Interview question: What people do you find it hard to work with?

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Nov 07

This interview question — “What people do you find it hard to work with?” — is a tough one. It’s tough because it is asking you to speak negatively about some group of people. You never want to go negative, but here it is.

Since you don’t want to go negative, you have to answer with situations where it was hard to work with some people and what you did to work with them. If you don’t answer with situations, you risk alienating entire classes of coworkers.

Let’s look at this question a bit closer.

This is a corporate culture question

This question asks you to describe a work environment that you really don’t like. It is searching for the answer to one of the only three questions in an interview: “will you fit in with the team?”.

Consequently, you need to know the type of environment in which you work your best. Confrontational? Collaborative? You will need to contrast the corporate experience you like with ones that you don’t.

Assumes there are difficult people to work with in any group, but need to work with them

Every group has individuals that other individuals have a hard time working with — no one has the exact same personality and compatibility; indeed, some diversity of opinion in this area is good.

Good managers know that business is social and look to see how potential hires will work in a situation where they don’t like someone.

Focus on the work, not the personality

You start describing your situation using the CAR methodology — Context, Actions, and Results. You can talk about a situation, but the action you want to take here is to “focus on the work” and not on the personality. If you ever focus on the personality, it gets you into attacking people and not their ideas. You don’t get to say you don’t like complainers at work — because you’re complaining!

Thus, situations are safer to discuss in an interview and you aren’t bashing a group of people — who may make up your potential new team.

Thus, your answer describes how you worked through a difficult situation at work where others didn’t agree with you for whatever reason. Then describe the actions you took to work with them to have them come to your viewpoint — or your viewpoint to their’s.

By focusing on the work, you gain a larger sphere of people you can work with because the work is what matters, not, as much, the person.

Focus on understanding their point of view

One of the difficult things about working with difficult (to you) people is that you hear what you don’t like about them rather than what they are trying to say. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, one that is made worse because the difficult person is involved in it, it is necessary to pull yourself back a bit, get some perspective and listen. As difficult as that can be for you.

What they may be saying, even though you don’t like how they are saying it, may be fabulous stuff that can really help the situation. By taking the action of understanding their viewpoint on the work, you will go along way to ensuring they feel heard.

This also becomes part of your answer to the “What people do you find it hard to work with?” question. Your context becomes the situation that involves a difficult person, your actions are to listen harder for the item or two that makes the solution better, and acknowledge that as a result. (This is not easy and requires emotional maturity…)

Focus on making the situation resolve in a better way than your way

Inclusion of good ideas from multiple people should make any resolution or approach to the work better. By focusing on finding the best solution through listening to other people, you will often come up with a better approach. Taking action to find the better way shows you can focus on the work and not the person.

If you have this as an example for your interview question, you can now take it past just the difficult person you have a hard time working with to show how you approach collaboration by incorporating all different viewpoints into a solution that is better than yours along.

Don’t forget the Result

Once you’ve described the situation and good actions, you need to tie it all up with results. “Because of this focus,” you could say, “we came up with a completely different solution than what we started with. And even though it was hard, that situation resulted a lot of respect for each others approaches on the team.”

Hiring managers want results oriented people, so make sure you tie this together with a satisfying, results outcome.

Who was the most difficult person you’ve had to work with — and how did you work with that person?

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  • Jason says:

    I don’t necessarily agree that the best way to answer this question is to focus on solutions and results. Of course, you want to avoid attacking anyone or a type of person, but I think a company that asks this question is also wanting to know how you dealt with difficult people, and that includes interacting with difficult people as individuals. Sometimes you have to focus on personality to get the work done.

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