Do You Work Well with Others?

How do you deal with people whom you don't like and who don't like you in the workplace?

This is a really good question. The hiring authority is more interested in the way you react to this question than in the answer itself. An answer along this line will suffice: "Because I give all lot of respect to all of the people that I encounter, and even the people I don't particularly like, I seemed to gain their respect. I deal with everybody on a professional level and try to keep personal relationships at work to a minimum. I have to appreciate everyone but I don't necessarily have to like them."

Describe a very difficult person that you had to work with and how you handled it.

You can begin to answer this question in a light-hearted way by smiling and saying, "Well, my spouse at times...or my 16-year-old at times . . ." Then add, "Seriously, I've never really had a problem with difficult people, even if they did not respect me personally. I found a way to deal with difficult people as with all other people in the workplace and that's to perform so well that my work would 'speak' so highly of me that what people thought of me personally didn't really matter."

Have you ever gotten personally involved or socially close to anyone at your work?

This is a question that comes up more than most people would think. You might be amazed at the number of people who willingly admit that they have dated or got personally involved with some of the people that they have worked with before. Don't go there! The answer has to be, "I keep my personal and business life separate. I have seen situations where people have become personally involved when they work together and it usually leads to nothing but a disaster. It just plain isn't smart."

We play a lot of poker (golf, tennis, bowling, etc.) are around here. Are you any good at it?

Even if you are a scratch golfer, never admit to being really good at any "social" game or endeavor. You set yourself up as "someone to beat." A number of years ago, I had a hiring authority who, I could swear, didn't hire my candidate because my candidate was an excellent golfer and this guy won the company golf tournament every year and didn't want the competition. So, you might want to admit to enjoy watching a particular social endeavor, but never claim to be really good at it.

Tell me about a time when you practiced diplomacy when communicating with another person or group.

Simply be ready for this question with a reasonable story. It is important here to be ready with a business-oriented story. Do not get trapped into talking about a social situation.

People are trying to evaluate your personal business skills not your social skills. Besides, if the first thing that comes to mind is a social situation, you won't appear businesslike.

Sometimes we have to bring conflict out into the open and other times we avoid it or sacrifice our own needs in order to placate others. Tell me about when you've had to make a choice like this.

This is a pretty sophisticated question and not many people are going to ask it of you. But you need to be prepared with a story about how you confronted conflict and/or how you avoided it. Again, if you hesitate or stammer without being able to answer quickly with an example, you will appear indecisive.

We all have to deal with "power struggles" or resolve win/lose situations. Tell me about the last time you were involved in such a situation.

Depending on how the interview is going, you might laugh and say, "Well, the last time was when my spouse and night were deciding where to go to dinner....I let him/her win." Then follow up with a more serious work environment situation and how you resolved it. Be ready with a short and to the point story. The answer to question like this can be a recipe for disaster if you go on and on and make the story too long without getting to the point.

Describe a time when an external customer tried your patience or tried to get something from you or your company that he or she didn't deserve—maybe not outright cheat, but close to it. How did you handle it and what did you do?

Even if you are not directly involved with an external "customer," you better have some kind of answer or story for this. You need to communicate calmness and clear thinking. If your answer is, "We sued the bastards," you won't come across in a positive way. As with other answers, have a short, to-the-point story.

Describe a time when an internal customer tried your patience.

If you were in a support or service role to other departments in your company, it won't be hard to come up with an example of this. If you were in the estimating department, for instance, you can relate that the sales department is always pressing you to provide estimates faster, no matter how accurate they might be. You need to communicate courage and responsibility over and above relinquishing to pressure.

Priorities constantly change in our firm. Recurring challenges and limitations to resources push us really hard. Often it is hard to maintain a positive attitude, and the department gets emotionally down. Has this ever happened to you and how would you deal with it?

If you claim to have never had an emotionally "down" time, no one will believe you. Most of the world is negative about most things. Something along the line of, "All emotions are infectious. I really try to look for the 'positive' in every situation. That doesn't mean that I ignore reality." Then tell a story about a situation in your present or previous job where you were "pressed for resources" and how you handled it. If you badmouth your present or past company by saying something like, "Well, the finance and accounting departments could never keep the cash flow positive. It really screwed up our department and I was yelling at them all the time," you won't get hired.

How This Affects You

Most people think that it is terribly unfair that being liked has as much to do with getting hired as it does. Hardly any hiring authority is ever going to admit that it is as much as 40% of the hiring decision. It is true that the first 20% of the hiring decision is based on the candidate's ability to do the job. But being liked or "fitting in" with the rest of the company and the individuals in it is a bigger question.

"Cultural fit" is the term that many hiring authorities will apply to the kind of people that fit into their organization. In the vast majority of these hiring situations, "like attracts like." These are companies that, as a whole, look for people that are just like, or at least mostly like, everyone else in the company. Instead of an individual hiring authority passing his or her own personal judgment, the company does as a whole.

Even when a candidate is not being judged by the people in the company, there's still going to be a personal compatibility assessment on the part of a hiring authority. People will not hire someone they don't like. It's just that simple! (And you probably won't go to work for someone you don't like. It works both ways.)

I've experienced more qualified candidates not being hired because they weren't liked either by the individual hiring authority or by the company as a whole more than any other issue in the hiring process. We've all experienced the same kind of thing in our workplace. How many times have we all experienced an individual being promoted who may not be very qualified but is "liked" by management so he or she is promoted? It is unfair. But let's face it, life isn't fair either.

Now there will always be people who may not like you as much as they may like others or vice versa. That's fair. And it would be foolish to tell people who simply dislike each other to stop it. But, as a candidate, you need be prepared to be evaluated personally. You need to be ready to be judged by your social skills as well as your professional skills.

Based on my experience, 35 to 40% of the hiring processes include some kind of social "interview" interaction. These can be anywhere from a lunch interview, a golf or tennis match hiring authority, an invitation to a Christmas party, or a trip to a company function before the candidate is hired. The social events during the interviewing process don't have anything to do with the candidate's ability to do the job. Companies and hiring authorities are simply trying to find out how well the person might fit in from a personal point of view.

I've also seen candidates blow their chances of getting hired by screwing up these social interviews. I've had candidates who have stuffed themselves at lunch or dinner interviews. I had a candidate one time who played golf with the CEO and didn't get hired because the CEO thought that he had lied about his score on a couple of holes. I've known candidates to get into political and moral arguments with potential peers at social interviewing events. I've had candidates drink too much at Christmas parties, and spouses of candidates who embarrassed themselves and their spouses at such social events. I'm not a fan of social interviewing situations for the very reason that too much can go wrong.

I know, it's hard to "practice" being liked. What is important is to be aware that being liked is part of getting hired. Once a candidate realizes that, he or she is better prepared for success in the process.

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