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Tough Interview Questions

30 Questions and Answers by

Rachelle Enns is an interview coach and job search expert. She works with candidates to perform their best in employment, medical, and post-secondary admission interviews.

Tough was updated on December 5th, 2020. Learn more here.

Question 1 of 30

Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult person. How did you handle it?

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Tough Interview Questions & Answers

  1. 1.

    Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult person. How did you handle it?

      How to Answer

      From your work history, picture a co-worker who didn't carry their weight or had a difficult personality. Maybe they were unmotivated or preoccupied with their personal life. Think about what bothered you about this person and how you were affected by their behavior. Most importantly, the interviewer wants to know how you let this person's behavior affect you and your work performance.

      Avoid taking this as an opportunity to complain about someone; instead, view it as an opportunity to showcase your ability to deal with difficult people while maintaining your productivity.

      Rachelle's Answer

      "In my previous position, I did have a coworker who didn't pull their weight. Our team started to complete most of the tasks when it came to group projects. It didn't take much time before our manager noticed this particular individual was slacking. I feel like, in most instances, the underachievers will weed themselves out over time, and it's rarely worth making a fuss over."

      Rachelle's Answer for an Admin Interview

      "I once supported a very challenging VP as their executive assistant. Reading between the lines was the name of the game. This challenge became easier as time went on, and I got to know the ins and outs of my job better. However, the beginning was incredibly trying. I coped by asking my co-workers for advice or direction, or using my intuition and doing what I thought was best. The position certainly taught me independent thought and troubleshooting!"

      Rachelle's Answer for a Manager Interview

      "Difficult people make me tick! I enjoy trying to understand where they are coming from and then what techniques I can apply to help them improve their behavior or resolve a situation. Most difficult people want to feel like they have a voice. So, I listen, empathize and reassure them while still maintaining my position as their manager."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Marketing Interview

      "One of the graphic designers I currently work with is a moody creative. The success of my position directly depends on his quality and timeliness of work, unfortunately. Because of this, I've learned to tap into how he operates. We use project management software to track where the project is, but I also have bi-weekly check-ins. I know he's better to deal with in the afternoon, and other little quirks about him. It's somewhat humorous at times, and I'm happy to have discovered some workarounds."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Retail Interview

      "In the past, I had a coworker who was very unmotivated. This situation was pretty difficult since I never wanted to let anyone down and would not allow something to remain undone. I was already doing more than my fair share of the work and was in no position of authority to change her attitude. I did pull her aside and let her know how actions impacted me. She picked up the pace for a bit but eventually my manager terminated her. Luckily her replacement was amazing!"

      Rachelle's Answer for a Sales Interview

      "In my first position out of college, I worked with a person who enjoyed gossip in the workplace. I found that I could redirect her to work by giving a quick reply and then asking her a pointed work question, which would get her back on task. There were a few key takeaways from this experience. I learned how to concentrate on chatter or disruption better than before, and I perfected my skills at refocusing someone else to the task at hand."

      Rachelle's Answer for a Teacher Interview

      "I work with many challenging students, all of the time. I find that if I am struggling to reach a student that means I need to spend more time with them, rather than shy away as natural human instinct would have it. I will ask them how I can best help them, meet with their parents, and dive deeper into their needs."

      Rachelle's Answer for a MRI Technologist Interview

      "In my previous position, I did have a coworker who didn't pull their weight. This situation created more work for the rest of the team. It didn't take much time before our manager noticed this particular individual was slacking. I feel like, in most instances, the underachievers will weed themselves out over time, and it's rarely worth making a fuss over."

      Ryan's Answer for an University Administrator Interview

      "In my time with dealing with the public there has been several times when there have been difficult people I have had to deal with. One that springs to mind is when a students registration form had disappeared which resulted in them missing an extra curricula activity. I listened to what had happened in their view. I then confirmed what the process is our end so that I could understand where things may have gone wrong. From this I was able to propose a way forward. In this instance, the deadline was missed and there was no room left on the activity so they had missed it this time round but now knew going forward what to do if the opportunity arose again. While a difficult situation, it was important for me to remain calm and solution focussed."

      Rachelle's Answer for an Interior Designer Interview

      "(Situation) While working on a hotel renovation a few months ago, I worked alongside the hotel conglomerate's Senior Designer. This particular designer was very curt and did not offer much in the way of detail when it came to tasks or even the projects' overall vision. (Task) As a contracted Interior Designer, I needed to prove my worth even more so than when I work independently with a private client. (Action) I took the initiative to research the designers' previous projects to see if I could discover any common threads in their design work. I learned a lot by studying this person's previous projects and quickly became able to 'read between the lines' on their brief instructions. (Result) In the end, the hotel project came out as a stunning work of art that I am incredibly proud to have in my portfolio. This designer and I came to work well together, and should another project arise with this client, I believe it would run even smoother the second time around."

      3 Community Answers

      Anonymous Answer

      "Situation: During a recent project, me and another team member were both working on similar tasks and every day going home, I was feeling proud of myself for getting a lot of things done and was moving forward into completing my tasks. But every other morning this co-worker was telling me his concerns about the project, our testing approach, the amount of work in the backlog, and it was making me doubt myself, my efforts and bringing my mood down. Task: But still, I was trying to relieve his concerns and make our communication positive. Action: So I always tried to cheer him up, and when I saw that his concerns and doubts distracted him from being productive, I arranged a meeting with our product owner to discuss these concerns and so the product owner would relieve those concerns and help the team member focus on the current tasks. Result: After the conversation with the product owner, my coworker remained productive and focused. It helped him to stay positive so that he could focus on the tasks. And, our work dynamic was great."

      Rachelle's Answer

      This situation sounds like a very tiring one, but you remained on-task and worked hard to keep a positive mindset. A good example and a wonderful approach to handling a difficult personality!

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      Anonymous Answer

      "We were working on a group project during a leadership course. One of the team members did not like the way the PM was directing the group. During a break, I asked if I could speak with the individual privately. I shared with him that I appreciated his passion for the project; however, I wondered if I might suggest that he give the PM more opportunity to explain her plan. We are here to develop other leaders, and I know she will learn from his expertise. He was receptive and agreed. When we returned to the group, he apologized."

      Rachelle's Answer

      This was a nice approach and hopefully helped this person to be more aware of his communication in the future.

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