One common interview question is how did you handle a coworker who was not performing well and it was impacting your work ?

I work in an IT role in a big company and I faced this problem due to a coworker's lifelong disability. He had to regularly consume medicine which often made him confused and sleepy. So, I often had to do his work and sometimes I had to do extra hours of unpaid work. I even had to fix his mistakes sometimes. I tried to ensure that he was given work that he could handle. But, it did not really work out well because I was still overburdened. Unfortunately, there was little support from management.

Is it okay to talk about the impact of a coworker's disability on you in an interview ? My gut says that I should not do it regardless of the facts and the impact on me. These things are politically incorrect to bring up, if not legally problematic. For all I know, the interviewers have friends or family who are disabled, and they might let irrational emotions influence their decision to hire me.

PS - Alternately, I could make up a story to answer the interview question and hopefully be able to back it up with more stories. What do you think ?

  • 1
    Why did you do all this unpaid work for someone else? It's not your problem. May 30, 2020 at 22:17
  • @TymoteuszPaul: it's called human decency.
    – TonyK
    Jun 3, 2020 at 21:03

3 Answers 3


This question only makes sense if you're interviewing for a position in management. Otherwise, if you're an individual contributor, the only reasonable thing to do about an underperforming colleague is to discuss the situation with your manager - they're the one responsible for solving this problem. It's great that you've empathized with a colleague with a disability and helped them with their tasks, but it's your manager's job to make sure the workload is distributed properly, taking all circumstances into account.

To sum up, your answer should be along the lines of "I reported the underperforming colleague to my manager", period.


You wrote, "My gut says that I should not do it regardless of the facts and the impact on me."

Trust your gut!

I've done interviews on both sides of the table, and I haven't heard (or asked) this specific question - though it's similar to common questions along the lines of "tell me about a time you/your team faced some kind of problem and what you did to overcome that problem to achieve your goal."

If you are asked this kind of question and you respond by talking about another person's disabilities and how their disabilities made things hard for you, then I feel like the very best possible outcome you can hope for is that the interviewer might, possibly, not be offended. And a lot of interviewers definitely will be put off. So the possible downside definitely outweighs the basically non-existent upside.

Just don't do it. Interviewers asking this kind of question want to hear about positive decisions you made or actions you took, and describing the problem to them is just the set-up. Don't focus on saying negative things about a coworker or your old company or how hard things were for you - find a way to focus on telling them things you did to get through a tough situation and make things better. That's what they want to hear.

Try to think of problems/situations you could discuss that are relatively innocuous in terms of the problem, but that will give you an opportunity to play up (hopefully with a straight face!) how you innovated, or rallied the team to work together, or tactfully helped your supervisor's boss in a sensitive situation, or whatever. Ideally you might try to think through 2 or 3 various situations in advance so that they are waiting in your bag of tricks ready to use.

And I guess I'm in the camp of sticking with the truth. If I'm the interviewer, I hate feeling like a candidate is just making things up (and I definitely have had that feeling sometimes). I'd much rather have a candidate say something like "I guess I'm really fortunate that I've never had a situation where I was forced to deal with an underperforming coworker [or whatever exactly I asked about], but there was another situation where ...," and then steer the answer to something vaguely related. Examples might be something like "but there was one time when one of my coworkers was out for an extended medical leave and we got swamped with several really large new orders" or "but there was one time that one of my colleagues quit without notice and really left us scrambling to meet our deadlines." Just hypotheticals - tailor to your experiences, of course.

Whatever you go with, don't dwell on the problem and how hard it was for you - just quickly set the scene and then get to the good parts about how you/your team dove in and saved the day. And if you can do it with a straight face maybe throw in how it really felt good to get a chance to really dig in and help out the team. :-)


I personally have never heard this question in a job interview. However, my idea is that if someone would ask this question they would love to hear a story about how you stepped up and helped this colleague be a more productive worker, by training him/her, explaining things to him/her, helping him/her prioritizing tasks etc.

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