Prepare for the Difficult Person Job Interview Question

I never met a man I didn’t like. Will Rogers

Inquiring employers want to know. How do you handle difficult people in the workplace? You can’t get away with a nice story about an annoying boss and now you work together in uninterrupted harmony.

handle the difficult person

Can You Handle this Difficult Person?

Forget about claiming that you have never met a difficult person unless your name is Will Rogers. The interviewer knows exactly what difficult person you will encounter your first week.

Last post, I laid down some background on why some people find you difficult and that other guy really grates on you. Given your temperament, entirely predictable. Now we can build on that foundation to accomplish two objectives.

First. we want to effectively relate to difficult people. Second, we want to communicate those skills to a prospective employer in a way that reassures them.

That is one of my consistent themes in this blog and my other material. I don’t just want to convince the employer that I can handle difficult people by offering one isolated, contrived story.

I want to be effective because I have learned how to respond to difficult people in a way that prevents any conflict from sabotaging my success and the organizations interests.

Then as I continue to do so mindfully, I accumulate a repertoire of relevant stories that I can tell very naturally.

I Handled a Difficult Person, but not very well!

When I was first interviewed after more than 20 years teaching accounting, I was not prepared for many of the job interview questions I encountered, including this one. I was well into my 50s when I was asked for the first time about handling a difficult person. I was caught off guard. You may know how that feels!

It was easy to remember more than one difficult person among the many bosses, students and colleagues. But in that moment I realized that the examples most vivid in my mind did not exactly illustrate stellar interpersonal skills.

So when I put together a Job Maintenance workshop for job seekers a couple of years ago, I knew that this issue had to be addressed. Few of those in my target audience for the workshop would have previously answered that question. They needed to better prepare for that question and so did I.

Commit to Improving Your Difficult People Skills

Many excellent training opportunities out there can provide you with a simple approach to improve your working relationships. That clarity will give you a structure for preparing your description of your approach in a job interview. Remember that your objective is to practice a 60 second response, which is not easy for most of us.

What you do next depends on whether you have past experiences that are clear enough for your story. If you do have three or four that readily fit into the structure you have developed, prepare several answers from which you can choose. You won’t have handled them perfectly, so you can acknowledge that you would now bring just a little more refinement.

No “Difficult Person” Success Story? Create one now!

It’s a little late if you have a job interview tomorrow morning, but if there is a little more time, look around for someone whose style of interacting with you is interfering with your job performance and undermining the company’s interests. Write down exactly what they are doing. If possible quantify the “before picture”. Then document exactly what you do and explain your strategy. Make careful notes of the other person’s new behavior and the effect on the problem. Clearly connect the action you took to the benefit to the company. As you repeat this process in different situations over time, you will soon have many stories that you can tell very clearly and succinctly.

Adapt Your Best Stories for other Job Interview Questions

The best stories can easily be adapted as effective responses to more than one question. I maintain a workbook with about 50 possible interview questions. I regularly review those questions to improve my response based on what I am continually learning as I work with clients and prepare materials for this blog. It takes time and a commitment to learning, but nothing dispels interview anxiety like thorough preparation. Well, maybe one thing. Already having a job offer from another employer!

Happy Interviewing!


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  1. Pingback: How to Deal with Difficult People?Find Me A Cure | Find Me A Cure

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