Have an upcoming interview for which you're prepping? Good for you! Congratulations on scoring the interview; now your only concern is impressing the interviewer enough to land the job. We've already shared some of the top, most common interview questions that you can go ahead and start studying up on — but there's one typical question you may be asked that's particularly difficult to answer: "Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss."
You might be wondering what kind of answer the interviewer is searching for when they ask you this question and how exactly to respond. Here's what you should know about this loaded question and how to formulate an answer.
What is the interviewer looking for in this question?
The interviewer is looking for a few things in your answer: validity, emotional maturity, loyalty and responsibility.
First and foremost, they want to make sure that you have a valid response. If your boss was clearly out of line, for example, that'd be a valid response. But, of course, most situations are subjective and there are usually two or more sides to every truth. It's important to find the most objective example possible — and one that takes emotion out of the equation.
If your boss was micromanaging you, being discriminatory or violating the company culture in some way, these may be good examples of when you disagreed with their behavior, but they might be subjective examples. If your boss made a poor financial decision with which you disagreed, however, you have numbers and statistics to help back up your response. You can say that you disagreed with this decision because your alternative plan would have saved the company money or earned the company more money, etc. This is objective, and it shows the interviewer that you have a keen eye for detail and are a critical thinker who could be a valuable resource — as opposed to bringing up touchy topics.
Next, the interviewer is looking for emotional maturity. They want to make sure that you handled the situation like an adult. They're likely imagining themselves in your former or current boss' shoes, and they want to be confident that if you ever disagree with them, you'll handle it well. They'll want to hear that you not only had a mature conversation with your boss about the disagreement, but also that you had an alternative, better plan to propose so that you weren't just disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing.
The interviewer will also look for loyalty in your response. They want to see that you care about the company and its success, and that's why you disagreed with your boss.
As for responsibility, that comes with proving that you had an innovative idea. You took responsibility to make change — or at least attempt to make a change by bringing an idea to the attention of your boss — for the betterment of the company.
Finally, make sure that you keep your response short and sweet, because you'd rather spend time in your interview talking about the positives.
How to formulate an answer to ‘Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss."
So how do you answer, "Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss," when it can feel like such a nuanced question? Here are three different examples that all have this in common: They're short, concise and to the point, without badmouthing their former employers or colleagues in any way.
1. Be appreciative of the lesson.
"One time, I disagreed with my manager over the best way to help a customer. And, rather than questioning her authority in front of everyone in the store, I asked her to speak privately in her office. I made sure to be open and honest about how I thought we could better handle the situation. She agreed, so we decided to do it my way. It taught me a lot about the importance of open communication in the workplace. Our customer left content, and we were able to establish an even better relationship."
2.Be respectful and clear.
"One time, I disagreed with my boss over a decision that would cost the company a lot of money if we did it his way. It had to do with how we were going to handle our Facebook ad campaigns, and I came up with a solution that ultimately saved the company a grand on our advertising. I wrote up a document explaining my plan and emailing it to him, asking to chat more in person. He loved the idea, so we went with it, and it ended up working out great."
3.Be short and sweet.
"One time, I disagreed with my manager over how to handle a sales deal. I respectfully expressed my opinion on how to make the sell and, ultimately, we made the sell. It worked out well, and we both maintained open and honest communication with each other."
What to avoid when answering the question ‘Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss."
In general, you should avoid bad-mouthing your current or former boss and colleagues. Even if you were in a toxic work environment, you don't want to speak badly of anyone or shoot yourself in the foot by burning bridges.
You also don’t want to give too many details on the situation. This could lead to more questions or confusion so it’s better to only share the relevant information.
Finally, keep your response free from emotions. This may sound counterintuitive since interviewers are looking for your emotional maturity in this question, but you don’t want to cloud your response with personal feelings. For example, refrain from saying your boss was “narrow-minded” or “had it out for you.” Regardless of if there is truth to those statements, they won’t come across well in an interview.
There are tons of ways to answer the question, "Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss," depending on the situations that you've experienced. Again, the best thing you can do is be honest, concise and clear about how you learned a valuable lesson and it set you up to be a more valuable resource for the company with which you're interviewing.
Good luck with your interview!