Once we had the opportunity to communicate our independent priorities, we could begin talking about our shared priorities. We agreed to a timeline that would help us both meet our goals and the conflict was resolved before it became a major incident.”


An example of how to best answer this question for an entry level candidate:
“I recently had a disagreement with one of my professors over the wording of a question on one of the key exams, which was missed by several members of the class due to the ambiguity. I brought it up to the professor privately and personally, but he was dismissive of my request. After discussing it with several classmates, we went to him together to discuss it further. At that point, he agreed that there was a level of ambiguity in the question, but still would not change the grade of the test. However, he did appreciate us bringing it to his attention and gave us the opportunity to work on a separate project for extra credit to make up for the shortfall on the test. We completed the extra credit and we were all happy with the end result. It wasn’t necessarily the solution we were seeking, but it was a compromise that was acceptable.”

An example of how you should not answer this question:
“I’ve always found that I need to show the other person, in detail, the error of their ways, then they will eventually come around to seeing my way being the best way to do things. Do I have conflict? Sure. But having conflict is a healthy thing. I actually welcome conflict. In fact, I grew up in a family where conflict was a way of life. I got battered and bruised growing up that way, but I learned how to come out swinging and make my way in the world.”

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!