How to answer one of the most common interview questions

One of the most critical things a potential employer wants to know is how well you get along with others. This is why one of the questions you will almost certainly be asked is something like this: "Describe a time when you were faced with a particularly difficult situation at work. How did you respond to this situation?"

You may be tempted to talk about a situation that is fairly neutral. A typical answer is to talk about being under a deadline for a project and how you met the deadline. But that type of story doesn't tell much about your qualities (after all, meeting deadlines is expected), and it certainly isn't memorable. Not to mention, it doesn't give the interviewer any clues as to how you handle a difficult coworker or work situation.

Most of us really have faced difficult situations at work, such as having a customer that rubs you the wrong way, working with a coworker that didn't share the load, being downsized, having an accident on the job and being on disability, working strange hours "¦ the list is long. These are the type of difficulties that the interviewers can relate to and will remember.

You are in charge of the story you tell, so be sure you end the story with how you learned a hidden strength about yourself, or learned a lesson that made you a better employee, or got out of a situation that could have been unsafe. There is no need to tell it as if you were the hero of the story. Admitting that you had to learn a painful lesson demonstrates that you are honest, and willing to take on the responsibility for preventing future problems rather than just pointing the finger of blame.

One last word of caution. Don't ever tell a story where the difficult coworker was a manager. No matter how true the story, or how obvious it is that the manager was in the wrong, the managers listening to the story will not be able to help wondering how they will be perceived by you if they were to be your manager.

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