Job Interview Question: ‘How did you manage a difficult employee?’
When you’re applying for a management or a supervisory position, there’s a large chance that the interviewer will ask you about how you managed difficult employees. Chances are that you, as a supervisor, have dealt with at least some difficult employees. Difficult employees lower the morale of a team and in turn, can have an impact on team productivity. This is one of the reasons why interviewers ask you about how you manage difficult employees. It’s also one of the most frequently asked job interview questions.
Make sure that when you’re preparing for your supervisory or management position job interview, you spend some time on developing an answer to the question that regards handling difficult employees. Your answer to this question should demonstrate that you’re able to deal with and manage different types of people. As you can image, it’s easy to prove that you’re able to manage employees who are self-motivated and successful within the company. However, managers who can bring out the best in struggling team members and increase their productivity levels are highly valued and extremely appreciated.
Other ways in which the interviewer can ask you about your management style of handling difficult employees:
- Tell me how you handle difficult employees?
- Tell me about a time you had a conflict with an employee
- Give me an example of a time you had to respond to an unhappy employee
Why the interviewer is asking how you manage difficult employees
First and foremost, the interviewer is trying to found out how you manage employees and how you get along with different types of people. To succeed as a manager, you should be able to deal with complex situations and conflicts professionally. Also, this question gives the interviewer insights into what you define as problematic behavior in the workplace. This is important to know because the interviewer wants to know if you fit into the company culture.
When you analyze the question ‘How did you manage a difficult employee?‘ You might think the question is about the difficult person in the situation. Guess what? It’s not. It is about you as a manager or supervisor and how you approach situations in the workplace. Also, it’s important that you can demonstrate tolerance, listening skills and a level of understanding that enables you to work successfully with everybody in your team, regardless of how you feel personally about them.
The interviewer is looking for a couple of things in your answer:
- Are you able to deal with difficult situations directly as soon as it occurs?
- Do you demonstrate the ability to separate personal feelings from the behaviors? In other words, did your actions focus on the specific behavior of the employee?
- Did you investigate the issue thoroughly before making a decision? Did you listen to the story of the employee in question?
- How did you communicate with the employee? What kind of feedback did you give on his behavior, and was this clear to this specific person?
- Did you document the situation according to the company’s HR protocol, discussed it with the HR department, and include this in the employee’s record?
How to answer interview questions on how you manage difficult employees
Dealing with problem employees is always difficult and never an easy task. Even though somebody might be highly educated, this does not mean that someone is reasonable and rational. Also, as a manager, you still have to be able to tackle difficult situations and actually manage employees who might affect the team’s morale, productivity, efficiency, and outlook.
Depending on the situation with the employee, you can include specific details. However, every situation with a difficult or problem employee is different. That’s why you should think about a specific situation that emphasized your management style. Also, mentioning how your management style helped improve an employee’s performance is smart to mention.
Providing an example that included the termination of the contract of a problem employee does not necessarily show your abilities as a manager. However, if you decide to go with such an example ensure that you describe the full process and how you interacted with the human resources department on determining the best way to move forward in that particular situation.
When thinking about your answer, make sure that you use the STAR-method to structure how you handled the situation. This means that you need to describe the situation (S), talk about what tasks (T) you identified that needed to be completed, what actions (A) were taken by you and what the results (R) of your actions were.
Things to include in your answer
- You addressed the issue right away and explained to the interviewer that ignoring a problem is never a good solution in the workspace.
- You investigated the situation thoroughly. In other words, you did not make a move based on hearsay or gossip.
- How you communicated with the employee and how you gave feedback on how his or her behavior could impact others by providing specific examples.
- If you gave the employee the opportunity to coach him or her to display more appropriate behavior in the workplace in the future.
- How you documented the situation in the record of the employee and if you consulted with the human resources department.
Additional things you could include in your answer, if applicable:
- You have reviewed the company’s policies and procedures if you were not sure about what to do.
- How you monitored the progress of the particular employee and followed up on their progress over time.
- That you understand when contract termination may be appropriate and how you followed through and handled the situation within the law.
- Always answer the question and never say you have no experience with handling difficult employees.
It’s unlikely that you will impress the interviewer by stating that you never worked with a problem employee. Also, giving an answer about how a person you worked with brought out the worst in you is not the way to go. Always avoid including negativity in your answers. Both these answers could lead to giving the interviewer the impression that you did not prepare your interview thoroughly. Focus on being honest about the situation. Even though some employees are difficult to work with, this does not mean that such situations can’t be solved.
- Go for a good example that emphasize your excellent management skills
It’s a good idea to give some thought to the examples that you decided to use, should this question come up during your job interview. No matter the situation you decide to go for, make sure that it shows that you have excellent management skills in handling the situation and that you kept your cool throughout.
- Focus on yourself in a particular situation and how you handled the situation. The answer should be about you, not about the employee.
Structure your answer according to the STAR-method. Your goal is to explain to the interviewer how you handled the situation. The interviewer is aware of the fact that employees can be difficult to deal with. Therefore, it’s up to you to show that you are able to manage them. This means that you should provide enough information to the interviewer to substantiate this. After describing the situation, always follow up with how it got resolved. This way, you give the interviewer actual answers about your management skills instead of raising more questions.
Sample answers to discuss managing difficult or problem employees
Sample answer 1:
‘Two years ago, I managed a team of 5 consultants, and I had one team member who was constantly late when it came to completing tasks. These tasks were set out and discussed during the weekly planning to make sure all team members had the same workload. With him being late, the whole team started to run behind on the planning. I had a one-on-one with him and, next to giving him a warning, explained the situation and what it meant for the team. We discussed a deadline for him to improve his contribution to the team effort.
After the first two weeks that followed, I saw no improvement, so I talked to him again and told him that I would include this in his employee record and report it to the HR department. We discussed a final deadline to improve himself, and I offered to coach him during the process. Luckily for the team and me, he took it seriously. Within a week, there was a real improvement in his output and quality of work, and furthermore, everything was delivered ahead of the project the deadline. Besides his productivity and quality going up, the friction within the team was gone, and all issues were solved.’
This answer shows that you are able to pinpoint specific behavior of employees that need to be improved. It also shows that you are willing to help them improve their professional behaviors to improve team performance in general.
Sample answer 2:
‘In my previous job as a manager of the customer service department I had a team member who was struggling with handling customer service in a professional manner. His feedback scores were generally lower than the averages of other team members. The main reason for this was that clients pointed out his inability to address their concerns empathetically. Of course, for us as a company, this meant that our reputation was impacted by his actions.
I spoke to him in private and addressed the poor evaluations, and we went over his customer ratings together. By highlighting the specific negative feedback from clients, he understood what he needed to work on. He asked me if he could get in-house training to improve his client engagement skills. After he finished his training, I offered to coach him and go over his client conversations together. After we had our sit-down and made a plan together to improve his performance, his customer evaluation scores improved soon after. He’s currently scoring above average regularly and has much more fun in his work.’
This answer shows that you as a manager are able to turn around a situation in which an employee with potential is underperforming. You’re highlighting that you took specific steps to improve his performance without giving up on him.
Job Interview Topics – Common Job Interview Questions & Answers
Below you can find a list of common job interview topics. Each link will direct you to an article regarding the specific topics that discuss commonly asked interview questions. Furthermore, each article discusses why the interviewer asks these questions and how you answer them!
- Career Change
- Career Goals
- Conflict Resolution
- Creative Thinking
- Cultural Fit
- Customer Service
- Growth Potential
- Honesty & Integrity
- Job Satisfaction
- Entry-Level & No experience
- Prioritization & Time Management
- Situational & Scenario-based
- Stress Management
- Telephone Interview
- Work Ethic