Answers to Tough Interview Questions – Part VII

In our series of answers to tough interview questions, “Tell me how you handle conflict at work” is the tough interview question that we are tackling today. In our series, we delve into what the interviewer is trying to uncover. For today’s question, the interviewer is trying to determine if the job seeker is level headed and fair when dealing with workplace conflict.

Answer to tough interview question 7, “Tell me how you handle conflict at work.”

As a senior finance executive, I have been involved with 12 mergers and acquisitions, in three Fortune 500 companies, over a period of 25 years. For each merger and acquisition that I was involved in there were always conflicts in deciding which companies to merge and acquire, and how best to integrate the acquired companies into the existing one. In one situation, our CEO desperately wanted to acquire a company to get access to its technology, and was adamant about doing so. When I performed the due diligence, I discovered that doing so would put our company at risk. Our CEO did not respond very well to the news and refused to listen to me, but I remained calm throughout the meeting.

After the meeting, I approached another senior level executive who went to university with our CEO, and I explained to him that the company that our CEO wanted to acquire for its technology was embroiled in a dispute about who owned the patent, and that the key people working on the technology had quit the firm. I inquired if having the conversation in a different environment would help and he indicated that the CEO loves to play squash. I invited the CEO to play a game of squash. After the game, the conversation turned to work and I was able to successfully make my case this time.”

In the response you are demonstrating that you possess political and business savvy. You didn’t lose your calm when the CEO refused to listen to your point of view. Instead, you gathered information on how you could create an environment where the CEO would be more likely to listen to you. Your response to interview questions needs to be specific and succinct, as well as truthful and positive. Candidates who relate a particular situation to the interviewer for each question will be far more effective and successful than those who respond in general terms. The best way to answer tough interview questions is to briefly describe the situation and be specific about the action you took.

The response offered to the seventh tough interview question, “Tell me how you handle conflict at work.” is only a guide, and therefore it is the job candidate’s responsibility to tweak the advice offered.


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