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There are lots of challenging questions that are brought up during an interview, but one of the most unnerving has to be “tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss.” It asks a candidate to divulge details about their relationship with a previous supervisor with the added pressure of discussing a disagreement they had with them.
While this interview question is tough, answering it professionally and honestly can improve your chances of getting the job.
Why Interviewers Ask “Tell Me About a Time You Disagreed With Your Boss”
Much like any other question that’s thrown at you during an interview, this is a targeted inquisition with a purpose. The hiring manager is trying to gauge your relationship with the former boss and how you handled difficult aspects of it. Additionally, the hiring manager wants to understand how you’ll communicate a negative situation professionally.
They’re looking for an answer that doesn’t sugarcoat the situation. An interviewee’s response must fully describe the circumstances, their response to the disagreement, and the outcome.
Similar questions that have a similar motive include:
What are some of your weaknesses?
How do you handle conflicts at work?
How to Answer “Tell Me About a Time You Disagreed With Your Boss”
While many interviewees are tempted to blow through this question by putting forth an insignificant tiff or simply stating that they’ve never had a conflict with a boss before, this isn’t the response that a hiring manager is looking for.
A hiring manager is well-versed in the realities of the professional world, including the fact that employees have at least a few disagreements with their supervisor from time to time. Honesty is the name of the game when it comes to succeeding in the interview.
Below are three steps for how to adequately answer the question “Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss” in an interview.
Map out your response. The trick to answering an interview question like this one completely is mapping out your response. You want to lay out the situation in an easily understandable way and break down every step of what happened next.
For this question, in particular, you’ll want to describe the context of your job, your relationship with the boss, and the disagreement. Then, you’ll explain the actions you took to remedy the situation and the eventual outcome.
Try to discuss a disagreement that ultimately had a positive outcome where you learned something from the interaction.
Detail the situation honestly. Avoid the instinct to diminish the situation’s conflict. The interviewer wants to know the details of a difficult situation, like disagreeing with your boss. Attempting to avoid this reality leaves a negative impression on the interviewer.
Instead, explain the circumstance honestly. If there was a massive amount of tension leading up to the disagreement with your boss, explain this. If the situation suddenly arose out of nowhere but was an outburst, mention that. The goal is to put everything on the table for the interviewer to analyze.
With that being said, choose the disagreement that you can discuss carefully. Detail a situation that demonstrates yourself in a professional and positive light. Even though you must talk about a former conflict, that doesn’t mean you have to pick one that makes you seem like a poor candidate for the job.
Highlight a positive outcome. In addition to describing the disagreement itself, this question is also covertly asking for what the circumstance’s result was.
The job candidate’s goal should be to pick an example that highlights an honest disagreement but one that still ended in a positive outcome. Think back on your professional history and choose an experience that fits this mold.
You don’t want to propose a situation that was never resolved in a productive way, even if it wasn’t your fault. The question isn’t asked to incite gossip; it’s a mechanism for evaluating a candidate’s professionalism.
Example Answers to “Tell Me About a Time You Disagreed With Your Boss”
When I graduated from college, I got my first job working for a large firm as a marketing strategist on a team of 15 other people. I had a supervisor I’ll call “Mike” for the sake of privacy that I ended up having a bit of a disagreement with.
After my first six months at the firm, we had just finished working on the first long-term project, and we’re about to start the second.
I felt I had contributed greatly to the first project and proved myself to take on a little more responsibility. I asked to be granted some extra tasks to keep me busy, but Mike didn’t take the inquisition well. He got angry because he thought I was asking for too much too soon.
While I felt a little upset that he’d turned me down so blatantly, I understood his decision and decided to put even more effort into the new project. He noticed my efforts and offered me a promotion the following year.
In my last job, I was working as a shift manager for a local Italian restaurant under a general manager named Katie. The restaurant was having an issue with staff turnover.
Every few weeks, another great waitress or hostess was quitting, and the management team was trying to figure out why this was happening. Katie thought that the issue was hiring inexperienced candidates who didn’t know how difficult the job could be.
However, I disagreed with Katie. I thought that the high attrition rate was because the restaurant was offering an hourly pay that was a full dollar lower than the average rate in our state of residence.
I also thought that the staff was frustrated because they didn’t receive much training when joining the team and felt continually confused.
When we had a management meeting, I decided to voice this opinion professionally to the restaurant’s owners instead of backing up everything that Katie thought. I cared about the business’ success and had a good perspective on the problem.
I think Katie ended up appreciating the communication because we used both of our insights to better the team for the future. The turnover rate ended up improving a lot over the next six months.
During my years as a public high school math teacher, I came across a few situations where I was in disagreement with my boss. One instance that comes to mind was at a school I had worked at for three years prior.
I felt comfortable and had a productive relationship with the school’s principal and my boss, Greg. We often agreed on administrative and educational decisions, but one time we did not at all. There was a student in my class who I’ll name Sam for the purpose of this interview.
Sam was one of the top-performing students in the entire school. He was on track to be the valedictorian of his graduating class and was a joy to have in class. At the end of his junior year, he got caught up in a cheating scandal.
Our school had a zero-tolerance policy for anyone who was even remotely involved with cheating, and it would result in suspension and a permanent mark on their academic record.
Greg was sure that Sam had participated in the scheme because the cheaters used his work to copy from. However, I knew Sam well and pushed for more investigation into the situation.
It ended up being revealed that Sam had unwittingly supplied materials by providing a student with his document account login information to print out a study sheet.
A little extra attention to figuring out the situation ended up saving Sam’s entire academic life, and the administration greatly appreciated it. The school ended up changing the process of investigation for cheating to be more thorough.
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