I was doing well on a phone screening yesterday (who interviews on Saturday??) until I got this question:
"Describe a time when you had a conflict with a supervisor."
I think that was a great interview question. I didn't answer it well. But I've given it some more thought, and I'm ready to propose a better plan of attack for this question if I get it next time (I'll interview with a different company on Wednesday).
I wasn't ready for this question, and I gave a poorly organized answer, with a lot of "uhm" and "uh" pauses:
"We were having a lot of staff meetings to resolve a persistent problem in our department, and I came up with a really out-of-left-field suggestion, which my boss chuckled at and which his boss told me was inappropriate. That upset me, so when the meeting ended, I got together with a peer and we set up a demonstration Website for my idea. We worked on it hush-hush for a week or two, and then I presented my solution to my boss in a private meeting. We won him over, he brought us to see his boss (who had reprimanded me in the earlier staff meeting), and we won her over. We went from having a long, weekly staff meeting for this problem to having a short, monthly staff meeting. My idea changed the whole department and, I would argue, changed the whole division of the company. I guess what I learned from that was not to bring up controversial ideas in public meetings, not to take umbrage when management laughs at a new idea of mine, and to convince supervisors privately and incrementally when I'm hoping they'll make big changes in their procedures."
The problems with my answer were:
- I think it took me five minutes. There were a lot of uhms and stutters which I left out.
- I arrived at the point, such as it was, at the end of the story. The interviewer had no idea where I was going until I got there.
- That was my #1 Significant Accomplishment answer, EVER. The mild disagreement with my bosses was a side-issue. That story shouldn't be about pique and protocol, it should be about my brilliant idea. I "wasted" my #1 SA answer on a subordination question. I feel as if I played ZEPHYR in Scrabble without any double word scores, and now I won't get that Z back.
Next time, I'll have an answer that shows I can respectfully, professionally, and effectively resolve conflicts with my superiors, through my actions, for the betterment of the company and our goals.
- I'll pick an example where the disagreement/ conflict with my boss is a central part of the story. I won't blow my great accomplishment answer again.
- I'll pick an example where the disagreement/ conflict got resolved, not just smoothed over. I won't tell a story ending with "...but I realized she was the boss, so I kept my mouth shut and did it her way, with my best effort."
- I'll pick an example where MY ACTIONS were at least 51% of that resolution. I won't tell a story where my boss made a solid argument, and I realized that I was wrong. Sure, a story like that shows I'm a good subordinate, but it's also a story of my boss saving me from my mistake.
That's my plan for next time. I welcome your thoughts and suggestions.