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Asked to Criticize a Co-Worker

by nr
(British Columbia, Canada)

I am interested in becoming a supervisor, and have been invited to 3 interviews for 3 separate job postings...all with the same manager. I think he sees potential in me.

In the last interview he asked me this behavioral interview question:

Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an unmotivated and/or difficult co-worker?

I explained that in our department there was low employee morale, disengagement, and employees felt unmotivated. My solution was to listen, show empathy, provide options and be positive.

When it was time for my 1 on 1 with this manager to discuss why I did not get the job, he told me I should never say negative things about my department. I explained that I used my example to show how I turn negatives into positives.

How do you suggest I respond in the future?

Much appreciated!

Mike Petras replies:

First of all, sorry to hear you didn't get the promotion you were seeking. I'm sure you are disappointed, but the fact that you are trying to learn from this experience says a lot about your leadership potential.

In my article, How to Answer Interview Questions, I share the best way to answer this question along with a true story. I also wrote another article under, Employment Interview Questions, that discusses the best way to answer a job interview question about co-workers who don't shoulder their fair share of the workload.

The secret to answering a question like this is to provide a specific example or situation. Do not make it personal in nature. In other words, here was the situation, here is what I did about it, and this was the measurable result.

It appears like your answer was too broad in nature. You inadvertently criticized your boss by telling him his entire department struggled with low morale. In essence, you made a judgment call about his leadership and the overall atmosphere in the office. That's not what he asked you.

Next time, zero in on a specific problem created by someone and how you helped to resolve it. This is not being disloyal to your co-worker or saying they are a bad person. We all make mistakes and fall short.

As a leader, one of your main responsibilities will be to solve people problems. If you can demonstrate to your manager that you already know how to do this, it will be easy to promote you.

I'm sure the next time around you'll be well prepared for an interview question like this. Don't best yourself up about it. All the best.

Mike Petras

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